Single working mother moving to DC: Falls Church or Silver Spring?
November 10, 2014 2:16 PM   Subscribe

I am hoping to land my dream job in the heart of DC. The pay would be great for a single person, but as a working single mother, it won't be amazing. I am concerned about the usual: safety, quality of public schools, and commute times. Is Falls Church really that much better than Silver Spring? Is the red line as bad as I hear?

From what I can tell, Falls Church has the best schools, but long waiting lists for after school care. Silver Spring isn't as great, but after school care is easier and less expensive. Red line is bad, I hear, but I know very little about the orange line.

My budget: I'd like to keep rent for a 2br to $2,000 + utilities (preferably a single-family place if possible), and after school care to $500/month.

My commute: Can I depend on a less than 90 min commute HOME on weekdays with the orange or red lines so I can pick my daughter up by 6:30 from the child care center? How long is the average commute from metro center to Silver Spring at rush hour? What about to Falls Church (West)?

Schools: Are the Silver Springs public schools really bad compared to Falls Church?
posted by JanewayJunior to Work & Money (20 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Can't speak to Falls Church, but I grew up in Montgomery County and the system as a whole compares favorably to the national standard, although obviously there's some variance among schools. I did in fact go to junior high and high school in the Silver Spring area, but at the magnet schools --- which also serve the local neighborhood, so really the quality of education available in the area might surprise you particularly if you're in the area feeding either of the magnet middle schools or the magnet high school.
posted by jackbishop at 2:46 PM on November 10, 2014 [1 favorite]

I live near the west falls church metro and the commute downtown (via metro) is about 40 minutes. Rush hour or not, it doesn't really make much difference in time -- the main difference is how crowded the trains are. It's hella expensive, though -- you're going to have a rough time finding a decent 2 bedroom apartment for $2k a month.
posted by empath at 2:50 PM on November 10, 2014 [1 favorite]

Your commute is going to vary a lot depending on where you are going in downtown DC. I'd like to put a word in for Alexandria either way. Closer than Falls Church, great schools, cheaper and less snobby!
posted by Potomac Avenue at 4:18 PM on November 10, 2014

From Metro Center, both rail commutes will be about the same most likely (20/30 minutes-ish)--though this doesn't account for travel to and from the stations PLUS delays that do often occur on all lines. I find the orange line to be okay, especially now with the silver line (especially if you go to East Falls Church).

I came in to mostly say that I have quite a few co-workers with children who live in Takoma Park and like it. We work by Metro Center and they say their commute is pretty good (some even bike). It's a bit closer than Silver Spring and is served by Blair HS which has a magnet program.
posted by inevitability at 4:29 PM on November 10, 2014

If you'd consider a few stops west of West Falls Church, you should be able to get a 2 BR apartment for less than $2K. Fairfax County schools are considered to be very good. The trip planner estimates 29 minutes from Metro Center to the end of the Orange Line at Vienna (rush hour; arriving at the Vienna station by 5:30 pm). The Vienna/Fairfax - GMU metro station is about midway between the town of Vienna and the town of Fairfax; rentals in the latter are generally less expensive than the former.
posted by apartment dweller at 5:04 PM on November 10, 2014

I live a few blocks away from the West Falls Church metro, and I am very happy with my commute. I drive and park at WFC, and life has been a lot different now that the Silver Line is open. Before, people were driving into WFC and so the garage would fill up. I don't think I've seen a full garage since the Silver Line opened, period.

We used to talk about the "Orange Crush," and that doesn't happen any more, either. At the peak of rush hour, the trains are still crowded, but the Silver Line has significantly reduced the crowding.

I live close to Tysons Corner and traffic on Rt. 7 can be very bad. And don't get me started on the pain I feel trying to drive from WFC to suburban Maryland when I have gigs out there. But for just going from downtown DC via Metro, the commute is fine. (My usual work commute is 30-40 minutes.)
posted by QuantumMeruit at 5:36 PM on November 10, 2014

Is Falls Church really that much better than Silver Spring?

