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Your article on the Chamber of Commerce-sponsored discussion on the “State of Housing” continued the drumbeat for opening up 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. 
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 (GMU) Housing Needs Study has to say below the headlines.

Forecasts in conflict: 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, page 9) Little noticed is the GMU study predicts that the county’s multi-family (mixed use) projections will have a 12,000 shortfall. Hence a net “need” of 18,000 units.

Doomed to failure? Are they suggesting our Silver Line Urban Area with 20,000 plus multi-family units will fail? The citizens of Loudoun support the Silver Line Metro Plan.

End of rural economy? There is no way 30,000 single-family detached and attached additional housing units forecast by GMU can be accommodated in the Suburban Area or even the Transition 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.

Cost burdened. 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 percent of owners and 49.3 percent of renters are cost burdened in Loudoun. However, tables show 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. 

Room for residents. 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 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 6 percent in the metro region. 

Spectrum of jobs: The breakdown in the percentage of jobs held by county residents by category 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. 

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.

Alfred P.  Van Huyck is an urban and regional planner and former member of the Loudoun County Planning Commission.

Round Hill


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