Local Commentary

Editorial: F.C. Awaits Its Affordable Share

Next Wednesday, Sept. 11, the Washington Area Council of Governments (COG) is expected to adopt new region-wide targets, broken down by jurisdiction, calling for a major increase in housing overall, and especially affordable housing, to meet the pressing needs of growth in the region. It will be important for policy makers here to see what the City of Falls Church’s share of the overall target will be, and whether our City Council is prepared to adopt in a timely manner a strategy for meeting the goal assigned to the City.

It will mark the first time that the issue of affordable housing, as much as it has drawn increased lip service in the City and region in the last year, will be quantified in a way that could present a realistic goal. The goal the policy sets for adoption next week will be for 2030.

A report by the Urban Institute, commissioned by the Greater Washington Partnership and JPMorgan Chase, and reported by Robert McCartney in yesterday’s Washington Post, says that to maintain the region’s economic growth potential, 374,000 new housing units need to be provided by 2030, about 30 percent more than projected at present. Of that, three-fourths of the new units will need to be affordable for low- and middle-income families.

The COG vote next week will be based on adding an extra 75,000 affordable units by 2030, a 31-percent increase over current forecasts. In high tech areas like San Francisco and Seattle failure to meet housing needs threatens to derail growth there. The Urban Institute states in its report for this area that the three greatest threats to continued growth are traffic gridlock, a shortage of qualified workers and lack of affordable housing.

The report, entitled, “Meeting the Washington Region’s Future Housing Needs,” indicates that housing shortages “can undermine worker productivity, increase the difficulty businesses face in attracting and retaining employees, and discourage businesses from locating in the region.”

In the discourse recently, the term “affordable,” has been interchangeable with “workforce” in an effort to get across the idea that this is not about housing the poor only, but for anyone earning $54,300 or less a year, for example, which requires housing costing $1,300 a month or less. Since 2010 in this region, only 10 percent of the new housing units built have been designed to serve that price range.

The Urban Institute says that the percentage of new housing going forward in that price range needs to increase from 10 to 38 percent to produce the housing needed to avert the stagnation threat to the region.

Falls Church’s City Council, adopting a new chapter in its Comprehensive Plan addressing housing, has talked a lot about affordable, or workforce, options this year. But with next week’s COG vote, we hope it will will not hesitate to craft specific legislation to meet the City’s share, or more, of the region-wide goals.