James and Christine Hicks had lived in the Shaw area eight years when an urban renewal project displaced them and their two daughters.
Failing to find an affordable three-bedroom apartment, the Hickses, 61 and 54, respectively, both on disability pensions, moved to Northeast Washington to live with a friend's aunt. that house was eventually sold out from under them.
High rents and the shortage of low-income housing in Washington finally forced the family to move to Prince George's County. They found found an apartment in Washington Heights, a subsidized housing project in Landover.
Although no official statistics exist on the displacement of low-income Washington residents, Prince George's officials believe families like the Hickses are moving into their county in increasing numbers because the housing is more affordable.
"We've almost always been the only place that low-income families pushed out of the District housing market could go," Housing Authority Director Earl Morgan said. "We have more apartments, more vacancies and lower rents than any of the other jurisdictions."
Prince George's housing officials say the long, common boundary shared with the District makes movement easier. While high rents and a river separate Arlington, Fairfax and Montgomery counties from the District, no similar barriers exist between Prince George's.
"District housing officials used to openly tell us a few years back that they saw the Prince George's housing stock as a readily available resource," Morgan said. "You know how bureaucrats are. It was the easiest way for them to do their job. So, of course, they used that resource.
Charles Ross, deputy director of the Prince George's Housing Authority, added, "After a while, we got tired of being the only place in the metropolitan area where poor people could be relocated."
Under pressure from Prince George's County, the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments in 1972 began a program called Fair Share which has as its goal a more equitable allocation of federally funded housing projects in the area. Since then, more federally financed housing has been built in Montgomery and Fairfax counties.
Even so, the number of apartments available, the lower rents and the higher vacancy rates in Prince George's still make it the first choice of families displaced from the District.
Former Washingtonians find they need some adjusting after the move.
"I moved here in 1975 because the living conditions were better," 26-year-old Benny Newton said. He transported his family a few miles across the District line to Glassmanor, a low- to moderate-income community across from Southeast Washington.
Although Newton pays $50 more for his Glassmanor apartment than he paid in the District for rent, he felt that his new home would be less susceptible to burglary and that the area would offer a better environment for his family.
Newton says now, however, "The difference between the Glassmanor I moved into and the one I live in now is as big as the difference between right night and day."
He said his apartment and those of his neighbors have been broken into several times, and his building is deteriorating.
"I thought I had left all of these problems in the District," he said.
"I'd say Prince George's County and the District are about the same in terms of rents and conditions. The only real difference is that out here you at least have a little breathing room and know that if things get too bad you can move into another apartment further out.
"One thing I do know. Before I cross that District line again, I'll get my family together, jump in the car, and head on back down (Interstate) 95 back to North Carolina.
"D.C. is getting so only rich people can live there. They ain't got nothing for folks like me who are struggling."
Al Barrett, president of the Glassmanor Civic Association, says the residents, many of whom came from the District, have worked hard to improve life in the community.
"We secured federal funds to build a recreation center that will open next month," he began. "In addition, our association has worked closely with the police to cut down on crime.
"Of course, we still have some problems to fight, but we're working very hard at it. The biggest problem is getting that old District off of people's minds. A lot of our people figure that Glassmanor is just a place they come home to sleep at."
A major problem low- and moderate-income families who move to Prince George's County face is transportation.
When 30-year-old Minnie Hall lived at the corner of 12th and M streets NW, her two children could walk to a nearby elementary school each morning and Hall could take a short bus ride to her job at the General Services Administration.
Now she spends nearly twice as much money for a 45-minute bus trip from her home in Central Gardens, a housing development just off Central Avenue, to her job downtown. Hall also gets up earlier to get her children ready for the bus ride to Pointer Ridge Elementary School in Bowie.
"Busing was something you just never had to deal with in the District," she said. "To tell you the truth I think the school my daughter went to in the District was better than the school she is going to now. The teachers just seemed to care more. My kids were reading like champs when they left first grade."
Hall believes that busing has made it more difficult for both her and her children to get involved in school activities.
"Since they don't have transportation, my kids can't even participate in after school activities," she said. "I was president of the PTA at Thomson Elementary School when I lived in the District. Now, I'm barely able to make it to PTA meetings to meet my kids' teacher."
Frustrated, she says now, "D.C. may be turning into a city for only the rich, but I'll tell you this: If I could find a place right now, I'd never come back out here. There's nothing to do, no place to go and if you don't have a car, forget it."
The exodus of low- and moderate-income families from the District to Prince George's County has divided county officials there into two camps: those seeking to ensure that new residents get adequate housing and social services and those who believe that the displaces should look to the other surburban jurisdictions for housing.
"I think there is an overt effort to stop migration from the District to the county," said At-large Councilwoman Debbie Marshall. "The county government has been saying for a long time that it was not going to house D.C.'s poor.
"I guess you can describe it as an attitude of 'Well, if you can afford a $200,000 home, then welcome. If you can't, go somewhere else.'"
A social scientist with the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments said that "there is no money to do any serious research on displacement" of low-income District residents, although the movement of middle-class blacks to the suburbs has been well-documented.
Prince George's leaders cite the ever-tightening housing market in the District, brought about by condominium conversions, urban renewal and rising rents, as the reason for the exodus.
While county officials believe the number of low- and moderate-income families arriving from the District is growing, the movement is not new. Several years ago, a county Housing Authority study of U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development records showed that 88 percent of the residents of Barber Village, a federal housing project just off Central Avenue, had moved from the District. Baber Village has since been shut down.
Most Prince George's observers agree that the low-income housing market in the county will tighten up in the future.
"We may soon begin to see displacement occurring around new Metro stops in the county," Marshall said. "As the county housing market becomes more like that in the District, the same problems will begin to pop up out here. Already, there are few, if any, new apartments going up, rents are rising, and little seems to be being done to upgrade old public or subsidized housing."
"I don't think there's any question that sometime in the future, inflation, Metro, and other development will push everything up sky high," said Morgan. "My hunch though is that that's a good ways away. We have too many vacant apartments to worry about that yet.
"Until the condominiums and highrises begin to spring up on our side of the line, Prince George's County will be a bargain spot for some time to come."