Thursday, March 15, 2012

if MoCo can get those millennials in the door, they won't leave

Woman, Northside Social, Clarendon
Arlington is like fly paper for twenty-somethings, but Montgomery isn't far behind.

Over the past few months, I've written a lot about Montgomery County's need to attract and retain Millennials, who could contribute a lot to the county but often cannot afford local housing prices. That's what Arlington's figured out, and that's why they recently held an event with the unfortunate name "Housing 4 Hipsters" to help young professionals looking for housing. They also know something we don't, as Lydia DePillis from the Washington City Paper points out in her column this week (emphasis mine):

About 100 people had shown up to talk to lenders and housing officials about their prospects for deals on housing. That’s 100 people who might end up buying homes—and paying taxes—in Arlington instead of Montgomery County, Fairfax County, or the District—people who’ll spend money eating, shopping, and raising their children in Arlington.

The old trope goes that young people move into "the city" after college, dick around for a few years, then move out to "the suburbs" when they're ready to have kids. Arlington's secret is that it has the convenience and activity of an urban area with the benefits of the suburbs, like great schools, low crime rates, and ample parking.

As DePillis points out in her column, that combination is enough to hook people for life. The young women she interviews at "Housing 4 Hipsters" allude to that suburb-city hybrid as a selling point: one complains she wouldn't move back to the District until "their standards are brought up," while another wants to keep a car wherever she lives.

Of course, Arlington doesn't have a monopoly on this lifestyle: Bethesda and Silver Spring offer it also, and soon places like Rockville, White Flint and Wheaton will as well. Montgomery County's done a great job of building these communities up and making them desirable places for people to live at all ages. But it wouldn't hurt for them to reach out to young folks like me, whether by encouraging the production of more housing, or with events like "Housing 4 Hipsters" that increase awareness of programs that can make it easier to rent or buy a home. Once you get us in the door, you'll have us for a long time.

Like I've said before, the largest generation in American history is entering the workforce, and a lot of them will seek places that have a mix of suburban and urban features. This is a great opportunity for Montgomery County. We've already got what it takes. All we have to do is go for it.

A side note: I couldn't have written this post if it wasn't for awesome alt-weekly newspapers like the endangered City Paper, which do local reporting justice in an era when it's often unprofitable to do so. Thanks, CP! I hope y'all stay afloat, for all of our sakes.


Casey A said...

You are absolutely right -- we spend a lot of time worrying about getting beat by Fairfax in the competition for major employers, which is important, but we should spend some time worrying about getting beat by Arlington in the competition for young people.

Patrick said...

Great post Dan. Arlington gets it, and I hope people and leaders in Montgomery County get that. Every jurisdiction will have trouble competing with Arlington because it's a place that young, middle aged and old can all enjoy.

I'd say that parts of Silver Spring fit that bill too, but we can't rest on our laurels. The proposed EYA townhouse project is exactly the kind of thing that Arlington would get through and people would love to have. Hopefully a version of that project can still happen.

I'm a millennial homeowner in the DTSS area, and I'm not wedded to live here for life, although I do really like the area. If one of the other jurisdictions presents a better value proposition, I might just end up moving there some day. Silver Spring in particular lacks townhouses, which could be a sticking point for me and my wife one day.

kate said...

Another (early) millennial homeowner who could is a big fan of East Silver Spring. I'd say though - those millennials who want to purchase in Arlington had better save their pennies. Affordable housing near the urban hybrid centers they are talking about is scarce. However, I guess if they can afford 700K-1.1M for a house then Arlington really wants them for the long term.