Young families move into Prince George’s, reversing exodus by whites
By Carol Morello, Ovetta Wiggins and Ted Mellnik,
Old Greenbelt has every amenity that Aaron Marcavitch and his wife, Andrea, were seeking in a home for their young family.
A neighborhood nursery school and a playground for their two children — check. A Metro station a short bus ride away — check. Supermarket and restaurants within walking distance — check. They all added up to exude a sense of community.
The Marcavitches, who are white, would be a minority in majority-black Prince George’s County. But Marcavitch, 35, who grew up in western Pennsylvania and runs a nonprofit group based in Hyattsville, said that they realized they were moving to a diverse community and that they weren’t concerned about being a minority.
“We just wanted a nice community, and we found that,” he said of the neighborhood where they moved last August.
For the first time in more than four decades, recent census estimates show, the number of whites in Prince George’s is on the upswing. Most are young families, an analysis by The Washington Post finds.
The numbers of Asians and Hispanics are up as well, while African American numbers have declined slightly. But the unexpected rise in white residents is a sharp departure from patterns in place since the 1970s — when whites began to leave as middle-class blacks moved in, turning Prince George’s into one of the most affluent majority-black counties in the nation.
Every census since then, including the latest taken in 2010, has shown a further drop in white residents. But census population estimates released last month for mid-2011 show almost 3,100 more non-Hispanic whites, up 2.4 percent in just 15 months after the census was taken. Overall, the county had an estimated increase of almost 8,000 residents, to more than 871,000. Among the biggest increases were in adults in their mid-20s and early 30s, and children younger than 10, while middle-age adults continued to fall.
The census data suggest that young adults are reshaping the region in ways not seen in generations. For example, in the District, which has been losing African Americans to the suburbs for decades, the census estimated the black population rose by 2,100 people last year. The biggest gains for blacks were in people ages 20 to 34 and older than 55. But the city gained so many whites, Asians and Hispanics in the same time frame — mostly in the same age groups — that African Americans slipped below the 50 percent mark in the District.
In Prince George’s, the sudden turnaround among whites was abetted in large part by the collapse of housing prices that hit the county particularly hard.
But it also may reflect a generational shift in values. Numerous surveys have shown that compared with their parents, young adults are more likely to embrace diversity, opt for public transportation over private automobiles and seek out urban environments where they can walk to downtowns instead of driving to malls. Their tastes are helping drive new housing and retail close to Metro’s Green Line, a corridor where development and growth has lagged compared with the rest of the region.
“It’s not a fluke,” said Jim Estepp, head of the Greater Prince George’s Business Roundtable, noting that real estate professionals have noticed more whites house-hunting in the past two years. “Particularly among young people, they don’t want a cookie-cutter setting. The younger generation is colorblind. They’re very standard-of-living- and quality-of-life-conscious. They’re more focused on the best value that [they] can get for themselves and their children.”
The census numbers do not pinpoint which parts of the county are gaining whites and young families. But one place is almost certainly Hyattsville, a town of about 18,000 in western Prince George’s that in the 2010 Census was about one-quarter non-Hispanic white, one-third African American and one-third Hispanic.
Home to two of the county’s 15 Metro stations, Hyattsville is being reshaped by new development.Townhouses selling for $329,000 to $439,000 on Rhode Island Avenue were initially marketed to young professionals and empty-nesters, but most of the buyers have been young families, many of them white.
‘A lot of strollers’
In the past two years, the Rev. James Stack of St. Jerome’s said he has presided over more baptisms than burials for the first time in his 14 years at the Catholic parish.
“You see a lot of strollers around now,” said Andy Shallal, the owner of Busboys and Poets, who opened a Hyattsville outpost last year. It’s the only one of his four restaurants with a weekly children’s storytelling hour, called Rise and Rhyme, held in a room painted with portraits of people such as Nelson Mandela, Tolstoy, Emma Goldman and Frederick Douglass.
On a recent Monday, most of the children whose parents brought them to Rise and Rhyme were white.
“It’s like a baby boom in the whole neighborhood,” said Ryan Teague Beckwith, 37, an editor at DC Roll Call, carrying his infant daughter in a sling on his chest as he sat in a booth at Busboys and Poets. “Every third house has a toddler or an infant.”
Beckwith and his wife considered houses in the District and Fairfax and Montgomery counties before choosing Prince George’s. Two years ago, they moved into one of the townhouses across from Busboys and Poets.
One place where the arrival of white families has made a difference, though not huge, is Hyattsville Elementary School. In 2006, the school had 39 white children in the student body of 479 — about 8 percent. In the school year just ended, 56 of the 513 children enrolled were white — almost 11 percent. Many parents send their children to charter and private schools instead, said Mary Warneka, one of the original members of the Hyattsville Nurturing Moms, a group that interacts on an e-mail list and has a membership that is overwhelmingly white.
“We have a few years before it becomes an issue,” Beckwith said of the schools. “As more people move into the immediate neighborhood, by the time it matters, we think there will be an improvement at the elementary level. There’s no perfect place to live. You can have a tiny house, or be far away and have a long commute, or live closer in but not have a nice neighborhood.”
Old-timers have noticed the arrival of so many young families. Mike Franklin, who runs a combination toy store and restaurant called Franklin’s on Baltimore Avenue, plans to launch a “babies and beer happy hour” because so many customers have small children. When he moved to Hyattsville about 20 years ago, most of the residents were old and aging in place.
“It’s like a critical mass has been reached,” he said. “Before, Prince George’s had such a stigma to it, it wasn’t seen as an option to a lot of professional people.”
Although Franklin said he thinks the transition would be even further along had the economy not soured, some say the housing collapse helped make Prince George’s more attractive, particularly to first-time home buyers.
The county has the highest rate of foreclosure in Maryland. The average sale price for houses dropped by more than half from the peak in late 2006, continuing to skid in the early months of this year, according to figures from the Maryland Association of Realtors.
“At some point, Prince George’s gets to be a good deal,” said Ron Kirby, a transportation specialist with the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments. His daughter lives in Prince George’s.
But price is only one factor. Kirby cited studies showing young people gravitating toward places where they can live without an automobile.
That makes places such as Prince George’s, which has more Metro stations than any other location outside the District, a lure to developers and new residents.
“What you’re seeing is further evidence of the demand to live in more urban, walkable, transit-friendly communities,” said Stewart Schwartz, director of the Coalition for Smarter Growth. “A big part of this is place-making — creating vibrant, interesting places where people can see each other and be seen. They’re what urbanists call third places. There’s home and work and a third place, where it’s easier to have serendipitous actions than if you’re in your car.”
Development around Washington is happening differently than in any other metro area in the country, said Chris Leinberger, a real estate professor at George Washington University and a fellow at the Brookings Institution.
In most cities, job growth and development are concentrated in what Leinberger calls the “favored corridor.” For decades in Washington, the favored corridor was northwest in the city and beyond. In the 1990s, it pushed into Fairfax and Loudoun counties; urban development sprang up around the west branch of the Red and Orange lines. Now it’s the Green Line’s turn.
“The Green Line is where much of the focus of new activity is,” he said. “One could say the Green Line is the new Red Line.”
Marcavitch said he was drawn to Prince’s George’s because of its access to public transportation and recent retail development along the Route 1 corridor.
“Prince George’s is one of those untapped resources, and it is now starting to get tapped,” he said.
Staff researcher Magda Jean-Louis contributed to this report.