Will the Silver Line Provide a Critical Link to Young Workers?

A discussion Monday on the impact of extending Metrorail’s Silver Line focused, in part, on the impact it will have on housing costs and young workers.

With news that the Silver Line’s expansion into Loudoun has been delayed yet again—likely into spring 2021, said Fairfax County Supervisor Walter L. Alcorn during the Dulles Regional Chamber of Commerce’s “Metro Monday” gathering—businesses and government in the region have more time to think about how to get ready for its arrival.

“We need to make sure we’re getting the word out to the businesses that are looking to come to our area to say, hey, we’re still open for business,” Supervisor Koran T. Saines (D-Sterling) said. “Yes, it’s been delayed once, yes it’s been delayed twice—but in the meantime, we still have a lot of resources, people who are looking for work who are either underemployed or looking to transition.”

The county has one of the lowest unemployment rates in the region—a statistic that economic development officials warn is good news for Loudouners, but can make it hard for new businesses to find someone to hire.

Alcorn said, “it’s important to recognize how much the Silver Line and Phase 2 is going to open up the region.”

That could mean workers riding trains both in and out of the area, and possibly bringing in more people at the beginning of their careers—as Ashburn-based tech company IT Cadre founder Mark Madigan pointed out, “It’s very challenging in Loudoun County to hire anybody that’s not 30 or over.”

“I think the reason they’re not in Loudoun County is because there’s not a lot of fun things to do, so the growing of the communities around the metro. … I think that’s equally as important as the transportation elements,” Madigan said.

And Alcorn said, “we always have to remember that one of the cornerstones of attracting and retaining talent in the area is our excellent school systems.”

But, he said, with that, the region must also think about housing costs for those young professionals.

“Frankly, the Silver Line is probably not going to help with that,” Alcorn said. “It’s going to drive up property values, and it’s going to drive up rents in a lot of places. We have to recognize that.” 

To address that, he argued, local governments will have to open up zoning laws to allow more residential density near metro stops, and also spend some of their own money to help out people at the low end of the economic spectrum.

And Saines said that will mean ambitious projects to build more affordable housing.

“We need to start rolling up our sleeves and doing really great projects,” Saines said. “Not just good projects, but really great projects.” And if developers bring those to the table, Saines said, local government can work with them to get the word out about that work.

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