Updated Jan 17, 2023 - News

Northern Virginia residents are relocating to Richmond in droves

Northern Virginians moving to the Richmond 
</br>metro area
Data: Census American Community Survey, Public Use Microdata Sample; Chart: Tory Lysik/Axios Visuals

Northern Virginia residents have been moving to the Richmond metro area in droves since the pandemic, and that trend shows no signs of slowing down.

What's happening: The average number of Northern Virginians moving to the area in 2020 and 2021 jumped 36% compared to the period between 2012-2019, Hamilton Lombard, demographer with UVA's Weldon Cooper Center, tells Axios.

  • The Demographics Research Group is still finalizing the 2022 numbers from census data, but early estimates show a record number of transplants moved here from NoVa last year.

Why it matters: The post-pandemic world of remote and hybrid work, plus increasing Richmond-to-D.C. train ridership, is stoking locals’ fears that Richmond could one day turn into a just another suburb of D.C.

What they're saying: The Richmond area has seen the biggest increase in the state of Northern Virginians moving in during the pandemic, Lombard said.

By the numbers: Between 2012 and 2019, an average of around 7,700 NoVa residents relocated here each year. In 2021, 12,541 people came from NoVa.

Yes, but: Despite online gripes, pandemic-era NoVa transplants are more likely to be young couples with kids moving to the suburbs as opposed to 20-somethings moving into the city, Lombard said.

Zoom in: In 2020 and 2021, NoVa residents ages 25-45 accounted for the largest share of Richmond-area moves. The number of kids under 18 moving here also spiked during the pandemic.

  • "This suggests that families with children have driven much of the increase in migration," Lombard added.

Meanwhile: The population in the city proper hasn't grown during the pandemic, while Chesterfield, Henrico and even Goochland, Powhatan and New Kent are seeing growth.

Northern Virginia's notoriously expensive housing is the most likely cause of the moves, Lombard noted, because the migration trends out of NoVa mirror those from the mid-2000s housing boom.

  • Remote work also likely fueled much of the pandemic moves. Recent NoVa transplants are nearly twice as likely to report they work remotely than longer-term Richmond-area residents.
  • And remote work via census data wouldn't capture hybrid workers who commute to D.C. one or two days a week.

The intrigue: It's not necessarily that NoVa residents love Richmond. It's that they don't love Northern Virginia. The data shows that the residents that left Northern Virginia during the pandemic and stayed in state moved basically anywhere north of the James River (plus Chesterfield) that wasn't NoVa.

  • But their number one destination was outside of Virginia entirely: Raleigh.

What we're watching: For signs of a NoVa-nized Richmond — and a comeback for the mid-2010s "Don't NoVa my RVA" bumper stickers.


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