The study found that local communities have yet to plan adequately for the looming demand, leaving open the possibility of a housing shortfall that could hurt the region’s economy, lower the overall quality of life and drive away employers and employees.
“If businesses find they can’t have their workers live near where they can work, they’re going to go somewhere else. And the workers themselves might also go somewhere else,” said Lisa A. Sturtevant, an assistant professor at George Mason’s school of public policy, who co-authored the study with Stephen S. Fuller, director of the university’s Center for Regional Analysis.
Their research showed that the Washington area, defined by 22 counties and cities, is expected to add 1.05 million jobs through 2030. More than a third of those jobs will be in professional and technical sectors, but significant growth also is expected in administrative, service and health-related jobs that often pay lower wages. If those numbers hold true, that boom will require as many as 731,457 additional units to house workers in the jurisdictions where they work, the study found.
That means the region would need to produce about 38,000 new housing units per year, “an annual pace of construction never before seen in the region and below what local jurisdictions have accounted for in their comprehensive plans,” the study concludes. Data show that over the past 19 years, the region has averaged 28,600 building permits a year; last year, about 15,000 building permits were issued in the region.
In addition, much of the new housing needs to be multi-family units (to make efficient use of available land) and affordable rentals (to put it within reach of younger workers and those with lower salaries), George Mason’s researchers argue.
Fuller recently presented some of the findings to the Montgomery County Council, part of an effort to get local officials focusing more on meeting the long-term housing demands facing their jurisdictions. The study had nearly a dozen individual and corporate sponsors, including Bank of America and the 2030 Group, an association of local business leaders focused on regional long-term economic and population issues.
“He was very provocative,” said County Council president Valerie Ervin. “I knew we were not where we should be, but I didn’t know the extent to which that was a problem. . . . It’s an absolutely huge issue for the county.”
A long-term brake on growth
Like other counties, Montgomery has been exploring ways to create more walkable, denser developments out of once suburban areas. One example is an effort underway to redevelop the White Flint area of Rockville with a mixture of retail, office and residential space. Much the same idea is unfolding in Fairfax County with the massive transformation of Tysons Corner.