- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 25, 2007

The growth of professional and business service jobs in Fairfax County [Va.] during the past 15 years has been stunning, turning the county into the area’s leader in private-sector jobs, according to a recent report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

Professional and business services jobs accounted for about 22 percent of total regional jobs, compared to 12 percent in the federal sector. Moreover, between 1990 and 2005, that job sector grew by an additional 228,920 jobs.

Although those jobs can be found across the region, a full 45 percent of them are now in Fairfax County.

Naturally, an increase in jobs means more people who need housing.

“Houses are where the jobs go at night,” says M. Anthony Carr, former columnist for the Friday Home Guide and current director of education for the capital region for Weichert Realtors.

“Fairfax County, across the board, has jobs, but Tysons is really where people are coming to,” says Mark Melikan, a Realtor with Long & Foster. “Housing keeps coming back to transportation, and so the question is: How do we get people closer to the jobs?”

One way is to develop an urbanized version of a town center, with an emphasis on vertical development over horizontal development to maximize space.

Mr. Carr suggests that high density has to be taller than a four-story apartment, for example, and more like an eight- to 10-story structure.

“Arlington has been willing to develop those structures, but Fairfax and surrounding areas have not been willing to do that yet, but they have been willing to bring in the jobs,” he says.

Jim Zook, director of the Fairfax County Department of Planning and Zoning, says the county wants to encourage mixed-use development in areas to meet the need for both commercial and residential space.

The Merrifield Suburban Center, just south of Tysons Corner, is one site currently undergoing this kind of revitalization.

Because an increase in jobs also puts additional stress on the transportation infrastructure, another goal is to minimize dependence on personal automobiles.

In March, the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors announced a policy to encourage dense development that is pedestrian-friendly within half a mile — the equivalent of a 10-minute walk — of current and future transit stations.

“The concept is good and probably essential for it to grow at the rate they’re talking about,” says Mr. Melikan.

MetroWest (www.metrowestva.com) is an example of the county’s plans for mixed-use, high-density development near transit. The county has approved plans for 100,000 square feet of retail space, 300,000 square feet of office space and the addition of 2,250 town houses, condominiums and apartments south of the Vienna Metro station.

The BLS report says 43 percent of Fairfax’s work force resided outside of the county in 2000, as compared to 39 percent in 1990.

“People coming to the area pay one of two ways, either on the front end when they purchase a home or they pay on the other end when they’re sitting in traffic spending their precious time commuting,” Mr. Melikan says.

Lorenzo Cowgill and his family moved to Manassas about a year ago. The Cowgills used to live in a 35-year-old town home in Centreville, but they wanted a single-family home.

“The houses in Fairfax in our price range were being bought before we could get one. The prices were beyond what we were willing to pay,” says Mr. Cowgill. “To be honest with you, I didn’t choose Manassas. I settled on it. We wanted to stay in Fairfax County.”

Mr. Cowgill works as the production director for Marketing General of Alexandria, and like many in the area, his commute lasts an hour to 11/2 hours.

Many people are willing to drive such distances because the homes they can afford are often found far from their workplace.

“When you don’t have the supply of housing, of course the cost of housing goes up,” says Paula Sampson, director of Fairfax County’s Department of Housing and Community Development, which focuses on affordable housing.

The George Mason University Center for Regional Analysis recently conducted a study for Fairfax County, which found similar trends to those in BLS report: An increase of 186,000 jobs in the county from 1990 to 2005, creating a housing deficit of about 43,000 units.

And when housing is scarce, it usually becomes more expensive.

To deal with this affordable housing challenge, the county has developed several initiatives, Ms. Sampson says.

The Board of Supervisors has designated one penny for every dollar of real estate tax — a total of more than $20 million per year — to maintain affordable rental units that are at risk of being converted into higher-end condominiums or apartments by developers. Under the program, renters pay according to their income.

Additionally, the county is encouraging developers to produce work-force housing at the same time they are building higher-end housing. Work-force housing targets residents who earn between 80 percent and 120 percent of the area median income.

“They used to call it low-income housing, and nowadays it’s called affordable housing because you’re not necessarily low-income,” Mr. Melikan says, noting that individuals such as firefighters and teachers are having a harder time living within the communities they serve.

“We’ve looked at all the county land that is surplus or is underutilized to determine what might be available for affordable housing,” Ms. Sampson says.

For example, the county is currently reviewing a proposal to build work-force housing on the campus of the county’s government center, west of the city of Fairfax.

Ms. Sampson said affordable work-force housing “won’t just happen naturally” in areas near transit stations and communities undergoing urban revitalization “because that is very valuable land.” But the county is encouraging it.

According to the BLS report, 34 percent of Fairfax County’s work force is employed in the professional and business services industry, drawing from a highly educated populace that tends to be among the highest paid.

Mr. Melikan suggests that many families who do live in Fairfax County are dual-income families. The high cost of housing in county could have something to do with that, and it also causes people to adjust the kind of housing they buy.

“A lot of people at the end of the day don’t want to be stuck in traffic for hours at a time, and so they’re settling for a little bit less than they probably would hope for,” he says. “They’re not getting the big yard and the extra things. Younger buyers, especially, don’t get what they want.”

Authors of the BLS report suggest the influx of professional and business services jobs has created another core of employment outside the federal government in the District. Therefore, the Washington Metropolitan area now has an atypical dual core of employment: one in the District supported by the federal government, and the other in Fairfax County supported by the private sector. The two sectors support one another and are not independent.

The 18-page Bureau of Labor Statistics report is available online (www.bls.gov/opub/mlr/ 2006/12/art1full.pdf).

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