The "back-to-the-cities" movement might more accurately be called a "stay-in-the-cities" movement, according to a recently released survey of Capitol Hill homebuyers.
According to Prof. Dennis E. Gale, who with his students in the Department of Urban and Regional Planning at George Washington University conducted the project, the results back up an earlier study of the Mount Pleasant neighborhood.
As in Mount Pleasant, the majority of recent Capitol Hill homebuyers lived in the city immediately before purchasing their home. Only 15 per cent moved to Capitol Hill from the Washington suburs; 52 per cent had lived at another address on Capitol Hill.
However, two-thirds had spent their childhood in suburbs, small towns or rural areas. The study concluded that "the Capitol Hill homebuyers seem to have rejected the traditional suburban ideal for the more recently emerging taste for higher density inner city living."
Gale and his students attempted to contact all individuals or families who had purchased houses in 1976 in census tracts 66 and 67. They were able to interview 62 new buyers - 54 per cent of those who had purchased houses in 1976.
Most of the Capitol Hill buyers, Gale found, were single persons or couple in their late 20s, 30s, or early 40s. Only 21 per cent had children younger than 19 at home. The majority of the households surveyed were white. The only exceptions were a few household (5 per cent) that included mixed couples. The homebuyers were a highly educated and affluent group: 77 per cent of the heads of households had graduate degrees, and all had at least some college education: 75 per cent had income of at least $25,000 a year.
As a group, the buyers interviewed were pleased with their homes and with their neighborhoods. Seventy-one per cent rated their reactinons to their new houses as "highly favorable," while 47 per cent said their feelings about the neighborhood were "highly favorable." More than twice as many people in census tract 66 than in tract 67 - which is closer to the Capitol that tract 67 and has been a "restoration area" longer - reported highly favorable feelings about the neighborhood.
When asked about disagreeable aspects of the neighborhood, 19 per cent of the respondents ranked crime as the most unpleasant problem. Sixty-five per cent reported that had been victims of a crime or threatening gesture of some sort. Almost all the incidents were crimes against property in which the victims were not physically harmed. Forty-five per cent said if they moved from the Hill it would probably be because of the crime problem.
Capitol Hill, the study concluded, "in all likelihood will more resemble Georgetown with each passing year." As this and other renovation neighborhoods become more settled, the study predicts, they will attract suburban residents and will begin to reverse the flight-from-the-cities trend. The conclusion was based on tract 66, where renovation began at an earlier date and had attracted more suburbanities (24 per cent) than the newer tract 67 (8 per cent).
Gale said in a telephone interview what he is "frustrated by the process of neighborhood renovation," in places such as Capitol Hill and Mount Pleasant.
"Like most professionals and planners I recognize the obvious benefits of the movement - a better tax base, improved housing stock and improved public services like police and schools.The middle-income people who move into these neihborhoods tend to press harder for these services. But I wring my hands over the people hurt most - the low-and moderate-income people who are forced out."
Lower-income homeowners, Gale said, are often forced out because they can't meet the increased property taxes; renters are dislocated when houses are bought by speculators.
The solution, Gale said, is not in "Bandaids," such as rent control or the condominium conversion law, but in governmental commitment to providing low-and moderate-income housing. Government sassistance could take several forms, Gale said, including construction of more public housing and direct subsidies to lower-income people to be used for housing.
Copies of the Capitol Hill and Mount Pleasant studies are available from the Department of Urban and Regional Planning of George Washington University for $1.50 each.