**FILE** D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser (Jacques Benovil/The Washington Informer)
**FILE** D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser (Jacques Benovil/The Washington Informer)

Washington, D.C.-area political leaders remain upbeat about the region’s prospects for economic growth as the coronavirus pandemic wanes and people return to pre-pandemic modes. However, they’re also cognizant of challenges that must be addressed including the lack of affordable housing.

Four political leaders, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser, Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich, Arlington County Board Chair Katie Cristol and Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chair Jeffrey C. McKay, participated virtually in the D.C. Chamber of Commerce’s State of the District & Region Conference on Sept. 30, sharing their perspectives.

“Everybody is struggling to figure out what the future will be,” Elrich said.

Bowser said the District has bounced back from the negative impact of the pandemic.

“We have recovered,” the mayor said. “We are lucky in this region in that we haven’t had huge impacts on income. As a matter of fact, some workers saw increases in their incomes while others lost income due to their employment in the hospitality and entertainment industries.”

Bowser said people should be prepared for a slowdown in the economy in the near future based on the actions of the Federal Reserve Board. She noted that the commercial real estate sector has recovered “pretty well,” adding that the District government will report “more revenues than expected” for the past month.

Bowser’s financial prediction would be confirmed in D.C.’s September 2022 Revenue Estimate with the forecast for local fund revenue revised upward for fiscal year 2023 by $93.7 million with a total revision upward of $451 million across fiscal 2022-2026.

Cristol said despite the uncertainty of the future, legislators continue to anticipate how to prepare for the next few years.

“We are seeing a total transformation of commercial space,” she said, adding that Arlington has a high office vacancy rate with which to contend.

McKay said Fairfax residents have given its government high marks on its performance during the early part of the pandemic.

“Over 70% of residents complimented us on the pandemic,” he said. “Fairfax put out $70 million for local businesses to survive during the pandemic. There will be many years of potential impact due to COVID. We still have not ended our state of emergency.”

Elrich said Montgomery County has gotten to a good place economically and seeks to engage business owners on what the government could do to meet their needs in order to foster growth and stability.

All of the leaders agreed that an affordable housing crisis exists in the Washington area.

“The Washington, D.C. region is incredibly opportunity rich and an incredibly high-cost area,” Cristol said. “We have a regional housing shortage.”

Elrich said in Montgomery County, there are 50,000 residents who earn about $150,000 a year and have a problem finding affordable housing.

“It will take about 75% of housing to be subsidized [by the government] to be affordable in the county,” he said.

McKay said previous county leaders set a goal of 10,000 new housing units by 2034 and he will work to see that happen.

“This board has prioritized affordable housing,” he said. “The 10,000 housing units goal is just one piece we are doing on behalf of affordable housing. Every option is on the table. We would like to focus our affordable housing near Metro stations. Plus, we

want affordable housing everywhere in Fairfax County, not just in certain areas.”

Bowser noted her goal of 36,000 new housing units by 2025 and said she agreed with McKay on where affordable housing should be located.

“Affordable housing should be in all eight wards,” the mayor said. “The private sector won’t do it by itself. I will continue to press for a regional goal on housing.”

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James Wright Jr.

James Wright Jr. is the D.C. political reporter for the Washington Informer Newspaper. He has worked for the Washington AFRO-American Newspaper as a reporter, city editor and freelance writer and The Washington...

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