Can you recommend a safe DC-area city/neighborhood for a military couple who want to start a family?
July 16, 2007 2:40 PM   Subscribe

My husband is a Marine we will be moving to the DC Area in November. He will be working near the Washington Navy Yard, and his commute is a concern for us. We are planning on starting a family, so living in a safe neighborhood is a priority. We would like to live in a "nicer" neighborhood, preferably quiet and family-friendly. We would like to spend about $1,600/month on rent, but would be willing to spend as much as $1,850 to get what we want.

Here are our specifications:

Must have/be (ranked in order of importance):

Pet friendly (We have a 50 lb dog and a cat)
Safe neighborhood
Fenced in yard
Parking for 2 cars
3 bedrooms
Be within 30 minutes (without traffic) to Washington Navy Yard, the closer the better
At least 1200 square feet, but more would be nice
In unit washer/dryer hookups (supplied W/D is ok, too)

Would like:

Single family home
Dish washer
At least 1.5 bathrooms
Metro accessible - does not have to be within walking distance, but would be nice to have the option to take the Metro if I wanted to
Relatively close to shopping - i.e. a grocery store, a Target or the like
Relatively close to a military base that has a commissary

We would probably only be there for a few years, so schools are not a big concern.

Basically, here are my questions:

1.) Do you know of any cities/areas/neighborhoods where we could rent a home the fits our wants and needs?

2.) Is there any area where the commute would be the 'least bad' (i.e. east of the city, north) or are they all going to be pretty bad?

3.) Could you recommend a realtor? I really don't want to pay that much if we don't have to. (I don't know what the normal rates are. 1 month's rent?)

Any information would be greatly appreciated, even if you can't answer all of my questions. Thank you!
posted by creedling to Home & Garden (17 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Can't be precise as a while since I was there, but there were "nice" townhouse neighbourhoods (pockets) not that far from the Navy Yard and the Marine Corps barracks, effectively kept so by the proximity of lots of service personnel day and night. Mind, this is 10 years ago.
posted by A189Nut at 3:10 PM on July 16, 2007

Try Alexandria or Falls Church in Virginia. Your husband's commute wouldn't be too crazy (especially not by beltway standards), and you should be able to find something that fits most or all of your needs. Good luck!
posted by kittens for breakfast at 3:26 PM on July 16, 2007

(On review, that's not quite as specific as it might have been, but I'm relatively new to the area myself, so...)
posted by kittens for breakfast at 3:27 PM on July 16, 2007

There is a lot of new building near the Navy Yards, due to the new stadium. It's mostly condos and such, though, so a yard may be out of the question. But that area is going through a massive revitalization, so neighborhoods that would have been unsafe last year will be perfectly fine now. DC schools leave a lot to be desired, though, so you may want to locate outside of the city.

Falls Church is great, and there are some nice neighborhoods around the East Falls Church metro.

Can't recommend a good realtor, though.
posted by MrMoonPie at 3:41 PM on July 16, 2007

i lived in Falls Church (technically Arlington, near E. Falls Church metro station) for years. great old neighborhoods, lots of big trees, and even some wild areas. this was before i had kids, but now that i do it would have been great for them too. try not to get TOO close to the Seven Corners area, though, if you are concerned with the safety factor.
posted by uaudio at 4:00 PM on July 16, 2007

Best answer: Welcome to the DC area! Some answers to your questions and a couple resources for you....

First, in your price range, living in the city with the various amenities you want (garage, yard, etc.) will be difficult. Most of DC is not a city of white picket fences and green grass; L'Enfant envisioned row houses that butt up against the street with alleys as the ideal capital city. There are certainly exceptions, but if you find something that suits your qualifications in Washington, be sure to walk around at night, or ask your neighbors how they feel about walking home after dark. In city neighborhoods that MAY be in your price range and suit your preferences are Mount Pleasant, Columbia Heights, and Petworth (new Target going in within the next few months). As other posters have said, the area near the Navy Yard is certainly building up (as are the eastern Capitol Hill neighborhoods), I'm just not as familiar with them.

