The Little City is known to its residents as a close-knit community with a vibrant atmosphere. The location, age demographics and walkability all contribute to creating a rare and golden city. Nevertheless, despite a general understanding of the public’s love of the Little City, the city took initiative on a community survey to evaluate demographics and satisfaction of living in Falls Church, with insight into what residents believe are important issues. The Community Satisfaction Survey, managed by Probolsky Research, was researched April 22 – May 3 of 2023, and can be found on the city’s website.
“We hired an outside firm to do it. It was not an opt-in kind of survey. They specifically selected 400 people that were representative of the entire city,” said Vice Mayor Letty Hardi. “We had a good balance across…age groups, racial groups, people who lived geographically dispersed across the city, so we weren’t skewed towards one area.”
The survey revealed an upward trend of renters in the city, with 43 percent of residents that currently rent and 57 percent that own their properties. This upward trend in renting resulted from an increase in multifamily buildings, which were built after clear demand from those in Falls Church and the D.C. region.
“Founders Row, for example, is over 90 some percent occupied, so there’s clearly demand for people that live in Falls Church, if not the D.C. region,” Hardi said. “It’s not like we’re building housing and then no one’s occupying it. We’re building it and builders are building it because they know that there’s demand for it.”
This increase in rental housing stock also resulted in an increase in younger Falls Church residents. With the younger demographic more likely to rent, rental properties have helped balance out the demographics of Falls Church. Currently, 32 percent of the population are age 39 and below, and 68 percent are 40 and above.
While this shift in housing stock has attracted some to Falls Church, the Community Satisfaction Survey also recorded housing affordability as a top concern for renters under the age of 40. Another top concern was controlling development.
“We know that it’s a challenge for people to afford to live in Falls Church and live in the DC region….The pace of housing prices has far outpaced wage growth,” Hardi said. “That’s something that I know is a challenge even without the survey results, and so that’s something that is important to work on.”
Despite current negative opinion on housing affordability, Vice Mayor Hardi cited steps that have been taken to diminish the issue. Some changes that have taken place within the last decade include negotiating for non-expirable affordable housing units and negotiating for an increase in affordable housing units, as seen in the Broad & Washington Project and Founders Row. Upcoming initiatives and investments by the city include an affordable Homeownership Program, funded by Amazon grant money, and buying up and redeveloping properties.
“We’ve done a lot on affordable housing,” Hardi said. “I think a lot of the data validates that those were the right things that the city should invest in. And I think if anything else, it just means we need to do more and faster because it’s such an important problem.”
The Community Satisfaction Survey likewise recorded what current residents most enjoy about Falls Church. Twenty-two percent of individuals appreciate Falls Church for its walkability, 16 percent for the small-town feel and 12 percent for its proximity to D.C. With its close-knit community and proximity to the nation’s capital, the Little City differentiates itself from surrounding jurisdictions. Overall, the survey found that 88.5 percent assess the quality of life as good.
“It’s that small community feel where you get big city options like restaurants, grocery stores, shopping, cool streets…. but that kind of small community vibe where you don’t feel like you’re lost inside of a big city,” Hardi said. “I feel like we do a good job balancing between the small town feel with all the conveniences of being in a big city, because you can walk everywhere.”
With such insightful information, the plan is for an external community survey to take place every two years. With consistent surveying, the city will be able to look at trends over time.
“We hadn’t done this in over—I want to say 10 years—but this was something we had pushed on that was really important for us to regulate…. We’ll come back in 2025 and hopefully we’ll see some changes where we’ve tried to improve services or tried to make a difference in certain things,” Hardi said.