The gated Washington region

The Gated City in action: Today’s Washington Post on the inadequacy of the region’s housing supply in meeting demand. In short, Ryan Avent called it. The region is producing jobs, people want to move here, yet it hasn’t been able to produce enough housing to meet that demand. From the Post article:

“If businesses find they can’t have their workers live near where they can work, they’re going to go somewhere else. And the workers themselves might also go somewhere else,” said Lisa A. Sturtevant, an assistant professor at George Mason’s school of public policy, who co-authored the study with Stephen S. Fuller, director of the university’s Center for Regional Analysis.

Their research showed that the Washington area, defined by 22 counties and cities, is expected to add 1.05 million jobs through 2030. More than a third of those jobs will be in professional and technical sectors, but significant growth also is expected in administrative, service and health-related jobs that often pay lower wages. If those numbers hold true, that boom will require as many as 731,457 additional units to house workers in the jurisdictions where they work, the study found.

That means the region would need to produce about 38,000 new housing units per year, “an annual pace of construction never before seen in the region and below what local jurisdictions have accounted for in their comprehensive plans,” the study concludes. Data show that over the past 19 years, the region has averaged 28,600 building permits a year; last year, about 15,000 building permits were issued in the region.

In addition, much of the new housing needs to be multi-family units (to make efficient use of available land) and affordable rentals (to put it within reach of younger workers and those with lower salaries), George Mason’s researchers argue.

For more on Fuller and his work, see Lydia DePillis’s April City Paper profile.

I must, however, take issue with the Post‘s framing of the issue.  From the second paragraph in the article:

With that growth comes a vexing problem: How do you house those new workers in ways that are both affordable and don’t worsen the soul-crushing commutes that already plague the region’s residents?

The problem here isn’t vexing at all.  Nor, frankly, is the solution.  The solution is rather obvious: we need to grow up instead of out.  We need to add density. We need infill development around existing infrastructure assets. Admittedly, implementing that solution is certainly more vexing than simply stating it aloud, but let’s not let the challenge of implementation obscure the diagnosis of the root problem.

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