County, Consultant Reports Conflict on Housing Needs

A draft report on Loudoun County’s future housing needs projects a major shortage of residential units by 2040—but other reports may show just the opposite.

The report, prepared by consulting firm Lisa Sturtevant & Associates LLC and the George Mason University Center for Regional Analysis, shows the county with a shortage of up to 17,860 housing units by 2040. But that analysis is based on a projected 23-year demand for 185,460 units with only 167,600 units available, and is starkly inconsistent with the county’s own calculations.

In a separate report, the Loudoun Department of Planning and Zoning has counted 131,440 housing units in the county already, with at least 51,787 more permitted under current zoning and in developments already underway. Allowing for some upzoning, county planners estimate up to 185,749 may be built in the county under current conditions—before even considering the Board of Supervisors ambitious plans around future Silver Line Metro stops.

“These forecasts assume no substantial changes to local or other policies to target particular household types,” notes the GMU housing needs assessment. But substantial changes are coming down the pike, to say the least: The county is planning for up to 15,109 additional housing units, mostly townhouses and apartments, around the Silver Line through 2040.

Measuring those Silver Line and current buildout numbers against the GMU study, the county is planning to be seriously overbuilt, with up to 198,336 housing units available by 2040 but demand for only 167,600—leaving nearly 31,000 houses, townhomes, and apartments standing empty or unbuilt.

And all these numbers come against the backdrop of Envision Loudoun, the 18-month effort to overhaul the county’s comprehensive plan.

So is the county headed for a housing shortage? Or does it have seriously unrealistic expectations for its own growth?

John A. Andrews II, chairman of the Housing Advisory Board who saw the draft GMU report, said neither.

“There are some discrepancies in the draft,” Andrews said. The Housing Advisory Board will take up a final version of the draft next week, but Andrews had plenty of questions about the version he’s seen.

“My initial reaction was, if this is 2017, and you’re looking at what the demand is going to be 23 years down the road, the numbers in the report seem to be underestimated,” Andrews said.

In particular, Andrews said he believes the study underestimates the future demand for housing active adults over 55.

“Everybody focuses on the millennials,” Andrews said. “Well, the millennials are going to age out over this next 23 years, and those that are in their 30s now will be active adults by the end of this study. ‘Active adult’ is actually an economic positive for the county.” Andrews points out that those households do not produce children, the biggest strain on the county’s budget as it grows.

The GMU report is only one of many reports the county will create and consider as it begins for a new phase of growth, including a transition in the suburban east to build more mixed-use, urban-style communities and town centers.

However, the study does bring up some concerns that have plagued county leaders for years—not least among them, how to provide workforce housing in a county with famously high land values and cost of living.

Betsy Self, another member of the Housing Advisory Board, also serves on the working group that is reviewing the GMU study to prepare a final draft, as well as on the board of the Windy Hill Foundation, which has built the vast majority of the affordable housing the county in the past several years.

She pointed out that the county has made progress—it recently adjusted its zoning rules to allow developers to apply for Virginia Housing Development Authority and federal Housing and Urban Development grants for workforce housing, which for years they could not do. Also, the Economic Development Authority, of which she is also a member, is considering launching a workforce housing committee to act as a housing authority.

But the county could do more, she said.

“I’m hoping the board will, from my own perspective, take heed on the affordable housing side of things,” Self said.

The GMU report also anticipates that the county will continue to see growing demand for single-family houses. Andrews said even that is underestimated.

“No matter what, I still believe that people want a single-family, attached townhouse or detached single-family home with a yard,” Andrews said. “I don’t think that everybody’s going to be living in a George Jetson unit.”

Andrews said a home with a yard is still the American dream. “I don’t think that American dream has ended, and I think that it’s what attracts people. Housing opportunities, and good quality schools, and a strong economy is what attracts high-paying jobs and a diverse workforce.”

One thing seems certain: while long-term projections differ in the details, Loudoun is still set for a lot more growing. Andrews said the current and the previous Boards of Supervisors, by focusing on transportation, are trying to get ahead of that curve.

“I think if we acknowledge that growth is going to occur, we can plan for growth to occur,” Andrews said. “What happened in Fairfax, and what has happened in Loudoun … is people putting their heads in the sand about people having children and the Washington, DC, area growing, and not planning properly for growth, instead doing everything they can to stop it. And growth won’t stop.”

rgreene@loudounnow.com
@RenssGreene