Scared of Suburbia...
February 14, 2012 2:16 PM   Subscribe

We might have the opportunity to move to DC - but can we even afford to live there, in a nice, walkable neighborhood?

We'd have a family income of about 140 k before taxes, 2 adults 1 baby. We'd like a yard and at least 2 bedrooms. Husband would have to commute downtown (Foggy Bottom), i.e. closeness to a Metro Stop would be desirable. We have lived in European (or European-style) places all our lives and are scared of zombie suburbia, especially since I'll be at home with the baby all day. We would like stores, cafes, restaurants close by, sidewalks (!) and of course low crime rates and maybe even decent schools.

Is this realistic? What neighborhoods should we look at? I checked out places that are close to the city center and they seem to be prohibitively expensive…almost as bad as NYC or London. If it weren't for the baby we'd go for a tiny studio apartment in a central location, but that's not an option anymore...Ideas?
posted by The Toad to Grab Bag (30 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Clarendon, in Arlington, sounds like it could fit your list. Stores, cafes, restaurants, sidewalks, Metro stop at least. I haven't lived there in several years, but when I did, they were quite proud to promote themselves as a neighborhood being developed specifically as pedestrian-friendly. It's mostly a main strip, surrounded by a ton of cute side street neighborhoods with parks and lawns. It's probably quite expensive, but not quite as much so as in DC proper.
posted by coupdefoudre at 2:20 PM on February 14, 2012

It's not as bad as NYC or London. DC is pricey, but 140k should be fine to find what you're looking for if you're renting, though a yard can be tricky. A two bedroom apartment with shared green space is well within your price range. A two bedroom house, on the other hand, will be more challenging.
posted by deanc at 2:30 PM on February 14, 2012

Best answer: The yard part is nearly impossible to find, but I'd look on Capitol Hill. Very walkable, not near red line but an easy transfer.
posted by nkknkk at 2:30 PM on February 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: There are definitely lots of people who do.

There are a lot of "transitional" neighborhoods in DC where you can find a lot of what you're looking for - maybe in a section of a refurbished townhouse - for a reasonable price. DC is a pretty walkable city overall. Columbia Heights would probably fit the bill. Capitol Hill - and rents/house prices drop dramatically the further East you go. Shaw around Rhode Island and North Capital is going through a bit of a boom it seems. All those have fringe areas where crime is an issue, but its vastly improved; and schools are not going to be great, but you have a couple of years before that's an issue.

If you go out to the 'burbs, you'll want to focus on Virginia, probably, since Foggy Bottom is on the Blue line and the Maryland side is more and the red and you want to avoid having to change trains if you can. Alexandria and Del Ray have nice sections that are reasonably priced.

I wouldn't jump right into buying. Rent for at least a year first. The downside of renting in DC is that condo rents are relatively high compared to mortgages since you have a transient (as in young professionals moving in and out, not, you know, hobos) population but my impression is that rents for a small house/townhouse might not be so bad.

Its also relative to where you're coming from...
posted by RandlePatrickMcMurphy at 2:34 PM on February 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

Is this realistic? What neighborhoods should we look at?

I don't know how low crime has to be for it to be tolerable for you, but I'd have a look at:

Bloomingdale, Brightwood, Brookland, LeDroit Park, Park View, Petworth (rapidly becoming more expensive, but still a possibility), and Takoma DC. Small yards are possible in all of these neighborhoods.

I've lived in DC for ~13 years, recently with a small child - feel free to MeMail me if you have any other questions.
posted by ryanshepard at 2:39 PM on February 14, 2012

Best answer: Yeah, that should be enough income for what you want especially if you are willing to rent. Look in the following neighborhoods: Friendship Heights, Bethesda, Upper Georgetown, North Arlington (Clarendon, Ballston, even Falls Church), Capitol Hill, Dupont Circle, Mountain Pleasant, Columbia Heights (kind of transitiony as others have said), Crystal City, Old Town Alexandria (can be kind of pricey). I will say that DC schools are notoriously awful, so you'll probably want to go to Arlington, Alexandria or Bethesda when the kiddo gets school age.
posted by bananafish at 2:40 PM on February 14, 2012

