The creation of thousands of units of affordable housing in Washington seems to have done little to reverse the disparity around Metro stations, where the better-off are disproportionately more likely to be able to live steps from trains, while the less wealthy live farther away.
Between 2012 and 2016, about a half of all households in Washington had incomes of $75,000 or less. But among the roughly 200,000 households living within a half-mile of each of the 40 Metro stations in the city, it’s a different story, according to data based on Census estimates made available to Express by the District’s planning department.
Only 44 percent of the roughly 200,000 households living near a station made $75,000 or less. That translates to more than 10,000 fewer households with modest incomes benefitting from the shorter commutes that come with living near Metro than would if the mix of incomes near stations more closely matched the city as a whole.
At the same time, while only 39 percent of all Washington households had incomes of $100,000 or more between 2012 and 2016, 45 percent of households living near stations had incomes in the six figures.
The disproportionately low numbers of middle- or lower-income families that live near stations worries local transportation and policy experts, who say not much has changed since 2016. Besides having to go farther to catch trains, those living away from Metro stations often have to pay more to commute. Metro, unlike some other transit agencies, including New York’s, does not let people taking buses to trains transfer for free.
“We’re seeing the rich get richer – in both wealth and quality of life – and low-income people having to keep fighting to stay afloat with everyday tasks – like getting to work or daycare,” said Paul Mackie, research director for Mobility Lab, an Arlington transportation research center funded by local and federal governments.
Between 2012 and 2016, households near D.C. Metro stations had a median income of $93,022 — about $20,000 above the city’s median household income of $72,935.
That was up from between 2007 and 2011, when the $77,759 median income of households within a half-mile of stations was about $16,000 higher than the city’s median income.
In addition, those living in areas around stations were less likely to receive public assistance.
The city’s numbers did not include data on food stamps recipients. But according to a separate analysis by Express, 9.2 percent of households living in the same Census tract as a Metro station had received food assistance at some point between 2008 and 2012. The figure around stations dropped to 8.6 percent between 2013 and 2017, even though during that time, the percentage of all Washington families getting food assistance rose.
However, just because a household has a higher income doesn’t mean those in it are rich. A study last May by the city’s Office of Revenue Analysis found that those living in “premium” apartments built citywide since 2000 tended to be younger than 31, with median income of only $57,428.
Because the rents in the buildings averaged $1,834 per month for studios and $2,184 for one-bedroom apartments in 2017, the report surmised that many can only live in them by having roommates. The report, though, didn’t look at how much of the growth in high incomes around stations is made up of lower-income people living with roommates.
In addition, while the disproportionate wealth around stations hasn’t improved, it’s unclear to what extent it has gotten worse. Between 2007 and 2011, about 63 percent of households in the city making $75,000 or less lived near a station. Between 2012 and 2016, the same percentage of middle- and lower-income households in the city lived near Metro.
That may be true citywide, said Patrick McAnaney, a former policy fellow at the Coalition for Smarter Growth who now works for a housing developer. But the past few years have seen significant changes around certain stations. Based on the city’s data, he noted the areas around Farragut North, Columbia Heights, Georgia Ave-Petworth, Navy Yard-Ballpark and Union Station have each seen a decline of at least 867 households making $75,000 or less.
In addition, between 2007 and 2011, 12 stations were in areas where the median household income was less than the city’s median. But that number had dropped to eight between 2012 and 2016, as the areas around the Farragut North, Georgia Ave-Petworth, NoMa-Gallaudet U and Waterfront stations became wealthier.
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