EHI issues analysis of role of governmental land use planning in housing shortages and excessive costs


EHI has issued an extensive analysis of the role of local government planning in housing shortages and excessive housing costs for low- and moderate-income workers. The analysis was prompted by a major new report by the Fairfax County (Virginia) Planning Division on appropriate jobs-housing ratios for the growth areas in that large suburb of Washington, DC. To access EHI’s analysis and a link to Fairfax County's report, click on JOBS-HOUSING RATIO REPORT--FAIRFAX COUNTY.

Jobs-housing balance concepts have important applications to housing policy (although they developed primarily to achieve transportation goals, such as reducing traffic congestion and long-distance commuting). The Fairfax County Report appears to be one of the few major, published treatments of the subject by local governments, and it may influence other local government policies across the United States.

The Fairfax County Report contains valuable information on the causes and effects of jobs-housing imbalance and on the importance of developing better jobs-housing ratios in the County. The County deserves credit for providing a good deal of transparency concerning its land use policies—including an extensive website and open procedures.

However, the County Report also has serious flaws. For example, its central policy conclusion—that the County’s growth areas generally should be developed or redeveloped with approximately two to four times as many new jobs as housing units—clearly would increase the problems the County says it wants to solve.

That growth policy is inconsistent with closing the housing gap in the County—one of the biggest job markets in the Washington, DC, region. However, that policy is quite consistent with the frequent desire of local governments to increase net government revenue from new development—even in areas which already have tremendous wealth. Fairfax County, for example, ranks second highest per-capita income among counties nationally, and seven of the top ten counties in per-capita income are in the Washington area.

There is a widespread pattern of heavy regulatory barriers to housing development in wealthy suburbs that have been job magnets in major metropolitan areas. As Harvard’s Joint Center for Housing Studies notes: “State and local regulations are among the principal culprits behind the nation’s persistent [housing] affordability problems.” EHI’s analysis points out flaws in Fairfax County’s policy and summarizes best practices on jobs-housing ratios. (Again, to access EHI’s analysis, click on JOBS-HOUSING RATIO REPORT--FAIRFAX COUNTY.)

  • For more on successful suburban communities near transit that are predominantly residential, both in the Washington metropolitan area and across the United States, click on RESIDENTIAL TOD WORKS.
  • For a summary of the updated George Mason University report (Dec. 2013) finding housing planning and production insufficient in the Washington metropolitan area, click on 2013 GMU HOUSING REPORT.