Oh yeah, Takoma Park might fit your bill too as might Silver Spring (it's on a metro line and has a little downtown with a whole foods and other shops)
posted by bananafish at 2:40 PM on February 14, 2012

Best answer: Check out rowhouses/rentals in Columbia Heights, Petworth, Bloomingdale, and Brightwood in DC. You may also be ablle to find a rental in Capitol Hill that would work good -- I think some people with larger restored houses there have one or two bedroom rentals in the house that would give you access to a (small) yard. Schools won't be great. I live just north of Petworth and love it; happy to chat further as you make your decision.
posted by Cocodrillo at 2:41 PM on February 14, 2012

I agree with the posters above that a yard's not likely in the city, but you might look at areas near Eastern Market, which is probably considered part of the Capitol Hill neighborhood. Depending on where you are, you might only be a couple blocks from Lincoln Park, which has plenty of room for kids to run around. It's close to the blue line, which will be convenient for your husband, and has lots of shops, sidewalks, and the like. I lived there three years and loved it.

If I remember right, the city's website has pretty good crime stats if you want to get a more data-based sense of the safety of neighborhoods, but I never felt at all unsafe where I lived near 8th and Independence SE.
posted by burden at 2:52 PM on February 14, 2012

Best answer: I recently visited DC and thought Woodley Park was really cool and definitely had a European feel. Got back to work and a colleague who used to live in DC told me that's where he lived and he loved it there. You've got a Metro stop and the Zoo right there!
posted by jabes at 2:56 PM on February 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

The yard part is nearly impossible to find, but I'd look on Capitol Hill. Very walkable, not near red line but an easy transfer.

Parts of Capitol Hill are walkable to Union Station (as I used to do.)
posted by Jahaza at 2:57 PM on February 14, 2012

to add to Jabes- that zoo is free entry and very green, set up more like a park than a zoo. even if you don't get a yard that zoo will give you lots of fun roaming with child (and lions and tigers and bears oh my!)
posted by saraindc at 3:06 PM on February 14, 2012

Alexandria, Bethesda and North Arlington are highly walkable, but attitudinal zombie suburbia (and, for the most part, expensive.) I grew up in Bethesda and fled as soon as I could manage.

Columbia Heights and Mount Pleasant have effectively completed their "transition" and prices have unfortunately spiked (I've lived in the latter since '98). Any remaining grit will, for the most part, be scrubbed away by a better financing environment or the death of elderly residents w/in ~5 years.

Woodley Park is, for the most part, very expensive.

I will say that DC schools are notoriously awful ...

DCPS has many problems, but there are good schools in the system, as well as a growing number of charters. It takes parental work, but it's not impossible to get a good public / public-ish education in DC.
posted by ryanshepard at 3:07 PM on February 14, 2012

It's probably doable on Capitol Hill. East hill in particular. Maybe also the Woolley Park and Tenleytown area. You'll have to really search, but I think it would be doable. Of course depends on your definition of "safe" and "close to a metro."

There are also some places in the area between the convention enter and Shaw that would probably meet your requirements. Pet worth might also meet your requirements.

I'll stay out of the public school debate, but I think on that amount of money it's doable.Id make sure you pick a real estate agent that is willing to really search the city for you.

DC hasn't quite approached NYC levels, but it's pretty much as bad as the expensive parts of Brooklyn. Less craziness than the NYC real estate market though, no crazy broker stuff, but the prices are getting there.
posted by whoaali at 3:22 PM on February 14, 2012

This is definitely doable - I mean, the median household income in the DC are is the highest in the nation, but you'd still be 65% higher than that. The areas around Foggy Bottom are indeed insanely expensive, but DC has a pretty decent transit system, so you don't need to live right there.

What would you want to spend on rent? That's the big budget-buster in DC, at least until the kid is school-aged. Assuming the standard of spending 1/4 of your pretax income on rent, that leaves you with 3K/month for your rental budget, which is certainly doable in DC.

