Editorial: More Affordable Housing Needed

Editorial: More Affordable Housing Needed

Anticipated job growth to exacerbate problem.

In Northern Virginia, affordable housing means more than human services or helping those who are less fortunate. It means more than housing the chronically homeless, although that is not optional.

In Northern Virginia, having enough affordable housing is critical to economic health, based on housing the workers needed at a variety of income levels. It is also critical to traffic management. If workers on the lower end of the income scale can’t afford to work near their jobs, those workers will have to drive longer distances, creating gridlock and air pollution.

Consider that in the Washington Metropolitan Region, the established median rent for a two-bedroom apartment, according to HUD, is $1,589 monthly. To afford that rent, paying no more than 30 percent of gross income, requires an income of about $60,000 annually. And it is obvious that rents in Northern Virginia are more expensive that the region.

Consider for example, that right now in Alexandria, there are more than 8,300 workers in the accommodations and food service industry who earn on average $470 weekly, or less than $25,000 a year. (Employment statistics from Virginia Employment Commission.)

In Arlington, there are more than 15,400 workers in accommodations and food service, with an average weekly wage of $491, or $25,500 annually.

In Fairfax County, in food service and accommodations, there are more than 48,400 workers with an average wage of $426 weekly or an annual income of just over $22,000.

These are people working full time in jobs that are important to our economy who cannot afford market rate rents, and rents are climbing.

The George Mason University School of Public Policy Center for Regional Analysis forecasts that, based on predicted job growth, over the next 20 years this region will need an additional 344,624 single-family units and 203,674 multi-family units.

From the report:

“The region’s new housing must be priced so that it is affordable to these new workers. Based on the housing need forecasts, 44.1 percent of rental units will need to have rents of less than $1,250 a month, while only 2.4 percent of the rental demand will be for units priced at $2,250 a month or more. About 16.4 percent of the owner-occupied units forecasted need to be valued at less than $200,000 and only 13.5 percent at over $600,000.”

For example, the report predicts adding more than 71,000 health services workers with a median income of $39,500; more than 45,000 hospitality workers with a median income of $18,300; and 17,700 retail workers with a median income of $22,500.

The units to house the current and future workforce will not materialize on their own. It will require a variety of incentives and interventions to make sure those units are part of new development.

As the Silver Line opens, it’s important to remember that the coming years will bring the last great boom in building in Fairfax County. No matter what the immediate impediments, the local economy cannot thrive unless developing affordable housing is built into all of those development plans, current and future.

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