Brad Strouse purchased a home in Midlothian about five years ago, drawn by then-affordable home prices and a good school system.
It was a change for Strouse, who lived in the Fan neighborhood in Richmond and then in Henrico County’s western end before moving to Chesterfield County.
“At the time, it was a chance to get into a house that was a good fit,” said Strouse, 33. “We did our time in the Fan with no parking and small bedrooms. ... It was time for us to kind of scale up.”
Strouse, chairman of the Young Professionals Committee at the Chesterfield Chamber of Commerce, was among dozens of millennials in the Richmond region who filled out a Chesterfield County survey aimed at determining how to attract the next generation of homebuyers to a suburb that has long been considered a bedroom community.
Millennials, generally defined as people born between 1981 and 1996, are often portrayed as transient people unwilling to put down roots, but responses to the online questionnaire offered a different picture, according to the county’s Millennial Visioning Project Report, released in October.
Of the 53 people who took the survey, 89% said they preferred to own a home rather than rent. More than half of the respondents, who were in their early 20s up into their 40s, reported planning to stay in the Richmond region for 11 years or more.
The county has been looking for ways to attract millennials to Chesterfield, a suburb that a 2015 county report said was in the midst of a demographic shift where the number of residents age 60 and over will outpace the number of school-age children amid an “age wave” affecting communities across the nation.
“What is the next generation of who we’re going to be? We’ve got to have a lifestyle that, I think, meets every generational need,” said Leslie Haley, chairwoman of the Chesterfield Board of Supervisors. “And that’s a challenge when you’ve traditionally been just sort of that single-family resident suburban model.”
While the survey also showed that some younger adults were willing to settle down, challenges exist in getting them to do that in Chesterfield. Asked if they were satisfied with the housing options in the county, nearly two-thirds of respondents either said they weren’t or didn’t know. The authors of the county’s millennial report suspect that housing affordability has something to do with that response.
The median selling price for a Chesterfield single-family home was $275,000 in August, a price point that was at the top range of what survey takers found to be affordable, according to the Millennial Visioning report.
Jake Bloom, a Richmond resident who served on the county’s millennial steering committee, told county planning commissioners last month that a key problem facing members of his generation in buying a home is that many of them are carrying monthly payments of $200 to $400 to cover student debt.
“Our generation does have more debt. There’s obviously a number of factors [driving that],” said Bloom, a 31-year-old commercial real estate developer, who added that the cost of higher education is rising.
Kristin Beran Krupp, a Realtor who sells homes in Chesterfield, agreed that student debt is an issue for millennials looking to buy in the county.
“I think the biggest hurdle for a lot of them is student loans,” said Krupp, a 39-year-old Powhatan County resident, during an event at Steam Bell Beer Works on Thursday.
Still, Krupp added, “a lot of people, I think, assume they can’t afford to buy a house, and it’s just not true. There are a lot of loan programs out there.”
Sarah McMillian, 27, purchased a home in Midlothian with her husband, Josh, about a month ago. She said they had been living in an apartment on his parents’ farm in Amelia, which helped them raise money for their down payment. McMillian said their home in Midlothian is midway between Josh’s job in Amelia and her job in Short Pump.
“I think people don’t know what they’re getting into when they’re buying in the city,” Sarah McMillian said. “I think millennials have this idea that they’re going to buy a cool house in the city, and they’re going to be super hip and go to all these restaurants, but you’re paying X amount in personal property taxes and real estate taxes.
“And the city is nice for a little bit, but if you’re also thinking of a family and schools come into play sometimes, the suburban schools are a little bit better if you can’t afford the private schools as opposed to city schools.”
Strouse, a Chesterfield-based entertainment consultant and event producer, said that in order to draw in millennials, the county could use more developments with reasonably-priced town homes and single-family houses within walking distance of grocery stores and restaurants.
Strouse this month moved from Midlothian to a new home in Glen Allen, not because of affordability but rather because a house opened up right across the street from his brother-in-law, who has a child around the same age as his 3-year-old daughter.
Another challenge facing Chesterfield, according to the millennial report, is that it’s seen as being isolated from downtown Richmond with the entertainment venues and social life the city offers. Respondents said that could be helped by a regional bus network to take them into the city.
Another way to address that issue is for the county to create more lively areas in which to live, with walkable interconnected developments where local restaurants and shops flourish, the report said.
The county has been taking steps in that direction. This year, the Board of Supervisors approved a rewrite of the comprehensive plan, a blueprint for how the county should grow in coming decades. Among the ideas put forth in the plan is for the county to create “activity centers” — compact, pedestrian-friendly areas where homes could be built in the same area as restaurants and shops.
Although the county has plenty of rural areas and suburban neighborhoods, more urban developments with a more active lifestyle are still lacking, said Steven Haasch, a Chesterfield planning manager who helped draft the county’s comprehensive plan.
“We want to be a long-lasting, attractive county and would like to have not just a place for older [residents] but a mix of ages,” Haasch said.
Haasch added those more compact, walkable developments would appeal to baby boomers as well.
Krupp’s sister, Casie Beran Woodfin, said pedestrian-friendly developments would help draw millennials.
“It would be nice to have communities that also have restaurants and things that are walkable for people,” said Woodfin, 37.
The county is seeing work begin on some of those types of developments. For example, new apartments are being built at Westchester Commons at Midlothian Turnpike at state Route 288 just a short distance from the Sedona Taphouse, Regal Cinemas and Buffalo Wild Wings.
Brad Cooper, a millennial who owns Steam Bell Beer Works, noted that to the east of Westchester Commons on Midlothian Turnpike is Winterfield Crossing, where a no-frills grocery store, Aldi, is being built next to a Starbucks and restaurants.
Cooper, 33, recalled that when he was growing up in Chesterfield, there weren’t that many things to do. He thinks that’s starting to change.
“It’s definitely like an older community,” he said, “but I do know that there’s a lot of people my age that as they’ve gotten married, had kids, are looking to move out this way because the schools are better and they can have a little bit more land and a place for the kids to run around.”