Forecasting by the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments (COG) predicts a 35 percent increase in households in this region along with job growth of 39 percent between 2005 and 2030. Nearly 5 million people already live in the Washington area, and forecasters anticipate more than 6.6 million residents by 2030, according to COG’s fall 2006 report “Growth Trends to 2030: Cooperative Forecasting in the Washington Region,” which is based on the economic forecasts of local jurisdictions and the regional economic reports generated by COG’s planning directors.
With clogged roads, crowded schools and expensive housing dominating the agenda for local governments, current residents may wonder just where all the new arrivals will go. Analysts of the local economy can predict growth patterns based on the availability of land, location of jobs and historic patterns of development.
“Due to the continued strength of the local economy, we see fairly steady growth occurring in the Washington suburbs, including Fairfax, Loudoun and Prince William counties in Virginia and Montgomery and Prince George’s counties in Maryland,” says Paul DesJardin, chief of housing and planning in COG’s Department of Human Services, Planning and Public Safety.
“While we anticipate a fairly steady growth in traditional single-family home developments in these suburbs, we also see more interest than in the past in transit-based development,” he says. “Other counties have seen the success of the Bethesda area and Arlington, with development centered around Metro stations, so we will see more of this in the future.”
COG’s forecasts predict that the largest number of new households will be in Fairfax, Montgomery, Loudoun and Prince William counties between 2005 and 2030, with Loudoun County growing by 94 percent, adding more than 82,000 households to its 2005 base of 87,500 households.
The District is forecast to experience 26 percent growth in the number of households between 2005 and 2030, while Prince George’s County is anticipated to experience growth by 23 percent more households.
“Prince George’s County is the sleeping giant,” says John McClain, a senior fellow with the Center for Regional Analysis at George Mason University. “It’s obvious if you fly over the Washington area in an airplane that there’s so much developable land there in close proximity to D.C.”
“There’s lots of potential for growth along the Metro line out to Largo Town Center, too,” he says. “The Prince George’s County government has slowed down some development in the county, which may mean that Charles and Calvert counties may begin to experience more pressure for growth.”
While development in Bethesda and Arlington depends in part on the proximity of those areas to downtown Washington as well as Metro, Mr. DesJardin anticipates more transit-based development in the outer suburbs.
“Already we’re seeing the development at MetroWest in Vienna and Largo Town Center near Metro stations, but also projects… even farther from downtown, such as Harbor Station in Prince William County,” Mr. DesJardin says.
Although transit-based development usually means condominiums and apartments rather than single-family homes, Mr. DesJardin expects these new developments to include larger homes with two or three bedrooms to meet demand.
John McIlwain, a senior fellow at the Urban Land Institute, says he expects transit-based development to follow the rail line from Tysons Corner to Washington Dulles International Airport. He also anticipates that the majority of development in this area for the next five to 10 years will take place in the outer suburbs.
“Even with traffic congestion, the lack of public transportation and rising energy prices, I don’t see a change in the pattern of development moving farther into Stafford County, West Virginia and along the I-95 corridor south of Washington,” Mr. McIlwain says. “As long as gas is even relatively available, even if gas prices double, I think the first change you will see is people buying more efficient cars. Changing where you buy a home only happens when you are already thinking about moving.
“We are one county away from engulfing Richmond into the Washington suburbs,” Mr. McIlwain says. “I think the few gaps in development along I-95 will be filled in.”
Though the trend to develop residential communities in the outer suburbs seems destined to continue, regional analysts think a secondary trend of infill development near transportation hubs will expand.
“The goal is to put more housing in Tysons Corner, especially if Metro comes in,” Mr. McClain says. “Tysons is completely unbalanced, with 125,000 jobs and only 17,000 residents there.”
Mr. McClain expects more development in the Dulles Corridor following Metro expansion, and also the continued importance of Dulles Airport, which he says attracts many companies to the area. The two planned Metro stations for Loudoun County will include high-density housing, Mr. McClain says.
“Density will be an issue for the Washington area for decades to come,” he says. “The people who live here already don’t want more density, but the problem is that homeownership is out of reach for so many people. If you are a resident and bought a home prior to today, you’re fine. But if you are recruited to work in this area from someplace else, it can be impossible to afford a home.”
