Where We Live | Columbia Heights in Northwest Washington

Columbia Heights is a Northwest Washington neighborhood bounded by 16th Street, Sherman Avenue, Spring Road and Florida Avenue. The Columbia Heights Civic Plaza is home to a farmers market. (Matt McClain/The Washington Post)

On Sunday afternoons in Columbia Heights, a neighborhood in Northwest Washington, Meridian Hill Park is the place to be. Or Malcolm X Park, as it is unofficially known by locals. A group of 20 or so percussionists settle on what usually is a pathway in the park and turn it into a stage. An African-inspired drum circle has played in this park on Sundays for more than 40 years.

These afternoons in Meridian Hill Park are representative of the neighborhood, a community strengthened by cultural traditions. Residents are quick to point to diversity as one of their favorite aspects of the neighborhood. According to the latest census data, Ward 1, which consists mostly of Columbia Heights, has the largest Latino population within the city. The Latino heritage is evident throughout the neighborhood. Various corners have boxes for the Spanish-language newspaper, the Washington Hispanic. The Latin American Youth Center on Columbia Road NW is an after-school community center for neighborhood kids. The GALA Hispanic Theatre on 14th Street promotes Hispanic heritage through theater productions.

Anthony Avery has lived in Columbia Heights for more than 14 years. For Avery, the neighborhood’s inclusive culture is what makes it home.

“Different cultures are blending here,” Avery said. “There is a multicultural aspect as well as LGBTQ acceptance. Those things are important to me.”

While Avery loves the acceptance he has found in Columbia Heights, he has watched the neighborhood change immensely since he moved there. He points to the constant construction of condos, the new, expensive restaurants and the closing of mom-and-pop shops as examples of how gentrification has affected Columbia Heights. Avery offers advice for potential residents about being able to afford to live there.

“Go look for a roommate,” he said.

Charlotte Schwartz moved into the neighborhood two months ago.

“It seems like it’s gentrifying really fast, which sucks for the people who have lived here forever,” she said.

Schwartz, who comes from a small town, enjoys the perks of living in a developing urban area.

“There is a lot more going on here and a lot more people. And it’s a very diverse neighborhood, which is pretty cool,” she said.

In the first half of the 20th century, Columbia Heights, along with the nearby Shaw and U Street neighborhoods, became home to many of the city’s middle-class black residents. Nightclubs, bars and theaters thrived in this part of the city. Jazz giant Duke Ellington lived in Columbia Heights.

Then, in 1968, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated and the riots that followed ravaged the city. Columbia Heights was one of the neighborhoods that bore some of the worst damage, as almost all of the businesses in the 14th Street corridor burned down. Residents fled into the suburbs and the neighborhood was left to rebuild.

Rebuilding was slow. It was not until the opening of the Columbia Heights Metro station in 1999 that the neighborhood started to recover in a substantial way. Since then, it has become a popular home for trendy restaurants such as Bad Saint on 11th Street. The tiny Filipino restaurant almost always has a line. Across the street from the Columbia Heights Metro station, retail developer DC USA opened a mall that includes a Target, Best Buy, and Bed Bath and Beyond.

But as the neighborhood has developed, crime has plagued its residents. One night last month, five people were shot, one fatally, on Columbia Road. A report by TV station WUSA9 found that violent crime was up nearly 60 percent year-to-date in the area surrounding the Columbia Road shooting and that nearly every month this year has been more violent than the three-year average for the neighborhood.

“This has been a very tough year for our community, especially with gun violence,” Christine Miller, advisory neighborhood commissioner for ANC 1A05, wrote in an email. “My work before I became a commissioner and during has focused a lot on how we are lifting up and supporting our youth as the ultimate violence prevention. . . . We recognize that there is a role for the police and enforcement, but as community leaders, I have emphasized the proactive solutions we have available through schools, social service providers, and the many local organizations doing the hard work to ensure area youth are connected to the community in meaningful ways, have choices and opportunities.”

Living there: Columbia Heights’ boundaries are 16th Street NW to the west, Sherman Avenue to the east, Spring Road to the north and Florida Avenue to the south.

There are 118 properties listed for sale in Columbia Heights. The most expensive is a three-bedroom, three-bathroom condo for $2.4 million. The least expensive is a rowhouse in need of substantial rehabilitation for $100,000. The average sales price of homes in Columbia Heights in 2018 was $617,441.

“The bustling Columbia Heights neighborhood offers a wide variety of retail and dining options and a vibrant culture that together are otherwise difficult to find elsewhere in the city,” Homaira Karimi, an agent with TTR Sotheby’s International Realty, wrote in an email. “That along with its relatively affordable pricing and central location makes it an ideal neighborhood for both first-time and repeat home buyers. In taking a look at the numbers, we’re seeing that Columbia Heights continues to remain more affordable than the rest of Northwest D.C., with the average sales price being 28 percent lower.”

Karimi said the median time of a Columbia Heights home on the market is 14 days, and properties are selling for 99 percent of their asking price.

According to Zillow.com, the average rent for a one-bedroom apartment is $1,972. The neighborhood has three public housing projects.

Schools: Tubman Elementary; Raymond Education Campus (kindergarten through eighth grade); Cardozo Education Campus (grades 6 through 12); and Columbia Heights Education Campus (grades 6 through 12)

Transit: The Columbia Heights Metro station is at 14th and Irving streets NW. Several bus lines serve the neighborhood. Sherman and Florida avenues and 16th Street NW are major thoroughfares.