Just Enough for the City

About a year ago, a co-worker of mine who was new to D.C. at the time lamented the cost of living in the city and asked me — as one who’d lived in the District for over a decade — "How do you do it?" I didn’t have an answer then, and to be honest, I’m not sure I have much of one now, except to say that the city has changed a lot since I moved there in July of 1994, and the cost of living in the city has changed along with it. Looking back, most of the time I was just getting by, keeping my head above water.

In fact, the cost of finding a place to live in the city has changed an awful lot, just in the last five years. Just this week there have been several articles about the situation. The Washington Post ran an article early this week about the lack of affordable housing in D.C.

The number of affordable houses and apartments in the District plummeted by nearly 12,000 last year, according to an analysis of new U.S. Census data released yesterday, and a task force issued a draft report calling on D.C. officials to spend dramatically more to offset the spiraling cost of housing.

Once virtually abandoned by middle-class home buyers, the nation’s capital is now a boomtown with skyrocketing rents and home prices in almost every neighborhood. While the real estate frenzy is generating millions of extra dollars in property taxes and other fees, it is also pushing mortgage and rent payments far beyond what many District residents can afford.

In a single year, the median rent in the District jumped by 9 percent — from $734 to $799 — while the median home value soared by 32 percent — from $252,930 to $334,702, according to a report released yesterday by the D.C. Fiscal Policy Institute. The report’s author, Angie Rodgers, said 2004 brought "some of the biggest increases in rents and home values we’ve seen in recent history."

It’s no joke. My last real experience of finding an affordable place to live in D.C. was years ago, before I met my husband, about six years ago. Even then, the city was a different place. Remember, I’d moved to D.C. just in time for Marion Barry’s return to the mayor’s office, and by the time I was looking for another apartment in D.C. Barry was out and Williams was just coming in. And a slow trickle of people were just starting to return to the city, with a sort of wary new confidence inspired by a new administration in the city.

The hubby and I bought our house just before the real estate market took off. Five years later, there were so many cranes to be seen on the D.C. skyline, you’d think they were a new species of bird come to settle by the Potomac, because condo and apartment buildings are going up in just about every empty space available. Old row-houses were being renovated and sold, because there just aren’t that many places left to build in D.C.

And as prices go up, whole neighborhoods change, and living in the city becomes even more expensive. If you’re just getting by, as I was then, it takes a lot more just to get by.

The income needed to live on a "bare-bones budget" in the Washington region has increased dramatically over the past six years because of the rising costs of housing, health care and child care, according to a new study.

A single parent with an infant and one preschooler needs to earn $67,849 to meet basic costs in Fairfax County, the region’s most expensive suburb, the study found. Those earnings are 50 percent more than the same family would have needed in 1999, the first year the study was conducted.

At the other end of the spectrum, the District and Prince George’s County are the region’s least expensive locales, though the income required to subsist in those places has risen over the past six years by at least 26 percent for a single parent with two children, according to the study.

A two-parent household, with an infant and a preschool-age child, needs to earn $60,339 to live in the District, 27 percent more than necessary in 1999, the study found.

The real estate market in D.C. is, well, crazy. There’s no other word for it. It just keeps getting crazier. When a guy can sell a small townhouse on Capitol Hill and buy a small town in Texas with the proceeds — as reported by the Washington City Paper that’s crazy. When even school children are protesting gentrification (to little or no effect) that’s crazy. (I’ve written about gentrification before.)

We bought our first house together just as the market in D.C. was getting crazy, and now I’m glad we’re getting out of it before it get’s entirely out of control. Once we move into our new house, we’re not planning on moving at least until our kids graduate from high school.

Speaking of which, contstruction is coming along fine. There’s ductwork going in. And the house is getting to the stage of separating the indoors from the outdoors. Windows are going in. In fact most of them are in. Pretty soon the doors will be put up, and we probably won’t be able to sneak inside as we’ve been doing. (Not to worry, we don’t go wandering around the construction site with Parker. We take turns going in while the other one takes Parker for a walk around the neighborhood.) Once the doors go in, we’ll be "locked-out" until we close on the house (towards the end of construction), when we officially get the keys, but we can continue tracking construction I guess. We’ll take pictures of the exterior, and maybe whatever we can manage to see through the windows.

It’s funny. When I was single and living in D.C., I was just getting by; living "just enough for the city" as the song goes. If I were still on my own in D.C., I’d probably be living in an apartment somewhere out in Maryland by now. Turns out, I’m moving out to Maryland anyway.

About Terrance

Black. Gay. Father. Buddhist. Vegetarian. Liberal.
This entry was posted in Current Events, D.C., General, Race. Bookmark the permalink.