You will want to pay attention to the crime maps, moreso than neighborhood reputation, because DC is changing rapidly and anyway, crime has always really varied block-by-block. However, crime is a serious issue, more than any other city I've lived in, and it is a factor there.
posted by lunasol at 3:29 PM on February 14, 2012

Take a look at Glover Park - it's very family friendly and tons of green space. Also very international because a lot of the embassy families live in the neighborhood. The elementary school is also one of the best in the city. Depending on your budget, you'll most likely live in an apartment and not a home, but as I said, tons of green space and parks nearby.
posted by echo0720 at 3:46 PM on February 14, 2012

Capitol Hill.

Very young family friendly.
Very walkable.
Easy for husband to get to Dupont.

Tons of rentals.

How much do you want to pay per month?
posted by k8t at 3:55 PM on February 14, 2012

Best answer: Doh - you said Foggy Bottom. I commuted Eastern Market - Foggy Bottom. It was fine.

The CapHill Stay-at-Home-Mom infrastructure is huge and there are tons of coops and preschools once you're in that space in a few years.
posted by k8t at 3:57 PM on February 14, 2012

Another vote for the Hill. Look a few blocks north of the Potomac Ave metro stop. Super easy commute to Foggy Bottom. I love this neighborhood.
posted by jay dee bee at 5:29 PM on February 14, 2012

You probably won't be able to afford a two-bedroom house with a yard in DC proper, except maybe Capitol Hill.

Northwest suburbs (Bethesda, Chevy Chase, Rockville, Silver Spring) would be safe, but considering the commute for your husband, Arlington or Capitol Hill would make more sense.

If I were you, I'd check out the rental section of Craigslist using the places suggested here in the comments as keywords: it would give you the idea what kinds of houses are there and at what price points.
posted by Ender's Friend at 5:30 PM on February 14, 2012

Just chiming in to say that it would be reasonable to walk from Farragut North (Red) to almost anywhere in Foggy Bottom, especially the GW area. Maybe a 15 minute walk? There's also a free pedestrian "bridge" between Farragut North and Farragut West, if there was ever a time crunch or inclement weather. Of course, you could always transfer at Metro Center as well. So, lots of options for in DC, including the aforementioned Hill / Woodley Park. I would also check out Cleveland Park, which is even closer to the zoo and super walkable. The main street is lined with apartment buildings, but the side streets have tons of cute houses.

Friends of mine who fit your family size / lifestyle preferences really love Arlington and Alexandria.
posted by charmcityblues at 5:59 PM on February 14, 2012

Best answer: You also may want to check out some of the very active parenting blogs and listservs for the DC area, which will give you a better idea of the charter school and elementary school situations per neighborhood. Although DC's middle schools and high schools are, in general, awful, there are many quite good neighborhood elementary schools with justifiably proud parents organizations. Do factor in costs of childcare, if that's an issue, and whether you will want to sign up for a daycare or nursery school at any point.

I grew up in Mount Pleasant, which offers easy access to the Zoo (not going to lie, we could hear the monkeys in the morning growing up and it was awesome!) and has a very European feeling. However, street crime is still sometimes a serious concern at night in Columbia Heights, Mount Pleasant, and Adams Morgan. You may be able to rent a row house with a yard, but you will definitely want records on lead removal and paint; many of the older historical houses have layers of soil that are contaminated with lead, and some neighborhoods will require filters for any tap water. One awesome Metro option are the bus lines heading downtown, which I don't think have been mentioned! There are some lovely apartment buildings near parks, especially branches of Rock Creek park, if you were looking at different price points. This is especially true on the Woodley Park side, which is closer to the Metro (though it's the Red Line, so he would have to walk a bit or transfer.) Cleveland Park is very nice and very safe, but it is more isolated from downtown in its own way, though it is right on the Red Line and does have two smaller great grocery stores. Capitol Hill is really great and Eastern Market is both fun and helpful. There are definitely parenting groups based in the area. Barracks Row? Not sure about yards, but it's close to a lot of things, a nice shopping/restaurant area, and to downtown. You also should consider whether or not you will want access to a car, either your own, or a Zipcar. Many walkable neighborhoods in DC are not super close to grocery stores for example, and with a baby, I imagine you'd want secure transportation.

