Harrisonburg’s population goes down but households in poverty ticks up

Harrisonburg City Hall. (File photo)

Although Harrisonburg’s total population decreased by 278 people from 2023 to 2024, the number of households in poverty increased by 356, or 2% of the city’s population.

In Tuesday’s 2024 update on families that are Asset-Limited, Income-Restrained and Employed (ALICE) and in poverty, Director of Community Impact Jo Benjamin told the city council that the Rockingham County and Harrisonburg communities hope to provide financial aid to low income households through the RockBurg Community Assistance, Resources & Economic Stabilization (RockBurg CARES) program.

Established in August 2023, RockBurg CARES provides financial assistance and education, as well as information and referrals, for any individual or family included in the ALICE population or who falls below the poverty line.

Benjamin said two adults in a household with no kids need to earn approximately $40,000 to be considered above the ALICE threshold, whereas two adults with children enrolled in public school need to earn about $60,000. Two adults in a household with children too young to be enrolled in public school must make about $85,000 “to be able to make ends meet.”

Individuals and households falling under the ALICE or poverty lines can apply for financial assistance via RockBurg Cares’ ALICE assistance fund, Benjamin said, which can help alleviate financial stress.

“For me, one person on the street without a place to stay is a problem,” Mayor Deanna Reed said.

Currently, 6,358 households fall below the ALICE threshold and 3,942 households live in poverty in Harrisonburg, according to 2024 CENSUS data collected by the United Way of Harrisonburg & Rockingham County. The number of households both in poverty and that fall below the ALICE threshold increased by 2% each from 2023.

“We’re not healthy — this exists,” council member Dany Fleming said. “This really informs us on how to think about our funds.”

Harrisonburg’s increase in low-income households is partially due to the decrease in stimulus payments from the government, Benjamin said. According to her presentation gathered from U.S. Census data, a family of four is eligible for approximately $15,000 less in federal tax credits and stimulus payments in 2022 compared to 2021. That amount could be “a quarter” of some families’ incomes, she said.  

In addition to the services provided by RockBurg CARES, Reed said she hopes some of the city’s plans in place, such as the homeless shelter that;s under construction, will help those receiving low or no income.

“I think we’re making strides,” Reed said. “That’s important to us — a priority for us.”

City’s transportation dept. plans to increase services 

City council members on Tuesday unanimously approved a Transit Strategic Plan, which calls for an increase in public transit services by nearly $2.9 million over the next decade.

Project manager Danielle McCray, who presented the plan, said the Harrisonburg Department of Public Transportation will focus on transit improvements in four areas: 

  • more frequent and regular operation.
  • more direct operation between two points.
  • increased symmetrical routes.
  • and expansion of routes reaching well-defined markets.

“This is a significant proposal in front of us and significant for our city,” Fleming said.

The department created the plan based on a public survey with 764 responses, five pop-up events reaching over 130 people, three stakeholder meetings, operator and supervisor interviews, and Tuesday’s public comment period. McCray said the most important improvements the department hopes to make would be more frequent service and extended service on weekdays.

McCray said the department plans to purchase an additional bus by 2025 to extend the service span of the Route 1 and Inner Campus Shuttle (ICS) routes and increase the frequency of the Route 6 and Green Line routes. 

By 2034, she said HDPT plans to purchase two additional buses to extend the service span of Routes 1, 2, 3, 4 and 6, as well as to increase daytime frequency of two routes and to establish weekend service for five routes.

“I’m very thankful that these four areas are being addressed in this plan,” council member Monica Robinson said. “I think it’s going to benefit the … folks in the city of Harrisonburg, and help remove a barrier to employment.”

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