Is there some reason you're limiting yourself to just these two bedroom communities at the near North and far West of the Beltway? If the dream job is downtown, your happiness will be in direct proportion to your commute time. No need to rule out locations along the Green Line, for one example.
posted by Rash at 6:50 PM on November 10, 2014

I am concerned about the usual: safety, quality of public schools, and commute times.

I can't speak to Falls Church, but these days apartments in downtown Silver Spring, price-wise, appear to be trending toward in town prices.

FWIW, we are raising two young children in DC proper and none of the issues listed above have yet prompted us to move to the suburbs - I think you owe it to yourself to at least give the city a serious look.
posted by ryanshepard at 8:20 PM on November 10, 2014

How old is your daughter?
posted by yarly at 8:26 PM on November 10, 2014

Response by poster: Thanks for all the responses so far. Here's a few more details:
I am open to other neighborhoods, but need to keep rent and utilities to $3,000 total, and my commute to about an hour. My daughter is 9. The job would be on Pennsylvania Ave, and I cannot afford private school.
posted by JanewayJunior at 8:37 PM on November 10, 2014

Pennsylvania is a long Avenue. But it sounds like nearish to Capitol Hill? Check out the Yellow line in VA. Huntington, Belle Haven, Franconia, West Alexandria etc. I liked it out there, and Fairfax county schools are pretty good.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 10:22 PM on November 10, 2014

Best answer: I think you should consider living in DC! It would have to be an apartment, but I think your quality of life would be much better without the commute.

There are a number of elementary schools that are considered "good" where I think you could get a 2 bedroom apartment for under $3000. Since your daughter is already closer to middle school, you'd want to consider that too. Generally there is only one good neighborhood (ie you have the right to go there) middle school: Deal in NW DC. Hardy in NW DC is also improving. Some people also like Stuart Hobson in Capitol Hill.

The elementary schools that feed to these middle schools where I think you could get a cheaper apartment and have good commute downtown are along the Red line on Connecticut Ave NW. You can check the school feeder pattern here:

If you're OK with not having middle school in place yet, you could also consider renting in Capitol Hill (Brent or Maury Elementary) or Dupont (Ross Elementary) and figure out junior highs later. There are some good charter jr highs and you might luck out and get in!

Finally, the charter lottery happens in March. If you're here before that, you can enter and see if you can get into a good charter elementary that goes through middle school.

Sorry I don't know much about Maryland and Virginia neighborhoods with reasonable commutes and good schools. You might try posting your question on DC Urban Moms.

Feel free to memail me with more questions!
posted by yarly at 3:09 AM on November 11, 2014

Another vote here for Alexandria (the West End, not Old Town!) rather than Falls Church. Or how about the Kingstown area of Fairfax? Both would be cheaper than Falls Church, although you'd better be prepared for sticker shock no matter where in this area you choose. Falls Church is nice, but it's also more expensive, and being so small it's got limited resources, such as day care slots. Also Falls Church cops are very strong on their 25mph speed limits.....

(And fyi: Fairfax County and Fairfax City are two entirely separate entities.)
posted by easily confused at 6:13 AM on November 11, 2014

Where are you moving from and what do you expect? As a transplant from the East Bay Area, I still find much of NOVA just kinda . . . off-putting. Falls Church rubs me wrong; something to do with race/class and code-switching that I can't quite put my finger on, and it feels weirdly suburban to the point of almost rural, because everything nearby is split up by freeways. I would have a hard time hacking FC without a car, although plenty of people seem to manage. All that said, there's a lot of great Korean and Vietnamese food in the vicinity, and you're closer to the beautiful Shenandoah.

Unless you are moving from NYC you will not find the red line any worse than what you're used to, and better than a similarly trafficked line anywhere else in the country, of which there are really only a couple. People are annoyed with the same things they are annoyed with on CTA or BART. The red line is older and has more problems, but it will get you around reliably and went through major renovations over the last few years. I get from Dupont Circle to Takoma in 20 minutes during rush hour, and Silver Spring metro is six minutes further.

