In local debates about building new multifamily housing, the conversation often turns to babies—well, actually to the school-age children that babies ultimately become. The argument is that new housing equals new school children, and new apartments likely means new lower-income school children. Because schools are often overcrowded as it is and school funding remains insufficient to meet current needs, there is understandable backlash against new development that will only put more pressure on local schools.
In heated discussions about local growth, it is important to have as many facts as possible. Sometimes the facts directly refute long-standing perceptions. The relationship between new residential development and new school children often is one example.
In our work with the City of Falls Church, Virginia, we looked at this relationship between new housing and school children. Falls Church is located in Northern Virginia and is well-known for its high-quality schools. Residents of the City take a lot of pride in—and are very protective of—their public school system. Recent new development in the City, particularly new multifamily apartment buildings, have raised concerns about the impact of this new development on the public schools.
The data showed something that was surprising to many. Between 2010 and 2017, the City of Falls Church added more than 500 new residential units, primarily homes in multifamily buildings. Over that same time period, the number of households with children dropped while the number of overall school-age children increased. Where were all these children coming from?
It turns out—not from the new multifamily buildings. New multifamily units have very few school-children living in them—roughly 0.1 to 0.2 children per unit on average. Instead, the growth in the number of school children was driven by more families in existing and new single-family homes have three instead of two children.
New residential development can result in the need for more investments in public facilities and infrastructure. It is necessary to plan for the needs of new residents and businesses when developments are approved. However, it is important to understand what the real impacts might be—based on data—rather than letting decision-making be swayed by myths or misperceptions.
Let us know if we can help you better understand how new residential development shapes your community.