Lower-cost housing is essential to attract the workers needed to speed the Washington area's economic recovery, analyst George Grier told the Northern Virginia Building Industry Association this week.
New jobs of moderate income are still being created in this area, Grier said, but workers to fill them can't afford the area's housing prices.
Most D.C. area residents who want to work are already doing so, and not many more people can be expected to commute daily from Pennsylvania or central Virginia to Northern Virginia job sites, Grier stated in urging that lower-cost housing be considered by builders during the current downturn in construction and sales.
Grier, representing the independent Greater Washington Research Center, told the developers' Loudoun County chapter on Tuesday that roads and other infrastructure projects that support new housing also must keep pace with residential construction if the local economy is to get back on track.
Referring to recent news of housing price declines and staff cutbacks by financial institutions and other firms, Grier noted that the short-term outlook for the economy is uncertain. But he said he is "still bullish" on the Washington area.
"The fundamentals are all good," Grier stated, adding that it may take a while for the region's business picture to brighten substantially.
Encouraging low-cost housing and financing roads and other growth-related needs are among the key issues in Loudoun County.
The county government is still in the process of forming and implementing a policy that might encourage construction of so-called affordable housing, such as single-family houses that sell for less than $200,000 and apartments that low- to medium-income families can afford.
In addition, the county and state governments face a multiple-year cash crunch as they try to build and improve roads that must carry current and future residents, including those heading to and from work.
"When it takes 2 1/2 hours to get home at night" it deters those people who are thinking of coming to Loudoun or other parts of the Washington area to work and buy a house, Grier said.
Most of the recent arrivals to the area are renters who have no children and are paying more than one-third of their incomes for their apartments, he stated.
These people can't save the down payment to purchase a house, he noted, adding, "That's not good for the building industry."
Grier said surveys show that 92 percent of the housing units built in the region from 1980 to 1985 are single-family houses, with the biggest category being houses having at least eight rooms.
Meanwhile, household sizes have continued to shrink, he said. Half of all condominiums built in that period were rented rather than occupied by the buyer, Grier added.
He said there is still a modest market for high-priced houses, but "the bulk of the market is not in that price range, and the bulk of the market has to be served" if the area is to attract the workers it needs.
Asked how local governments can be persuaded to permit increased density that might encourage construction of low-cost housing, Grier commented, "That's going to take some jawboning."