Several blocks behind the Capitol, an old but nice house is for sale: two bedrooms, one bath, an unfinished basement and no back yard. The asking price: close to three-quarters of a million dollars.
Houses with similar price tags are common in Washington these days as more people venture back into the city to live. Couples pushing strollers through the parks now often walk back to their homes instead of returning to their SUVs and life in the suburbs. Construction cranes mark the skyline, and entrepreneurs called "flippers" scoop up cheap houses, renovate them, proclaim the neighborhood gentrified and resell quickly at a sizable profit.
The problem is that some of the neighborhoods being advertised as gentrified or renewed are not. A house can undergo a facelift within weeks, but changing a community takes time -- much more time. People who paid huge sums for houses in areas such as Capitol Heights, Logan Circle, Eastern Market and U Street soon become familiar with homelessness, beggars, theft, muggings and even killings.
Million-dollar colonial houses are not expected to come with these problems, but in parts of the District, they do. And these problems are only the beginning. When the sexiness of living in the city wears off, transplants to the District will find that their public services aren't up to suburban standards -- just turn on the faucet or look at the schools.
People in historically poorer sections of the city -- in parts of Northeast, for example -- are taking advantage of the higher prices that people are willing to pay for real estate in the city and are putting their homes on the market. Drive along Rhode Island Avenue near North Capitol Street and count the real estate signs.
Real estate agents say that a house is worth whatever people are willing to pay for it. Perhaps, although markets fluctuate.
Homeowners who find beggars by their front doors when they come home from work certainly paid what they thought their houses were worth, but more and more may be asking themselves if they made the right choice. Meanwhile, the sellers in the District are all smiles.
-- Jonathan C. Poling
lives in Washington.