George Mason University report (Oct. 2011) finds housing planning insufficient in

Washington metropolitan area



The George Mason University Center for Regional Analysis (“GMU”), whose research on housing needs is  relied on by local jurisdictions in the Washington metropolitan area, has issued a new housing report. (GMU, Housing the Region’s Future Workforce (Oct. 25, 2011); posted at: See also GMU’s presentation to the Reston Task Force, (Jan. 24, 2012), using the same figures. That presentation is posted at:



GMU draws the following policy conclusions from its analysis of past and projected job and housing growth in the Washington metropolitan area:

  1. Local jurisdictions are planning for an insufficient amount of housing to accommodate future workers.
  2. More housing is needed closer to jobs, in existing and growing regional employment centers.
  3. There is a need for more multi-family housing and smaller, more affordable owner and renter homes in the region. 
  4. A lack of a sufficient supply of housing contributes to worsening traffic and quality of life and threatens our region’s economic vitality.

GMU’s report documents that the Washington region has not been producing nearly enough housing over the last 20 years to keep up with job growth in a responsible manner. Among the jurisdictions that have fallen well short is Fairfax County, VA -- which has been EHI’s initial local focus, because its office is located there.



GMU’s new report indicates that from 1992 to 2011, the Washington metropolitan area fell short on housing production by more than one-third. During that period, the region averaged about 28,600 residential building permits annually. (The 2011 figure GMU used was an extrapolation from building permit data trough June of that year.) (GMU, 10/25/11 at p. 13, Figure 4)



However, just to keep up with housing demand from new workers entering the job market, the region needed an average of 38,500 building permits annually during that period. (Id., and p. 12, Table 4) (The 38,500 figure is the “high estimate” – the number of new residential units needed so as not to increase the already-excessive number of workers who must commute from one jurisdiction to another.) Since 2008, the number of building permits has dwindled (less than half of the 20-year average number).


Fairfax County is one of the prime areas for job growth in the region between now and 2030, and it is the county on which EHI has focused most of its initial attention. In 2010, total employment in Fairfax County was about 633,450, and GMU’s new report projected reduced job growth there of about 168,833 net new jobs (a 26.7% increase) by 2030, for a total of roughly 802,000 jobs. (GMU, Oct. 25, 2011, at p. 4, Table 1) By contrast, in mid-2010, GMU had projected job growth for the County from about 680,000 jobs that year to about 980,000 in 2030. GMU CRA, Forecasts for the Reston/Dulles Rail Corridor and Route 28 Corridor 2010 to 2050, pp. 5-6 and Figure 2 (July 26, 2010), available on the Reston Task Force webpage:


Despite the reduced projections of job growth, however, GMU indicates that housing growth in Fairfax County will fall more than 9,000 units short of the 110,947 needed by 2030, just to accommodate new workers there. (GMU, Oct. 25, 2011, at p. 22, Table 11 “high estimates”)


In addition to homes for new workers, there will be a need for new housing units for workers replacing retiring workers who stay in their homes. About 60% of the 1.8 million workers in the Washington metropolitan area who will retire between 2010 and 2030 are projected to stay in their homes after retirement. (Id. at p. 32) That means that up to an additional 1.08 million homes might have to be created in the region by 2030, just to accommodate replacement workers.


Fairfax County had about 23% of the region’s employment in 2010 (633,450 workers out of 2.759 million workers in the region overall) (see id. at p. 4, Table 1). So, for its share of replacement workers, Fairfax County might have to produce nearly 250,000 housing units by 2030, in addition to about 110,947 units for workers in new jobs. Fairfax County currently is projected to produce only about 102,000 new housing units by then.


GMU notes that housing opportunities for both new and replacement workers should be located much nearer to people’s jobs in the future, to satisfy the important goals of minimizing commuting times, use of fossil fuels for long-distance commutes, and urban sprawl. To pursue those goals, policy makers should use GMU’s “high estimates” for housing demand. Also, some housing professionals and researchers are finding that younger workers are shifting their housing preference more toward rental housing and more compact housing closer to transit. (Id. at 32)