Statistics from the Center for Regional Analysis show that a household earning the median income in Fairfax County in 2000 could afford 64 percent of the housing on the market at that time. In 2005, a household earning the median income in Fairfax County could only afford to purchase 7 percent of the homes on the market in that year.
Affordability issues are part of what drives demand and development into more distant suburbs, exacerbating the traffic congestion throughout the region.
“The residential trend of increasing prices has forced more demand for homes to go out farther and farther from downtown,” Mr. McClain says. “Now there are pressures from different areas to increase density in some areas with smaller-size homes, which will increase their affordability.”
Transportation problems and housing development are inextricably linked. Mr. McClain says he expects to see more dispersal among companies away from the District, with companies relocating to be closer to their workers west of Dulles Airport or in Manassas, Fredericksburg or Frederick, Md.
“Overall, transportation issues drive development,” Mr. McIlwain says. “It’s a complicated formula. As the commuting times increase, more jobs are moving out of D.C. and the close-in suburbs to the farther suburbs.”
“For instance, as Stafford County gets more housing, the local government will work to bring in more high-quality jobs,” Mr. McIlwain says. “Counties are already competing against each other for jobs, and as more people move farther out, the counties become more and more isolated from each other.”
Mr. McIlwain says people feel there is so little in common between Howard County and Prince William County that any regional cooperation starts to fragment, making cooperation more difficult.
“One issue that is already a problem is that the counties in Maryland and Virginia don’t want their Metro dollars helping each other,” Mr. McIlwain says.
Growth is expected to continue in the eastern part of West Virginia and in southern Pennsylvania, Mr. McIlwain says, but he adds that he expects residential growth to be slower in southern Maryland and Prince George’s County.
“Charles and Calvert counties are not really close enough to Baltimore to take advantage of commuters to that city, and they are located on the wrong side of D.C.,” Mr. McIlwain says. “The jobs are in downtown D.C., in Montgomery County, in Arlington and in Fairfax County, all of which can be easily reached by I-95. But it’s much harder to go across the Wilson Bridge and into Fairfax County.
“Prince George’s County is also on the ‘wrong side of town,’ but it will continue to develop,” he says. “It does have the advantage of being a low-cost alternative, with the per-square-foot housing costs much lower than [in] Montgomery or Fairfax counties.”
Mr. DesJardin says that COG anticipates steady growth in Prince George’s County, especially in the transit areas near Largo and West Hyattsville and the National Harbor development along the Potomac River.
COG’s forecasting expects job growth of 53 percent in Northern Virginia, 39 percent in the Maryland suburbs and 15 percent in the District between 2005 and 2030.
Within the District, Mr. DesJardin expects infill development in areas near Metro stations and in some of the older neighborhoods of Northeast and Southeast, along with growth near the redevelopment of the Washington Navy Yard and near the new baseball stadium.
“We’ll see lots of growth in the District, especially in Ward 8 and Anacostia, where public housing is being restructured and a lot of investment is taking place,” Mr. McIlwain says. “There are some nice areas [of Northeast] Washington that are being rediscovered, too, such as Brookland and Trinidad and out New York Avenue. The story right now is that households without kids are moving into the city, so we are seeing smaller households but with higher incomes.”
Mr. McClain says he thinks that demographics are driving some of this movement into the city or into developments that mimic city living, with activities, stores and restaurants within walking distance.
“Developers are building more mixed-used developments as baby boomers downsize and are looking for a more convenient lifestyle,” Mr. McClain says. “We may start to see more people selling a large home and buying a condominium downtown plus a home at the beach or a resort area.”
COG’s growth trends report says that the Washington region’s population of people age 65 or older will more than double from 2000 to 2030.
In addition to demographics, decisions made by the military Base Realignment and Closure Commission (known as BRAC) will likely have an influence on housing development in the years to come.
“Shifts in housing patterns due to BRAC will occur over time, but they will be a long time coming,” Mr. McClain says. “Not only do new homes need to be built, but many of the affected workers come from households with two working individuals, so where they choose to live won’t be based solely on one person.
“Our projections predict more growth due to BRAC along the I-95 corridor, especially in Stafford, which is poised for experiencing some of the controversy associated with growth or no-growth policies,” he says. “If there are more jobs coming to the D.C. area, people will have to live somewhere.”