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‘Moving on up’

Residents leave a place for myriad reasons, but have one thing in common: The average family packing a moving truck was poorer than his neighbors. Its move meant a place where money would go further or opportunities would be greater.

The family arrived in its new home with the same dubious distinction. The average family moving from one Washington suburb to another arrived on the lower echelon of its income scale.

The data depicts a quest for a better life that has taken a winding path since the Jeffersons, an upwardly mobile TV-sitcom family, went “moving on up” from Queens to a “deluxe apartment in the sky” in Manhattan.

Nationally, one of the largest recent shifts saw Manhattanites heading to Kings and Queens counties, where brownstones have been renovated and condos erected on cracked-blacktop lots. In the District, the phenomenon has been echoed in the resurgence of historic corridors such as U Street Northwest.

The changes come as people priced out or crowded out of the traditionally built-up areas have gotten creative instead of moving further out.

“I don’t think it was ever their preference so much as that’s what they could get,” Mynor Herrera, a Realtor at Keller Williams, said of those who moved to the far suburbs.

Lower home prices have reinvigorated areas inside the Beltway, he said, and many families who moved to exurbs have been returning to the core. Some are willing to take a loss to return closer to the city.

“We hit the bottom … and reached a tipping point where the places that were always sought after became more sought after,” he said. “It opened up a lot of people to a marketplace that was not available to them a few years ago.”

Exurbs, meanwhile, have increasingly become the destination for recent immigrants. Without major ethnic enclaves in the city, they live near work, including construction jobs along the Dulles corridor.

Black suburb on the wane

Prince George’s became the country’s wealthiest majority-black county beginning when then-D.C. Mayor Marion Barry’s civil service bureaucracy gave rise to a class of well-off black households that promptly relocated to raise their children in the suburbs.

That is no longer the dynamic. Growing numbers of singles and couples who can afford to, largely the children of that generation, are moving closer to the office and nightlife core of the city. The county has seen a sharp drop in 30-somethings.

Despite the region’s stability during the recession, 2,775 more families left Prince George’s in 2009 than moved in — a hollowing out more dramatic than all but eight counties nationwide. Many of those families were well-off.

“The African Americans who left the District are not going to PG in droves anymore,” said Lisa Ann Sturtevant, a demographer at George Mason University. “It’s got 15 Metro stations, a great location — if you looked at it on a map and weren’t from here, you’d think it was perfect. The problems have been crime, schools and a bad reputation that has kept employers from locating there.”

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