Local Commentary

Editorial: Workforce Housing Key to Region’s Future

The realities of the regional economy are becoming overwhelmingly compelling. The prospects for continued economic growth here, despite all the indicators of success swarming around us, will be dependent on some “out of the box” thinking and visionary, courageous leadership by elected officials.

All but one direction are now tapped out or about to be. The region, including the City of Falls Church, can take the bull by the horns and positively direct the trends to the good, or allow a stubborn refusal to take new initiatives bury the region in recession.

Taking the City of Falls Church as an example, let’s see what’s out there and what can be done: 1. Expand the office market? Forget it, the region is seriously glutted for now and a long time to come; 2. Expand the retail market? That market is flat as a pizza for Falls Church, with meals and sales taxes showing no growth despite the opening of considerable new and outstanding enterprises in that category; 3. Build more houses? Well, these are attracting families with a lot of children whose need of a world class education is placing a serious burden on taxpayers and other city services. Plus the value of single family detached homes is skyrocketing, making the region less and less affordable for more and more people.

What’s left to do? Here’s an answer: despite the less than buoyant area economy, Tysons Corner up the road has massive plans for new economic growth and that will create a huge demand for workforce housing.

The pathway to successful economic growth for Falls Church now lies in its ability to capitalize on this coming need, to attract and build the kind of affordable housing units that can attract workers who in turn will spend their dollars near where they live and thereby revitalize the retail and restaurant sectors of the economy.

Stupid Fairfax County hasn’t been willing to go that route, to the chagrin of some enlightened lawmakers. The notion of “residential studio unit,” an apartment in the 300-400 square foot range, was recently rejected by the county board because too many residents felt it would ruin the neighborhood.

Well, it’s the opposite, their stubbornness in the face of a need like this is what will ruin the neighborhood.

Done properly, units of this type and ones slightly larger can bring the kind of population growth that the region needs for three reasons: 1. They offer housing for the thousands of new employees this new economic boom will require; 2. They keep the dollars earned by these employees right here to be spent and; 3. They tend of limit the number of school-aged children and therefore to relieve that burden on government.

While the policy would and should in no way discriminate, it would encourage the kind of population that the area desperately needs: hard working employed people with disposable incomes. Whoever figures this out first, wins.