Virginia is where you will be more likely to find yard, garage, etc.; additionally, you'd be closer to Fort Myer (in Arlington) and Fort Belvoir (farther out, close to Springfield), both with commissaries. Arlington, Alexandria, Fall Church, Fairfax, and nearby communities are a decent commute to WNY, though that depends on if your husband is driving or taking the metro. Some Maryland communities could also work, though the commute is longer (College Park, Greenbelt, etc.)

In addition to craigslist, check out (focuses on DC area housing) and Getting rental housing in and near DC can be somewhat of a challenge because there are lots of folks renting, and a large community looking for "group houses" to rent (competing for family homes). I would be sure to specify that you're a small family, how long you'll be staying, and the military part won't hurt (all benefits when dealing with landlords).

Definitely use all the housing search and moving resources available to you as a military family, but don't believe any realtor that tells you "all the Marines live here." Not true, and would probably have you living closer to Quantico that you want! I actually am not familiar with any realtors that focus only on renters...You may be able to get away with not using one if you are willing to do some internet research. Landlords are usually happy to deal straight with tenants/potential tenants.

Good luck!
posted by xaire at 7:10 PM on July 16, 2007 [1 favorite]

I'll give you the Northern Virginia point of view...

Consider something along Columbia Pike in northern virginia, and then your husband could take the Metro from Pentagon Station!

There's also outlying small homes in the Crystal City and Pentagon City areas if you're willing to look off of the main roads (most people don't realize they're there), and there's nice neighborhoods around the Shirlington area.

I personally live in Springfield, which is more of real 'suburb' even though it on the Beltway. We live a short drive from the commissary (yes, military here) and the Metro. Have to admit that getting to Navy Yards from here via Metro could be a little bit of a commute, though. Take a look at the dc metro map for yourself... Although what we do is take an express bus to the Pentagon and then hop on the metro from there - it's faster than driving down to Franconia station and metro-ing from there. Navy Yards is on the Green Line, so plan accordingly.

Once trick to DC traffic that most people don't realize... If your husband has to report in really early in the morning (say 0600 or 0630) DC traffic is a breeze coming up from Virginia. It can be the fastest way to go. However, if duty starts at 0800? Metro, metro, metro!

Other nice NOVA areas to consider are Kingstowne and Old Town Alexandria. I'm partial to Kingstown and Springfield because of the large military presence in the neighborhoods (due to Ft. Belvoir).

posted by matty at 4:07 AM on July 17, 2007

One thing I forgot to mention...


To be blunt, that is SE DC. Although DC is an equal opportunity crime city, the nightly murders happen in SouthEast DC.
posted by matty at 4:11 AM on July 17, 2007

I'm back! I took a shower and got to thinking about your requirements/desires some more.

I think Kingstowne in NOVA meets all your requirements except the length of commute to Navy Yards.

The hardest thing to find anywhere else will be access to the Commissary - which Ft Belvoir (next to Kingstowne and Springfield) can provide. Your other option is to live near Andrews AFB in Maryland - but that's a whole 'nother country!

Best of Luck.
posted by matty at 4:36 AM on July 17, 2007

orignial post: matty is painting that area with a pretty broad stroke. A lot of Capitol Hill lies within the Southeast quadrant of the city, and then there are other neighborhoods as well that are fine. The part of "Southeast" that usually gets maligned is the part across the Anacostia River. This generally, is higher crime than other areas of DC (ther eare many nice middle class neighborhoods in that part of the city, too though. But to generalize, that part of DC is less safe, yes)

If you're interested in crime reports for DC, you can go to the DC Police's website to see crime stats (you can plot a map with historical data going back as far as you want, type of crime, etc)
posted by jare2003 at 7:12 AM on July 17, 2007

try not to get TOO close to the Seven Corners area, though, if you are concerned with the safety factor.I have no idea what this means. How long has it been since you've lived in the area? The Seven Corners area would be, I think, pretty much ideal--close to metro, good schools, fantastic shopping (Target, Home Depot, groceries, the best ethnic food in the metro area), well within the beltway. I'm not aware of any crime issues around there.
posted by MrMoonPie at 7:40 AM on July 17, 2007

matty may be painting with a broad stroke, but [outside the gates of] the Navy Yard did not feel safe to me (white, middle-aged) in the middle of the day.

