City grapples with low ratio of owner-occupied homes

Published 9:59 am Saturday, April 30, 2011

FRANKLIN—The percentage of renter-occupied housing units has stayed flat in the last decade, despite efforts by city leaders to bring the number down.

Frank Parker, rear, and David Drewry from Franklin Moving and Storage help move a resident into MeadowRidge Apartments in Franklin on Friday. -- Dale Liesch | Tidewater News

Out of a total of 3,595 housing units in Franklin, 1,713, or roughly 47.6 percent, are renter-occupied, while 1,882, or 52.4 percent, are owner-occupied, according to estimates from 2005 to 2009 by the American Community Survey.

The 2000 census indicated that roughly 46 percent of housing units in the city were renter-occupied.

Community Development Coordinator Donald Goodwin said that starting with its comprehensive plan in 2005, the city has worked to increase the percentage of owner-occupied homes in the city.

“The mindset in the past has been to try to reduce the amount of rental properties to around 35 percent,” he said.

Statewide, 32 percent of residential units were renter-occupied in 2009, according to

The city has a related ordinance, but it does not specify a target percentage of rental properties. Rather, it discourages the building of any new rental property until there is “a significant decrease” in the percentage of rental properties in the city, Goodwin said.

Questions about the percentage of rental units have resurfaced with the recent effort by a Suffolk developer to have land on North College Drive rezoned for apartments.

Franklin Summit LLC wants to rezone 20.47 acres to allow for 270 apartments and six homes. A public hearing on the plan is set for 6 p.m. Thursday, May 26, before the Planning Commission.

The property was originally zoned for Meadow X LLC to build condominiums in 2005; when Franklin Summit took over the project in 2009, the plan included 170 condo units. A handful of condos were constructed in 2009, but they remain unoccupied.

Goodwin said such rezoning decisions are a “balancing act.”

He said the City Council, which acts on the Planning Commission’s recommendations, will have to consider housing needs and a changing economy.

“You have to be careful of how many rezonings you’ll allow,” Goodwin said. “But you’re not going to bring in business without rooftops.”

Elaine Holland, property manager at the adjacent Meadow Ridge Apartments on North College Drive, said the complex maintains a 96 percent occupancy rate, but that doesn’t necessarily mean there is a big demand for apartments locally.

“Traffic has been slow,” Holland said. “We’ve been maintaining our occupancy rate but have been having too many people moving out.”

However, she said the number of vacancies has decreased recently.

“We don’t have a lot of vacancies right now, but we did a couple of years ago,” she said.

Holland said there could be a need for more rental property, but she believes Franklin Summit’s proposed number of new units is excessive.

“A little more wouldn’t hurt, but not 277 units,” Holland said.