I live just inside the District in Takoma DC, and part of our choice of neighborhood had to do with how the neighboring part of MoCo (from downtown Takoma Park up to Silver Spring) has managed not to become the vanillafied yuppie nightmare of inner Bethesda/Chevy Chase. It's safe, but still not sanitized, which I appreciate. I'm also significantly closer to Baltimore/Philly from this end of things, which matters to me but may not to you. There's lots of good food out here too.

All of that said, on your projected budget you could live closer in. Are you committed to the suburbs? DCPS has its issues, but there are a ton of good quality-of-life tradeoffs in terms of commute time and actually living in a neighborhood that make it worth considering . . .
posted by aspersioncast at 8:28 AM on November 11, 2014

Response by poster: I would prefer NOT to live in the burbs, actually. I am coming from rural Maine, but I have lived in the Boston suburbs, and I found them to be soulless.They really got me down. I'm a hippie liberal at heart, and I prefer either rural or urban, but it's the public school situation (and, admittedly a bit of fear around urban safety considering I live in a quiet Maine town now) that leads me to the burbs. If I can find a community in town that has decent schools, I'd prefer that. I would love to live near one of the community gardens, actually.
posted by JanewayJunior at 8:54 AM on November 11, 2014

'm a hippie liberal at heart

You'd probably be happier in the People's Republic of Takoma Park than in Falls Church, for sure.
posted by empath at 10:40 AM on November 11, 2014 [1 favorite]

I would love to live near one of the community gardens, actually.

Ha, DC community gardens are the only institutions that have a longer waitlist than the schools! But based on everything you've written, living in DC in boundaries for one of the good elementary schools, or in Takoma Park MD close to the metro, really makes the most sense.
posted by yarly at 11:14 AM on November 11, 2014 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: I am so gratful for all of this help, and especially for the school feeder website you posted, Yarly. Thank you!
posted by JanewayJunior at 12:44 PM on November 11, 2014

If you do decide on Falls Church, I used to live here and the apartments are huge, still well under $2K, feeds into either Lemon Road Elementary or Shrevewood Elementary (both highly rated), and they have a shuttle to the West Falls metro.

I would also consider Arlington - you won't get an under $2k apartment on the orange line, but if you're willing to take the bus, consider south Arlington. Some of the schools are still really good (Patrick Henry, Drew Montessori) and rent is much cheaper. The commute is also much better into DC than from FC or Silver Spring.

Also, there are good elementaries in DC -- I don't know much about the charters, but I think most of the public elementary schools in upper northwest are supposed to be pretty good. I have friends with kids in the Cleveland Park, Woodley Park, and Glover Park local elementary schools that all love them. And all of those are all very family friendly neighborhoods - unfortunately I think you'd have to get a garden apartment to get under $2K but it might be worth it for the schools and awesome neighborhoods.
posted by echo0720 at 4:20 PM on November 11, 2014

Most of the schools around this area are actually pretty good, so focusing on Falls Church solely because of school quality is unnecessary. And since you say you do not want suburbs, that's another reason to avoid FC: it's almost entirely suburbs.

Fairfax County has excellent schools; consider Kingstown, Springfield, Chantilly. Annandale is soulless and bland; Alexandria varies --- the west end is mostly apartments, condos & houses, but Old Town (while more interesting/varied/walkable) is more expensive. Probably not the Rt. 1/Mount Vernon corridor: it's improving, but not there yet. McLean is nice, but too expensive; Reston is a McLean-wannabe, but with more & more stringent homeowner's associations. Loudoun is a possibility for 'rural', if you're willing to have a longer commute.

Suggestion: rent an apartment for six months or a year; that'll give you time to look around for something you'd like better.
posted by easily confused at 10:36 AM on November 13, 2014

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