There is one truly shocking graph in the summary report of demographic trends in the City of Falls Church that had its latest review by the City’s Planning Commission at its meeting this Tuesday. It underscores the biggest new trend in the Little City, one which is not about to change given current policy trends.
That is, while the 2.4 million population in the Northern Virginia region, overall, is characterized by a continuing growth in numbers of children, and households with children, this is not true for Falls Church. This is according to Lisa Sturtevant, president of LSA in Alexandria, which has been commissioned by the City to do a comprehensive demographics study.
Now, the number of children in the City has continued to grow, increasing by 17.4 percent from 2011 to 2016, according to the study, an updated version of which was presented by Sturtevant to the Planners Tuesday. But it represents a rate slower than the rest of the region, and moreover, it comes as the number of households with children in the City has actually decreased by 5.3 percent in that same period.
That time frame marked an 18.7 percent increase in the number of households without children, and this trend is driving growth in the City, the result of a boom in the construction of smaller rental units as part of mixed-use development projects.
The data underscores the argument made by developers coming to Falls Church that their smaller residential rental units (and now some condos and “micro units” being proposed) are not the drivers of growth in school-aged populations for which the City must provide educational and other services.
On the contrary, for taxpayers who worry that residential units in new large scale mixed-use projects will wind up costing more in costs to educate children than they gain in new real estate taxes can relax. The data shows clearly that the decline of households with children is due entirely to these new projects, with hundreds of new residential units that are not bringing children with them.
There has been a 33.1 percent increase in the number of studio and one-bedroom units in the City since 2011, now making up a total of 30.4 percent of the total residences, a number that is almost certain to grow. That’s because the growth of multi-family housing units (three or more to a building) in Falls Church has been, and should continue to represent, the fastest increase in the entire region.
This should be even more true with the advent of micro unit single room and small one-bedroom units that are now being proposed for the first time. The overall growth in children in the City is coming exclusively from the turnover and redevelopment of single family homes, many of which are coming in as the result of merged lots, teardowns of old homes and the construction of new, much larger and pricier homes.
The demographic study, which is slated to get a hearing before the City Council next month, offers a profile of a very unique City of Falls Church amidst the wider region, fueled by the policies that have resulted in the unique decline in households with children.
Now, one in three households in the City are single occupant, made up of someone living alone (except, perhaps, for a pet), another staggering number. This correlates to one in four residents of the City who are ages 55 or up, but still, two thirds of those living alone in the City are under the age of 65 and the growth in that demographic (20.8 percent since 2011) is by far the greatest in the region.
While the increase by 20.8 percent of Falls Church residences is made of households with a sole (human) occupant, that percentage growth is far higher than anywhere else, with Arlington coming in next highest at 4.7 percent, Seven Corners at 2.3 percent and the region overall at 1.4 percent. Communities like Idylwood (down 11 percent), West Falls Church (down 13.7 percent), McLean (down 17.7 percent), Vienna (down 23.6 percent) and Pimmit Hills (down 33.2 percent) all represent double digit declines in that number.
Two important trends to note in this context are the City’s growth in its millennial population, with 1,740 people now between the ages of 25 and 34 living in the City in 2016 (growth of 9.7 percent), and a surge in households that have incomes between $50,000 and $100,000, with one out of four of households operating in that income range.
Of the City’s 5,301 households, about 1,340 are in this income range, up by 928 from 2011 and reflecting a 44.4 percent increase since then.
The recent years’ increase is by far the highest in the region. With its 44.4 percent growth, the City outstrips Seven Corners, the next highest at 3.4 percent and Idylwood at 0.3 percent. All other parts of the region have shown declines.
In terms of the proportion of households with incomes of $150,000 or higher, the City comes in with 39.5 percent in that range, about four out of 10. McLean comes in highest that category at 62 percent, followed by Vienna at 47.9 percent and Arlington at 34.2 percent.
Falls Church is clearly lagging in racial and ethnic diversity, which is a trend exploding in the region overall. “Falls Church is one of the least racially and ethnically diverse communities in a diversifying region,” the study notes. 72.1 percent of residents in the City are non-Hispanic white, compared to Seven Corners, for example, with 31.4 percent of Hispanic and 26.2 percent of Asian residents and only 31.3 percent non-Hispanic white.
The trend is changing but slowly, according to the report. In the last five years, 41.9 percent of new residents added to the population have been non-white, but, still, that’s compared to a growth of 77.3 percent in non-white populations in the region, overall. As of, 2017, more than half the population in the Northern Virginia region are non-white. In the U.S. overall, it was noted, between 2010 and 2017, the white population remained virtually unchanged (up by 0.3 percent), while the non-white population increased by 14.8 percent.
Sturtevant is slated to bring the latest version of her report to a work session of the City Council on March 4, with the idea that it would be formally incorporated into the City’s Comprehensive Plan in June.
But in the meantime, the trends are undoubtedly helping retailers figure out how to increasingly capture this unique Falls Church market.