The Big Picture
To orient the reader, the Washington Metro area consisted of some 1,673,000 housing units of all kinds in 1998. Less than 14% (226K) of them were in DC, the region's central city. Maryland accounted for a little under 700K units, and Virginia a bit over 600K. DC is unique in having substantially more renters than owners and a disproportionate amount (38%) of all the households below the poverty level throughout the region. The outer suburbs Charles, Frederick, Loudoun, and Pr. William, by their predominance of non-black home ownership. Arlington and Alexandria look more like the inner city and, of course, were at one time part of it. Pr. George's County is unique in its large share of black households, but as will be developed below, it differs from DC in many ways, if not demographics.

Jurisdictional Comparisons

The Census Bureau makes available incredibly detailed demographic data based on American housing units and their occupants. It also makes these data available for metro areas, and for selected jurisdictions within each metro area. The 1999 data for the Washington Metro Area singles out DC, Prince George's County, MD, and Fairfax County, VA. From these data, NARPAC has prepared identical comparisons of DC vs Fairfax: essentially the poorest vs the richest jurisdictions; DC Renters vs Owners showing the stark differences between the two; and DC vs Pr. George's black households, which provides an interesting comparison between black urban dwellers and black suburbanites. The comparisons use the metro area total as the baseline, so the bars on the accompanying charts are percents of metro area total.

DC vs Fairfax

o DC has fewer housing units than Fairfax, and has somewhat fewer occupants in each; and DC is predominantly black while Fairfax has a somewhat larger and predominantly white population;

o DC has far fewer "detached" (stand-alone) single family houses, but has far more people in structures with over 50 apartment units;

o DC has more people living alone, and many fewer families of 4 or more; and it has less units without kids, but less kids in each family with young;

o DC has far fewer married couples, both with and without kids, but somewhat more single females and single moms;

o DC has more people with no more than a high school education, if that, and much smaller numbers with college and advanced degrees;

o DC has almost 30% of all households below $25K in income, while Fairfax has over 30% of all households with incomes exceeding $100K; and it has nearly 40% of the area's poor below the poverty level while Fairfax has less than 10%; and

o DC has 43% of the area's food stamp qualifiers, all of the area's rent controlled units, and 46% of all public housing, although DC and Fairfax have about the same number of housing units receiving some form of government subsidy.

DC Owners vs Renters

o DC has less than 10% of the areas home owners, but more than 20% of its renters; with many more black renters than white, but a relatively common share of back and white home owners;

o Renters are more likely to live in 'attached' or multiple-unit buildings; and the number of owned 'detached' homes is disproportionately low for the metro area;

o Owners have substantially small households than renters, and substantially less kids within them;

o To some extent because of their larger numbers, renters have both more householders with little education and more households with college education, and more people with very low income and very high income; and

o Both home owners and renters use more than their share of metro food stamps, and again DC has way more than its share of public housing, all of whom are renters.

DC vs PG County Black Communities

o PG has just over 40% of the metro area's blacks, and just under 40% of the area's black housing units; somewhat more than DC in both categories; o PG has well over twice as many 'detached' single family homes and many fewer in lasrge apartment houses;

o PG has significantly fewer single occupant homes and significantly more multi-person homes; and it has more kids in each category; o PG has twice as many married families, both with and without kids, fewer males and females living alone, but somewhat more single moms;

o PG household income far exceeds DC's: half as many below $25K, twice as many between $25- 100K, and three times as many above $100K; o As a consequence, PG has a fraction as many below each poverty level, far fewer food stamp users, a minuscule amount of public housing, and somewhat less subsidized housing of any sort.

Other Parameters

Several other parameters do not lend themselves to the regional baseline. These are grouped in the four charts below, showing the differences between all owners, all renters, and the black subset of each. Blacks end up on the short end of home ownership and the long end of poverty (upper left). Owners earn more than renters by and large, and DC fares less well than PG and Fairfax. However, black homeowner household income is right on the regional mean. Black totals are skewed by the disproportionate number of poor renters (upper right). DC housing, and black housing, are substantially older than the suburban samples (lower left). Renters have a far worse time affording and maintaining their units, and black renters clearly have more than their share of housing problems in the metro area (lower right). None of this is new to housing experts, and particularly those support improving low income housing. But the magnitude of the problem is large, and the comparisons stark.

Finally, NARPAC is always interested in the relative overall wealth of DC compared to its suburbs. Multiplying the number of owned units in each income bracket by a nominal value for each bracket provides a "owned housing product" which is indicative of the residential wealth and revenue-producing capacity of each jurisdiction. Again, the major break-out between homeowners is by race. The chart below illustrates the owned housing product for DC, PG, and Fairfax for both black and non-black ("other") homeowners, with the layers showing the various cost brackets for the homes. PG County has about 20% more housing units that DC, but a 50% higher housing wealth. Fairfax, on the other hand, has 50% more units than DC, but 320% higher housing wealth.

As a result, DC has a more difficult time than either suburb in raising revenues, even those its need for revenues is far greater on a per capita basis since it has more than 2.5x as many poverty households as PG, and almost 4 times as many as Fairfax. There is no clearer demonstration of the need for poverty-sharing within the metro area.

This item was archived in July, 2002

previous page

© copyright 2007 NARPAC, Inc. All rights reserved