Op-Ed: Contrary to Report, Loudoun’s Housing Needs Well in Hand

By Al Van Huyck, Round Hill

       Last week’s Chamber of Commerce-sponsored discussion on the “State of Housing” continued the drum beat for opening Loudoun for a lot more housing. The business community has every right to advance their private interests. It is the American way. On the other hand, there is a public interest represented by the county’s existing households to be considered. And with literally billions of dollars at stake over the next 20 years we should be in for an exciting debate.

So let’s see what the George Mason University “Housing Needs Study” has to say below the headlines.

  1. The often quoted 18,000 housing unit “need” above county forecasts is not correct. The GMU Study states that there is a need for 19,000 single-family detached units, and 11,000 single-family attached units or nearly a 50 percent increase over county forecasts. [Figure A-6] Little noticed is the GMU study predicts that the county’s multi-family (mixed use) projections will have a 12,000-unit shortfall. Hence a net “need” of 18,000 units.
  2. Are they suggesting our Silver Line Urban Area with 20,000 plus multifamily units will fail? The citizens of Loudoun support the Silver Line Metro Plan.
  3. There is no way the GMU 30,000 single-family detached and attached additional housing units can be accommodated in the Suburban Policy Area or even the Transition Policy Area. If the new Comprehensive Plan comes close to accepting these kinds of growth numbers it will eventually, in five to 10 years, be the end of the Rural Policy Area and rural economy as we know it.
  4. The need for “affordable” or “workforce” housing is also stressed in the report in a series of tables on “cost burdened households.” It notes that 25.4 percent of owners, and 49.3 percent of renters are cost burdened in Loudoun. However, [Figure 40] it shows that every one of the jurisdictions in the Washington Metro area are either slightly less or slightly more “cost burdened” than Loudoun. In short, it is a Metro wide problem and Loudoun should work through the Council of Governments to explore solutions with our neighbors.
  5. For years the business sector has pushed for more housing to provide for school teachers and government workers so I was pleasantly surprised to see in the GMU data that 56.6 percent of the jobs are held by residents. This total is up from below 50 percent some 15 years ago, but still has room to grow as several Counties are above 60 percent in the Metro Region.
  6. The breakdown in the percentage of jobs held by county residents by category [Figure 22] is even more encouraging: The jobs in leisure and hospitality (73.1 percent), retail trade (69.9 percent), State and local government (69.2 percent), education and health services (64.3 percent) and financial services (63 percent) are locally held.
  7. The GMU study starts with the assumption that Loudoun will generate 107,100 jobs over the next 20 years and therefore we will need housing to accommodate the workers. But it does not separate between jobs created to serve the residential population and high value export jobs (data centers, Dulles Airport, corporate headquarters, etc.). Obviously, the more population and housing the more jobs serving that population will be generated. A perfect “self-fulling prophecy” in action. Loudoun’s economic strategy should focus on attracting high value business and industrial jobs and not seeking ever more housing to create jobs serving an ever-expanding population.

The GMU Housing Needs Study has not made a convincing case as to why the county should greatly expand its forecasts for housing, or modify its Silver Line Metro Plan, or give up its goal of revitalizing our older neighborhoods in eastern Loudoun, or lower the quality of life of its existing residents all of which will suffer if Loudoun tries to accommodate the housing recommended by the GMU Study.

We seem to be meeting the county’s housing needs pretty well under the Board of Supervisor’s current policy and they are keeping our tax rate reasonable as a plus. Let’s not mess it up.

[Editor’s note: While writing as an individual and not as a representative of any group, the writer is a former Loudoun County Planning Commission chairman and a member of the Board of Supervisors-appointed Envision Loudoun Stakeholders Committee.]

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