The safest neighborhood in the city may in fact be in Anacostia, at Bolling AFB. I don't know if that's just for Air Force, or if there's a waiting line a mile long, but it sure looks nice driving through, if you don't mind living on base.

I have not tried it myself, but a guy I worked with lived in Springfield, just outside the beltway and he said the commute was a breeze. I was skeptical because of everything you hear about the I95/495/395 interchange, but he started work at 0700 before that got to be so much of a mess. Guessing that a (1st shift) Marine wouldn't be starting his day any later than that.
posted by MtDewd at 8:43 AM on July 17, 2007

Response by poster: Thank you all so much for your replies so far.

I have been looking at listings on several rental sites (thanks for the great sites, xaire) and keep leaning towards Bowie, MD. Google maps says it's about 20 miles/25 minutes from the Navy Yard (without traffic, obviously), but I have no idea of knowing whether or not that commute will be horrendous if in fact my husband will have to drive it during "rush hour" (We have no idea of what his actual position/hours will be yet.) He is willing to sit in traffic because it's pretty much inevitable, and he is hesitant to take the Metro because he probably wouldn't be allowed to/feel comfortable wearing his uniform on public transportation.

Any thoughts on Bowie? It was recommended by my husband's aunt, who is a police officer in PG county. It's a little further out, but when I look at listings, the houses that come up are more like what we am looking for. She also mentioned Clinton, MD, but it doesn't look like the major roads are accessible from there, and the commute may be even worse. But again, I have no idea!

I still have to look into other Northern VA cities (thanks for naming some matty), because I have only looked around Alexandria and Arlington so far.

This is so hard to do over the internet from across the country, so again, I really appreciate your help.
posted by creedling at 2:37 PM on July 17, 2007

Bowie would be cheaper than a lot of those closein parts of Virginia.
posted by jare2003 at 2:58 PM on July 17, 2007

He is willing to sit in traffic because it's pretty much inevitable, and he is hesitant to take the Metro because he probably wouldn't be allowed to/feel comfortable wearing his uniform on public transportation.

Plenty of Marines, Army, and Air Force wear their uniforms on the Metro. On the other hand, many don't - so it may or may not be either a matter of personal choice or individual command policy. Your sponsor should be able to let you know.
posted by matty at 4:01 PM on July 17, 2007

I'd recommend something around Ft Belvoir (Springfield/Alexandria) ... we just moved (3 wks ago) into a nice 2300 sq ft, 4 br condo less than 10 minutes from Ft Belvoir, and we pay just a shade under $2000 (well within our BAH). I definitely think you could find something in the area for $1850 or less if you only need 3BR. We have a 19 month old son and a baby on the way, so a "nice, family friendly" area was important to us, too (oh, and we have 2 dogs). As a bonus, we can actually walk to the Franconia-Sprinfield Metro (less than a mile) from our condo, and we're less than 2 miles from pretty much any "big box store" shopping you can imagine. We save a TON of money by doing our grocery shopping at the commissary, and Ft Belvoir's is exceptional (at least by Army standards) - sushi bar and all. For what it's worth, we had to do all of our housing research remotely as well, and Craigslist was by far and away our best resource. Good luck!

PS - I've lived on Capitol Hill (2nd block of E Capitol), but I personally would not live in the SE quadrant anywhere east of 8th street (right around the Marine Barracks).
posted by jacksides at 10:21 AM on July 18, 2007

Check out the Post's Local Explorer. In combination with any of the typical online real-estate resources such as craigslist or or even the Post's own classifieds, you can get an idea of how safe your prospective neighborhood truly is.

What everyone has said here so far about neighborhood safety is, bluntly put, pure conjecture subject to any number of biases and therefore unreliable. Local Explorer will give you some hard data.
posted by feloniousmonk at 11:12 AM on July 18, 2007

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