Housing Projections Continue to Raise Questions about Loudoun’s Growth

Housing Projections Continue to Raise Questions about Loudoun’s Growth

Supervisors confronted with County housing projections that are vastly at odds with consultants report.

Before a formal presentation on housing at its Feb. 23 business meeting, the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors has begun to review an eye-opening housing needs assessment that shows the county will need 18,000 more housing units than is currently planned for to meet demand through 2040. As exclusively reported by The Tribune on Jan. 3, and updated on Jan. 12, the independent consultants hired by the county have returned a significantly different assessment than what the county’s own forecasts have shown for years.

At stake is how and where and at what pace the county’s residential growth will continue, and how this will match up with the growth in businesses and jobs expected to sustain the local economy.

Both the county’s projections and the housing needs assessment, developed by Lisa Sturtevent & Associates in partnership with George Mason University, consider the impact future job growth will have on the number of new households coming to Loudoun. While they both agree the county will add around 100,000 new jobs by 2040, they use different parameters to measure housing demand and differ on how much is needed.

The housing needs assessment takes what it calls an “unconstrained” analysis of housing needs, ignoring land use plans or already-approved developments, and focusing on housing demand as it relates to projected job growth. While the unconstrained view predicts around 66,000 new needed housing units by 2040, the county’s “constrained” conditions, which take land use regulations and existing permits into consideration, says only around 47,000 are needed by that time.

“It’s easy for folks to think that we’re going to need to approve so many more units to meet housing needs,” said supervisor Kristen Umstattd (D- Leesburg) at the Board’s Jan. 19 meeting,” but in fact we have a large number of units that have already been approved that haven’t been built yet and that is going to potentially reduce the need significantly for any new units.”

While there are proposed units not yet under construction, there are still questions over the total number of housing units either study says are needed, as well as how this housing growth is inextricably connected to the long-term growth of Loudoun’s businesses and jobs.

To analyze housing needs, the county also created a Residential Buildout Analysis (RBA), presented to the Board on Oct. 4 of last year, in an effort to measure Loudoun’s development potential.  After a parcel-by-parcel examination, county staff determined Loudoun could create up to 54,309 new housing units through 2040. That assumes every parcel reaches maximum housing capacity at some point under current land use plans, without regard for infrastructure needs like water, sewer or roads.

That leaves Loudoun short of the 66,000 units projected by the unconstrained report, and includes growth forecasts that are highly inconsistently with the pattern of the past 20 years.

Following nearly three decades of sustained growth, the county’s projections anticipates household units to steadily slow in the decades to follow as the county reaches the development cusp permitted under its full build out. Because of self-imposed land use regulations, county staff is projecting a significant housing unit slowdown. Beginning in 2021, the county projects 2 percent growth, slowing falling to 0.1 percent annual growth by 2044.  

In comparison, Loudoun housing units grew at 2.1 percent during the recession in 2009 and have grown an average of nearly 3 percent from 2011 to 2016. In similar projections in the previous assessment published in 2011, county staff thought Loudoun would only grow at around a 2.1 percentage rate from 2011 through 2016.

If Loudoun continues under the parameters of the RBA, it could preserve the county’s vision for managed growth set forth in its 2001 comprehensive plan, which is now under review.  But both the outside consultant and the county’s own staff predict 100,000 jobs are coming to Loudoun in the next 25 years, and it will be up to the Board to determine if they will provide the housing that unconstrained projections think the market will sustain.

The housing needs assessment warns failure to do so could stifle further economic development, as some businesses, wary of a housing shortage, might be unlikely to locate or expand in Loudoun. Limits to housing could force more commuters, further contesting Loudoun’s roads. A limited housing supply could also further drive up housing prices in what is already one of the most expensive jurisdictions in the nation.

County officials have been optimistic that the densely-clustered, multi-family housing units planned for around the new Metro rail stations in eastern Loudoun will ease the burden. The housing needs assessment is not as optimistic, concluding that Loudoun will have more than 12,000 multifamily housing units beyond demand by 2040 and instead will need to facilitate more than 30,000 new single family and townhomes. The RBA doesn’t divide units into housing types.

The discussion of new housing comes as the county works to adopt a new comprehensive plan for the first time since 2001, though amendments to the current plan have been added over the intervening years. That new guidance document will have great bearing on future housing, and supervisors have already agreed to limit the scope of revisions.  Among those limits is leaving the more rural and western parts of the county untouched.  Yet both the housing needs assessment and the county’s own numbers project more development in some of those rural areas to meet overall housing demand and sustain economic growth.