Local Commentary

Editorial: F.C. Needs a Residential Boom

In the course of two highly-informative presentations on regional demographic shifts evidenced in the 2010 U.S. Census and regional economic trends Tuesday night, analyst Dr. Lisa Sturtevant noted a profound change over the last decade in how economic growth is best stimulated that has real significance for the City of Falls Church.

Dr. Sturtevant of the George Mason University Center for Regional Analysis and Ken Billingsley, director of demographics of the Northern Virginia Regional Commission, made back-to-back presentations to members of Falls Church’s Economic Development Authority (EDA) and Planning Commission in what will be more fully reported in next week’s News-Press.

But Dr. Sturtevant’s insight bears directly on the considerable interest and efforts being put to new economic development these days in Falls Church. On that score, it is worth underscoring that the two new F.C. City Council members-elect who won election last month – David Tarter and Phil Duncan – both come as currently active members of the EDA who were present Tuesday.

In response to a question, Dr. Sturtevant was to indicate strongly that, quite different than the prevailing wisdom of the recent past, it is now recognized that residential housing construction is the key to economic development.

Citing the report last weekend in the Post on Washington D.C.’s efforts in this regard, and mirroring a lot of what was done in Arlington around the Metro stations, she said that the common view that commercial development is the key to bringing in new business is now “being turned on its head.”

“Companies come to where the workers are now,” she said. The workforce decides where it wants to live, and the companies that want them follow them there.

Of course, some have been saying that in Falls Church for some time, but have felt themselves beating their heads against walls (where there are any).

Billingsley’s presentation showed a remarkable gap in the demographics of Falls Church, its lack of a significant population of 20-to-45-year olds. In fact, the City has the lowest percentage of its total population from that age group of any jurisdiction in Northern Virginia. At only 19 percent of the total population, that age group is half the relative size of its counterpart in Arlington, where it makes up 38 percent of the total population.

But this demographic group is the most vital and vibrant, the most likely to lure new business both as prospective employers and as providers of retail and other services, like nice restaurants and an active nightlife.

So, here’s the rub: Falls Church has the highest median household values in all of Virginia, and the 11th highest in the U.S. It has no significant housing stock that workers in the 20-to-45 age range can afford, much less even lower cost housing for those needed for jobs serving new residents.

D.C.’s thrust for growth is to promote new, smaller rental housing units. It sounds like a plan that will work.