Left out of the upward spiral: Three of America’s highest earning counties are right here in Virginia

Fairfax, Loudoun, Arlington, Virginia, REALTORSAccording to Forbes Magazine, Fairfax County is the only county in the United States to boast a median household income in six figures, tipping the scales at $100,318. Nipping at Fairfax’s heels in second place is its neighbor to the northwest, one of the nation’s fastest-growing counties, Loudoun, coming in at $99,371. Arlington, with its dense condominium developments and bustling urban corridors just to the east of Fairfax is ninth on the list at $87,350. New Jersey is the only other state to boast three counties with median household incomes in the top ten. (Source: REALTOR® Magazine)

Ironically, REALTOR® Magazine’s story headline proclaims that the wealthiest counties are in the “country.” You’d be hard pressed to find a dirt road in Arlington, though to be fair, there are roads in Loudoun County that still force drivers to forge creeks, not drive over them on bridges. I digress…

As median household incomes increase, a “feedback loop” develops, according to Julie Martin, a senior demographer for the Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service at the University of Virginia. I might call it an upward spiral. Highly paid people tend to flock to the suburbs, who in turn buy homes that increase the tax base and create better-funded public services (like school systems), making the suburbs more attractive to highly paid people, who move to the suburbs and buy homes that increase the tax base, and on and on…

One of the unfortunate side effects of this phenomenon is that affordable housing becomes scarce in these areas. In Arlington County, there is nowhere to build but up. In Fairfax, undeveloped land is virtually nonexistant. As a result, high-income earners often purchase the existing affordable homes and tear them down to build larger ones, forever removing an affordable home from the market. Once a year you can count on the Washington Post to run a story about how difficult it is for middle-class workers like teachers and police officers to just make ends meet in counties like Fairfax.

VAR has long been a proponent of workforce housing. But unfortunately, the laws of economics are not easily amended by those written by members of the General Assembly. You can discuss this issue and others with your legislators during REALTOR® Day on the Hill this Wednesday. Learn more at VARealtor.com.

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One Response to Left out of the upward spiral: Three of America’s highest earning counties are right here in Virginia

  1. As a REALTOR in Loudoun County, I can tell you that what first attracted people to come out here (more house for less money) is no longer the case.

    Since the peak in August 2005, which is when the average sales price of a home in Loudoun eclipsed that of Fairfax County, the market has tumbled almost 25%, if not more in some areas. People stopped moving out here and moved in towards the city.

    During booms such as the one we had 2003 to 2005, the “rubber band” stretched outwards. During declines, the rubber band snaps back inwards. We’ve lost a lot of folks over the past few years to Fairfax and Arlington counties as well as areas out of state.

    As for teachers and police officers being able to afford housing out here, that’s almost impossible on just that one income. Unless you’re married or living with a significant other that’s the “rainmaker”, being able to afford housing in the same county you teach or work in is next to impossible. A sad fact that needs to change.

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