The Strasburg Town Council heard two presentations Monday night at its regular Town Council meeting on people who aren’t poor but need some help, and the town’s demographic profile.
The presentations were made to provide information to the council about housing, development pressures, economic development prospects and the town’s capacity for growth, Town Manager Wyatt Pearson stated by email.
Nadina Pottinga, executive director of the United Way of the Northern Shenandoah Valley, gave a presentation on people who fall under the category of being ALICE - an acronym for Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed.
The ALICE population consists of people who are just above the federal poverty level, which for a family of four starts at an annual income of about $24,000, Pottinga said.
But those people don’t own a home, a car or have savings/retirement funds, she said.
In Shenandoah County, the ALICE threshold depends on family situations, but maxes out at an annual income of about $70,000 for two adults with two children in child care.
“That’s a big gap,” Vice Mayor Ken Cherrix said.
About 27% of the 4,253 households in the 22657 ZIP code, which includes Strasburg, fall within the ALICE population, and about 11% are in poverty, Pottinga said. About 62% are above the threshold.
The $70,000 income for two adults with two children would allow for housing costs of $835 and child care costs of $1,083, Pottinga presented. The rest of the budget would go toward food, transportation, health care, technology, taxes and other expenses, according to data from Pottinga, which she said is available on her organization's website.
The COIVD-19 pandemic has increased the number of people who are considered ALICE households, Pottinga said.
The council could in the short term provide help to families in emergencies and in the long term use the data when making decisions regarding bringing in good jobs, providing affordable childcare and transportation changes, Pottinga said.
“These are real people,” she said.
Immediately following Pottinga’s presentation, the council heard from Brandon Davis, executive director of the Northern Shenandoah Valley Regional Commission, on the town’s demographic profile based on 2019 U.S. Census Data estimates.
Actual U.S. Census Data counts from 2020 are still in the works, Davis noted.
The town’s population is 6,600 people across 4 square miles, compared to about 5,200 in Woodstock across 3.8 square miles, 15,000 in Front Royal across 10 square miles and 27,900 in Winchester across 9.23 square miles, Davis presented.
About 18.1% of residents had moved within the year, which prompted Councilman John Massoud to say the town would be on pace to have between 7,500-8,000 residents compared to the 6,398 residents it had in an actual 2010 count.
“It looks like we are growing much faster than we’ve been told we are,” Massoud said.
But Davis noted the 18.1 percent of people moving in town is more of a turnover rate, as for example, if 10 people move into town, 10 people are moving out. It’s not as if the town built 10 new housing units for people moving in, Davis said.
Pearson added that a different figure is needed to determine growth, as Massoud said the conversation needs to be had.
The per capita income in Strasburg is about $25,500 with about $54,700 being the median household income, Davis presented. The town has about 45% of people who make under $50,000, about 37% making between $50,000 and $100,000, about 16% making over $100,000 to $200,000 and about 1% making over $200,000.
About 62% of the town's 2,833 housing units are owner-occupied, versus about 38% being renter-occupied, the data showed. About 70% of units in Shenandoah County and about 66% of units across the state are owner occupied, Davis presented.
At the same time, about 91% of residents have graduated from high school, compared to about 87% in Woodstock, 84% in Winchester and 81% in Front Royal. And about 21% have a bachelor’s degree or higher, compared to 35.1% in Winchester, 23.4% in Woodstock and 17.8% in Front Royal.
Mayor Brandy Boise said she was surprised by the comparison of that homeownership and education level data for Strasburg.
“Just because you’re educated, have the job, have the skill, doesn’t mean you’re making what you need to make to actually buy a home,” Boise said, while referencing the ALICE presentation.
After Councilwoman Taralyn Nicholson wanted to see more data on what could make people with higher educations stay in town, Boies stated a factor could be those people not being able to find an affordable place to live.
The median value of owner-occupied housing units is $206,500, Davis noted.
Councilwoman Christie Monahan wondered if the lack of home ownership is because the town has more townhomes, which Davis noted, comprised about 19% of the town’s housing units. About 55% of the town’s housing units are single family homes, compared to about 76.6% in the county, Davis said. About 7% of the county's housing units are town homes.
The council also discussed more data, including single/marital status, race and average commute times.
At the start of the meeting, the council held a public hearing to apply for a U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development grant for a sewer rehabilitation project, which no one spoke at. The council went into a closed session at the end of the meeting to discuss the acquisition of property for public purposes, and took no action afterward.