Some of the suburbs will offer something of a European feeling but Bethesda is not one of them, and most of Crystal City is a concrete jungle dotted by excellent kabobs. Alexandria has some great areas, Clarendon is really quite cool, Tacoma Park...Silver Spring actually might have more options, both in terms of space and access to amenities, but it would again require a transfer or a bus route.

Anyway, I loved growing up in DC! Free museums with amazing children program! Free concerts! The Zoo! (Which is part of the Smithsonian, but very different when you're three...) Delicious and exciting and exotic food! Okay, maybe I miss it a ton. It's actually super easy to walk around, and it's only two or three miles from Mount Pleasant down the hill to Foggy Bottom, so yes, walking between Metro stops or lines isn't hard at all if you're a fan of walking. [I am a huge fan of walking.] Good luck! I'm sure if you have more specific questions on neighborhoods in future questions, they'll be answered in more detail.
posted by jetlagaddict at 6:08 PM on February 14, 2012

PS, if you want to memail me your email address, I can forward you house listings from the parenting listserv so you can get a sense of what is really available.

A lot of Capitol Hill homes are rented out (and sold) through word-of-mouth rather than Craigslist. I don't know anyone that found without a friend-of-a-friend connection.

We looked only at places that had somewhere for our dog (RIP) to pee/poop and didn't find it hard to find places with some lawn.

Also, just for funzies - in July we're moving out of our Capitol Hill 3 bedroom rental completed gutted/remodeled in 2010 with a small yard (not big enough to hang out in though), 2 blocks from (awesome) Lincoln Park and 8 minutes to Eastern Market metro (and a small grocery), 10 minutes to 2 large grocery stores, on a great block/alley of young families. We pay $3300 a month. If your time lines up and you're interested, I'd be happy to talk with you/put you in touch with our landlord.

In our alley/nearby neighbors, those with a fenced in yard are paying about $3k/month too, but not for very recently remodeled places like ours. They're still very nice homes though.

The elementary schools here are pretty good and there are 10 options for preschools walkable from our house. There are SO MANY TODDLERS/PRESCHOOLERS/YOUNG ELEMENTARY KIDS in this neighborhood. It is really is unique.
posted by k8t at 6:21 PM on February 14, 2012

Lotta good advice here. Especially recommending Cap. Hill, the best neighborhood in the city!

Only thing I disagree with here is the Clarendon recommendation. Arlington is expensive and only partially walkable and really not so family friendly in my opinion.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 8:00 PM on February 14, 2012

Jetlagaddict pretty much nailed it, and k8t's answer was very helpful.

I've lived near Chinatown/"penn quarter," Cleveland park, Arlington va (courthouse), silver spring md, and now capital hill. I find most of va and silver spring soul sucking suburbia though they have some of the best Thai, Vietnamese, Korean, and afghan restaurants in the country. There are parts of va that don't bother me (old town Alexandria comes to mind) and md (takoma park) but they are less convenient commute-wise. If you can afford pricier Woodley park or Cleveland park, that would likely be safest with the best schools, and a reasonable commute for your husband. Both columbia heights and petworth have more violent crime than I would tolerate (and CH is strangely suburban with its Marshall's, target, best buy, etc.)

My favorite place I've lived is capital hill. My part of the Hill (east of Lincoln park) is definitely less safe than other places I've lived, but I can't afford to be as close to eastern market, barracks row, or the capital building as I would like. If you can, that would be a decent option for you. You would likely get a small yard. It's very walkable. The further west you are, the safer it is and generally the better the schools are. The commute would be easy to foggy bottom. There are little kids *everywhere* and the parents groups are strong. (Moms on the hill - MOTH - comes to mind but you need to actually live here to join). The closer to eastern market the more it reminds me in spirit of places I've lived in Europe. My block feels more neighborhoody than anywhere ive lived since i was a kid. Plus the architecture on CH is gorgeous. If you can't afford west of eastern market, check out slightly NE of eastern market - Lincoln Park area. It's a nice park to have in walking distance. The H street corridor is also a very fun, funky part of the Hill currently being "revitalized" but I'd keep it as a place to visit not live if you are worried about crime and schools.

