Preservation and Conservation Coalition Challenges GMU Housing Study

A recent George Mason University study that forecasted a massive housing shortage in Loudoun has come under criticism from another source: The Loudoun Preservation and Conservation Coalition.

A study prepared by GMU’s Center for Regional Analysis and the consulting firm Lisa Sturtevant and Associates predicts a shortage of nearly 18,000 units by 2040 under current county development policies.

In a letter to the county board this week, the coalition laid out many of the same caveats that some supervisors have brought up about that study, albeit in stronger terms. Coalition representatives wrote that the study “is not a valid foundation for setting housing policies for the New Comprehensive Plan.”

[Read the full letter here.]

Members of the coalition’s New Comprehensive Plan Review Committee pointed out the study does not account for changes in the population that the county is planning for in the next several decades. According to the letter, those include changes in the types of housing people will want, changes in patterns of commuting as local employment grows, and the impact of Metro on both commuting and urban density.

They also say those changes are already underway. From 2000 to 2015, according to the coalition, there was an uptick of 6 percent of Loudouners who work in the county, up to 56 percent.

“The study can, however, serve as a useful warning of the consequences of unconstrained approval and construction of single family homes to the maximum extent allowed by current zoning and land use regulations,” the coalition wrote. They suggest the county invest in “a dynamic and flexible planning and modeling system that would allow the County to more easily analyze the interdependencies, correlations and impacts of alternative scenarios and assumptions.”

In fact, the GMU study team did deliver its model to the county, one designed to allow county planners to tinker with the underlay assumptions used in the study and see how they affect its housing forecast.

“I want to emphasize that these assumptions are really key to these estimates, and, of course, if we had made different assumptions, we would have made different estimates,” said Lisa Sturtevant, president of the firm that worked with GMU to produce the study, when she presented her results to the Board of Supervisors.

Staff members in the Department of Family Services said they have only recently received the model.

Likewise, supervisors and members of the county’s own comprehensive plan review committee have described the study as a useful data point, but not the end-all of housing forecasts in Loudoun.

That hasn’t stopped some development interests outside the county committee from raising the study as an argument for allowing more housing, even at already approved developments such as at One Loudoun.

One of the members of the coalition’s comprehensive plan review committee, former Planning Commission chairman Al Van Huyck, also serves on the county’s committee. The same day the letter was released, Van Huyck raised those concerns about the study during the county committee’s work session.

In that meeting, Buddy Rizer, executive director of the Loudoun Department of Economic Development, did not directly criticize the GMU study, but did acknowledge it didn’t quite fit what he’s seeing in terms of market conditions.

“I think the study does assume that housing preference will not change over time,” Rizer said. “I believe that the reason we’re having Metro come here is we want to change some of those preferences, so I think that it’s an important piece of data, but I think it has to be tempered with other information and market conditions.”


Loudoun Housing Needs Report Gets Mixed Reception from Supervisors

One thought on “Preservation and Conservation Coalition Challenges GMU Housing Study

  • 2017-05-02 at 8:16 pm

    Jobs drive housing demand, Econ 101. Reduce the size and power of the federal government, housing demand (and prices) will collapse. Fewer jobs equal fewer houses.
    Housing prices inform. Why are they insanely high? Could it be that 2/3 of Loudoun County land is zoned in effect for McMansions only (i.e., viewshed preservation)? Public water and sewer, necessary for middle class housing, is banned. That is why builders must build higher densities–land allowed to build on is in short supply and thus costly.
    I can’t predict future housing needs. However, I do know you can’t rewrite the laws of economics.

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