Future Housing Needs for Fairfax County
110,000 additional Residential Units Will be Needed by Year 2030

By: M. Callahan

Reston Town Center:  Rendering by Shalom Baranes Associates.By Year 2030, or a blink in revitalization time, the next wave of economic development is projected for the Washington area; and now is the time to start gearing-up.

According to a report from George Mason’s Center for Regional Analysis, Fairfax County, over the next eighteen years, is projected to add 168,833 new jobs (net) out of the 1.05 million forecast for the entire Metro area. This level of area-wide employment growth will require another 731,457 housing units; 110,000 needed in Fairfax County alone.

Traditionally, only half of the workforce lives close to their place of employment.  The other half endure arduous commutes creating excessive demands on transportation resources and highways.  Since Washington is already deemed the second most traffic-congested metropolitan area in the country, just consider what another half million commuters will add to this writhing traffic throng.

The success of the region’s economy has become the broad diversity of employment sectors.  Even if one or more sector declines in any economy, the others help to level the odds against a full blown depression. Fairfax County, through their Economic Development Authority actively market new and larger companies to relocate to the county with the aim of maintaining a protective business base of broad diversity.  Jobs are  no longer dependent on federal government positions or even those in defense contracting.  Instead, Fairfax County has almost 400 foreign owned firms, others in Information Technology, Telecommunications, Financial Services, Aerospace, and Internet focused start-ups, along with all the support and professional service companies required in a robust business world.  It is this strong commercial tax base, used to pay for public services, “That enables Fairfax County to withstand economic stresses better than virtually any other locality in the nation.” boasts, quite rightly, the FCEDA.

As to the future, new businesses may not open or relocate to Fairfax County if their workers are forced to live far from the company premises, and new workers may not apply for the same reason.  To date, the cost of close-in housing and availability have driven more than half of all employees to commute 120 minutes or more per day. Consequently, smart growth advocates hammer the message that new housing units need to be multi-family, in mixed-use developments, and located close to areas of employment, shopping, and transportation.  In order to keep the traffic manageable, older communities need to revitalize their business core to accommodate the mixed use, or even a town center concept.  (Please see the Annandale Demonstration Project, ENDEAVOR, October 2011:  page 1 on this website under Community Revitalization.

The Village of Shirlington has achieved a functional and attractive mixed-use concept.The Village of Shirlington, Reston Town Center, and Fairfax Corner are three well known examples of thesuccessful town center concept. Tyson’s Corner itself is well on the way to establishing a Town Center following the trend of urbanizing large malls and recently it was announced that White Flint Mall, already on the Metro line, will be pulled down to make way for yet another.  Arlington and Bethesda have also built dynamic mixed-use communities centered around their Metro stops.  Too bad Fairfax County did not show the foresight to widely embrace the Metro system when they had the chance in the 1970’s.  Convinced that commuters wanted the independence of car travel, Fairfax County poured money into building and widening highways rather than any long range mass transit system setting the stage for today’s gridlock especially on routes to and from Tyson’s Corner.

George Mason’s analysis suggests that, “the region’s (new) housing must be priced so that it is affordable to new workers.”  Wages will run all across the board with a higher number of new workers living in single income households.  Moderate price homes, close to work, will be require and rental units for young professionals will increase in demand by at least 9%.

Developers, local governments and regional employers are warned in the study to consider the following four major policy implications carefully.

1. Local jurisdictions are planning for an insufficient amount of housing to accommodate future workers.

2. More housing is needed closer to jobs, in existing and growing regional employment centers.

3. There is a need for more multi-family housing and smaller, more affordable owner and rental homes in the region.  (2/3rd under $400K and at least 50% rentals under $1,250 / month.)

4.* A lack of sufficient supply of housing contributes to worse traffic, the quality of life, and threatens our region’s economic vitality.

Annandale, located only 9.2 miles from Tyson’s Corner, the 12th largest business district in the US and the powerhouse of economic development in Fairfax County, has always inherited some of the smaller fringe companies spun off Tyson’s corporate platter.  The number of professional service companies and young business professionals working in Annandale has noticeably increased over the past 6 years.   Yet, Annandale’s residential population of young adults is less than 13% in contrast to a county-wide average of 24%.

Fortunately, Annandale’s residential real estate has resisted dramatic market fluctuations now and in the past by becoming home to military, government workers, and now many employees of corporate Tyson’s, all of which have been regarded as stable sectors.  However, adapting to the needs of Y2030 will require Annandale, one of the most conveniently located communities in Fairfax County, to execute a major revitalization effort and soon.

Unlike other parts of Fairfax County, Annandale’s residential boom (64% of current inventory) was built prior to 1970.  In the past twenty years it grew by only 9% compared with an 84% housing growth for the county. The 2010 census shows a graying and declining population in Fairfax County with younger residents fleeing to more hip and happening spots such as Arlington.   If Annandale is to remain relevant in the future, high end mixed-use leasable space, suitable for young professionals, must be built. It must also be built if Annandale hopes to keep these vibrant professionals as part of our permanent residential community.

To read the complete article, please see the January 2012 edition of the ENDEAVOR news magazine or for information on Revitalizaiton see the Community Revitalization section on this website.  *To read the full study by Lisa Sturtevat and Stephen Fuller, go to: http://66.147.244.232/~lifeats1/cra/pdfs/studies_reports_presentations/Housing_Conference_Oct25.pdf

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