If you give us specifics like your rental budget, the crime you would tolerate, and/or your school needs, we can be more specific.
posted by semacd at 8:26 PM on February 14, 2012

Can I break in here to ask - what do you guys mean by "crime"? What sort of crime can one expect in a neighborhood affordable to a couple with a $150k income? Prostitution? Vandalism? Car break-ins? Muggings?

(I'm contemplating a DC move in the near future as well.)
posted by bonecrusher at 7:28 AM on February 15, 2012

The Washington Post has (or used to have) a good rundown by street of reported crimes every week, and it's probably online now. It varies by area, but yes, many of the more "affordable" neighborhoods (Columbia Heights, Mount Pleasant, Adams Morgan are the ones I know best but Petworth and Brookland have their own issues) have car break-ins, assaults, some drug crime, property theft, and muggings. Walking around at night outside of commercial areas is not necessarily great idea. It's honestly not bad, and it's so much better than it used to be, especially with respects to drug dealing (and snipers!) You just have to be careful the way you would in any city. But with more affluence has come a population with more electronics and income, which I think has led to some increases in muggings and similar crimes. Three or four years ago some bozo decided to make a minor life of crime following women around from the store and then robbing them, I think with a gun. He attacked a next door neighbor in broad daylight while I was home, half an hour after I got back from grocery shopping. No one was hurt and I think he was apprehended soon after that, but you know, it's not Bethesda. I have never been mugged, hurt, or robbed, except for the time they stole our tricycles.
posted by jetlagaddict at 8:25 AM on February 15, 2012

Nthing Capitol Hill/Eastern Market as the best area of DC. Woodley Park and Cleveland Park are also quite nice, although not really my scene. I am a little surprised by all the Columbia Heights, Petworth, etc, recommendations. It's been a few years since I was living in DC but at the time those were definitely considered a little on the sketchy side (although I do like Columbia Heights a lot), and I don't see why you'd live there when you're making what sounds to my ears like a pretty decent amount of money (granted I'm single and childless, but I lived in DC on a tiny fraction of that). Dittoing the question about the rent budget you had in mind...?
posted by naoko at 1:49 PM on February 15, 2012

Crime is really a DC wide issue. Some areas are worse than others, but by crime, most people mean violent crime, and I would include muggings even if you aren't hurt. No one could care less prostitutes. Car break ins and vandalism are an issue, but when everyone knows at least a two or three people who have been violently assaulted in the last year or had their home broken into, that sort of stuff is very low priority. I've been lucky, but I also pay for the privilege of being safer by paying a lot of money to live in an apartment with security and after dark I usually take a cab unless I'm with someone or it's a very safe, crowded area. Of course most people aren't able to do that so I'm lucky. I actually think driving and taking a lot of cabs is the best way to stay safe. Every person I know who has been mugged was walking home from the metro semi late at night alone. Violent crime in broad daylight does happen, but it's far rarer. Shootings happen, but are generally gang related, however sometimes people do get caught in the cross fire.

That being said I don't know anyone who has been sexually assaulted or had permanent injuries. Everyone was able to come out relatively unphased at the end of the day. So it's just sort of a fact of life, it's a concern, but tolerable. And I have a very low tolerance for being in fear for my safety. It's certainly would never drive me to the suburbs.
posted by whoaali at 7:58 PM on February 15, 2012

Response by poster: Thanks guys, this was very helpful. We came to the conclusion that DC is not for us at this stage in our lives (even though we'd love to live there at some point). We will probably move to Ann Arbor now.
posted by The Toad at 11:33 AM on February 23, 2012

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