With its diverse make-up of sprawling subdivisions and densely populated cities, Orange County's housing situation is a complex puzzle with countless moving pieces, a new Orange County Business Council report shows.

And solving that puzzle will require long-range inter-city cooperation, local officials and OCBC Chief Economic Advisor Wallace Walrod said at a forum Friday morning.

Walrod presented the council's 2012 "Workforce Housing Scorecard" to a group of city administrators and business people from around the county at Irvine's Hyatt Regency Hotel.

The report analyzes the county's jobs-to-housing balance — and projected imbalance — through lenses like demographic and population trends, costs of living, commute lengths, homeownership versus rental levels, and business climate.

All of those factors, Walrod said, converge in a tough regulatory environment for developers. Another hurdle development faces is public opinion, which can sway in favor of NIMBYism at the expense of growth in the long run.

The report concluded that job growth is likely to outpace housing growth throughout the county from 2010 to 2035, and that higher-density, lower-cost housing will be necessary to offset that growth.

Despite the fact that on a surface level it may seem as though they're already "built-out," some of the county's densest cities are in the best positions to do just that.

"When we think of places being built-out, that's kind of an antiquated concept," Walrod said.

The report also ranked the county's 34 cities according to how well they're projected to fare in terms of housing and job growth balance, based on some of the factors detailed in the report.

At the top of the list was Irvine, followed by Anaheim, then Brea. Huntington Beach ranked No. 4; Newport Beach, 10; Costa Mesa, 20; and Laguna Beach, 31.

South County cities tended to rank lower because of their locked-in development opportunities, Walrod said.

In other words, because cities like Mission Viejo and Rancho Santa Margarita (22 and 32, respectively) were built up when single-family-home developments ran according to the covenants, conditions and restrictions set by homeowners' associations, their ability to develop higher density areas is now limited.

Larger cities, like Irvine and Anaheim, which have "embraced higher density mixed-use developments," according to the report, are projected to better address the need for denser housing.

Irvine Mayor-elect Steven Choi, who addressed the group after Walrod's presentation, said the city has worked to build a variety of housing types, particularly in areas close to job centers like Irvine Spectrum. This, he said, helps Irvine residents achieve a desirable "work/life balance."

But while they said Irvine and other cities' planning efforts are worthy of commendation, audience members in a discussion following the presentation stressed that the picture is more complicated on a regional level.

Choi's fellow Irvine council member, Mayor Pro Tem Beth Krom, said cities should work together to come up with housing solutions, particularly because many of the county's workers commute to another city.

"We tend not to be integrated in the way we look at these kinds of issues," she said. "Rising tides lift all boats. Let's look at geography and transportation and help all cities be part of a comprehensive solution."

jill.cowan@latimes.com

Twitter: @jillcowan