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April 26, 2022

Poll: Fauquier residents want more entertainment options; affordable housing a concern

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Staff Journalist
The majority of county residents say they are happy with the quality of life in Fauquier, but many lower income and younger people are concerned about the lack of affordable housing and entertainment options, according to a survey from Greater Piedmont REALTORS.

Representatives from the Greater Piedmont REALTORS and American Strategies – a national polling firm hired to conduct the study – gave a presentation recently to the Fauquier Planning Commission, where they presented results of a poll that analyzed residents’ opinions related to quality of life, growth and development and housing.

Key takeaways from the study -- which included 400 people over the age of 18 and was conducted from Feb. 28 to March 2 -- included:

-The majority of residents described the quality of life in Fauquier County as “excellent” or “good.”

-The top two issues residents want the county to address are more entertainment options and lower taxes.

-A large swath of lower income and younger residents said housing affordability is a “very big” or “big” problem.

-Older and younger residents are divided on the issue of growth in the county, with nearly half who described themselves as “pro-growth” and almost as many advocating for “no growth.”

According to the study, 39 percent of people who said the quality of life was “excellent” in Fauquier were college-educated, married men who also own a home.

When asked if quality of life in Fauquier would get better or worse in the future, 39 percent said they believed it would stay “good” or “excellent.”

Women under 50, people with an income over $150,000, newer residents and college graduates were likely to say life would “get better” (27 percent).

Residents over 50 without a college degree with an income below $75,000, however, were more worried about the quality of life in Fauquier “getting worse” (24 percent) because of continued growth.

When asked how the county could improve the quality of life in Fauquier, residents who described themselves as “pro-growth” (48 percent) said the top three things they would like to see more of are recreational options, jobs and better infrastructure.

Those who want to see less growth (42 percent) in the county said the county could improve the quality of life by lowering taxes, slowing development and improving traffic mitigation.

In terms of housing, Joe Goode, CEO of American Strategies, told the Planning Commission that 40 percent say housing affordability is a “fairly big” (20 percent) to “very big problem” (20 percent). But he noted that people were less concerned with housing availability – with 25 percent perceiving availability to be a “fairly big” (10 percent) to “very big problem” (15 percent), which he attributed to people not properly understanding supply and demand economics.

“In their head they see the for sale signs, they see the rent signs, they see the developments going up,” Goode said. “So they're not necessarily equating availability with cost. So folks aren't really perceiving the availability problem as much as they are the affordability problem.”

Residents who were the most concerned about housing affordability were primarily non-college educated women with an income below $75,000 who have lived in Fauquier less than 10 years. Women over 50 who make below $75,000 were also the most concerned about housing availability.

Nearly one in three residents (36 percent) – the majority of whom are over the age of 50 – said they believe residential growth is happening too fast in Fauquier.

Goode noted in his presentation the polling they did shows housing availability is especially slim for younger people, people with low incomes and older people with special needs.

More than a third of residents (36 percent) say their monthly housing costs are a strain on their budget, the majority of whom are younger people between 18-34 making below $75,000.

According to the US Census Bureau, as of 2020, the median gross rent in Fauquier was $1,353 dollars and median mortgage was $2,313.

As a consequence, Goode said about a fifth of residents (22 percent) are thinking about moving out of the county because they are “financially strained.”

“You've got about 36% [of Fauquier residents] who say just what they pay in housing, we're not talking about groceries, we're not talking about utilities and everything else … is either a significant strain or a slight strain,” he said.

Goode said his organization also polled people about their thoughts on different policy solutions. But most policies received “lukewarm support.”

-63 percent of residents would like the county to require developers to set-aside a certain number of units as below-market price housing.

-52 percent were open to reduced regulations and permitting fees on buildings to encourage more affordable housing options.

-51 percent supported tax breaks for developers who build below market rate housing.

-54 percent were opposed to changing zoning laws to make it easier to build multi-family homes, such as townhomes and duplexes.

-63 percent were against a small increase in property tax rate to generate more revenue which would go toward an affordable housing trust fund.

At the end of the presentation, Planning Commission Chair Adrienne Garreau of Scott District told Greater Piedmont REALTORS and American Strategies she wished they had included in their survey whether the public were hesitant for more affordable housing to be built in the county.

“Because ultimately that's really what we run into here,” she said. “I mean, that is a very common response that we get here. And so we are somewhat in a predicament in terms of figuring out where it would go where you don't get that response.”

“At the same time that isolates people who are in that category, folks who want the lower costs, so it's tough,” Garreau added. “It's really the conundrum that we're facing more than anything else.”

Goode noted that what might help is the county educating the public on some of the proposed solutions.

“There’s a lot of educating, I think, to do here to explain how these types of proposals would work and what that would mean in practice to people day in and day out,” Goode said.

“I think that as you educate people, you might be able to bump some of those numbers up because all [these residents] are thinking is whether somebody's gonna put a big apartment building next to my house,” he added.
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