Where We Live

Stirred together in West Hyattsville's melting pot

By Mara Lee
Special to The Washington Post
Saturday, December 19, 2009

The mix of Hispanic and Caribbean immigrants and lifelong Marylanders living in West Hyattsville means not everyone shares a language. But Tim Gardner, 59, who has rented a Cape Cod for 15 years, doesn't let a little thing like that stop him from being friendly.

He knows the Hispanic brothers and cousins who share a house on his block. They don't speak English, but that doesn't deter Gardner. "We do sign language. It works," he said. "I got a big garden in the back yard. Give them peppers."

Juana and Catalino Morales, who bought their Cape Cod five years ago, said West Hyattsville is a good place to raise their three children.

Catalino said the staff at Rosa Parks Elementary School, which his two older children attend, are "really supportive."

"They know how to understand Hispanic people," he said, in Spanish. "The curriculum is very good, very comprehensive."

Lenox Glen, 50, and his fiancee, Natalie Daly, have been renting a house in West Hyattsville for five years. Glen and Daly, who grew up in Guyana, aren't as pleased with the local schools. Their 5-year-old had been on the Head Start waiting list at Rosa Parks for two years. "We don't really want him to be home and not out there, not learning anything," Glen said.

Several residents also work to provide services within the neighborhood.

Juana Morales runs a home day care. Gardner's wife, Kay, has run a day care for 10 years. Gardner is a former UPS driver who, having grown bored in retirement, started a handyman business. Catalino, who immigrated from Mexico in 1995, said the house is the first one he bought -- and it will be the last because now it's hard to borrow money.

The neighborhood has been scarred by foreclosures and short sales, in which owners sell for less than the balance due on their mortgage. Prices jumped far beyond the reach of working-class residents during the housing bubble, but subprime mortgage lending disguised the affordability mismatch for a few years. When the adjustable-rate-mortgage payments rose after two or three years into these loans, many families were unable to make their payments.

Jesus Fernandez, an agent with Weichert Realtors, said most of the 14 houses currently for sale are short sales. Asking prices range from $135,000 to $335,000, with a median price at $229,950.

"Those prices dropped at least 50 percent from the peak," he said.

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