HYATTSVILLE, Maryland- An increase in home values, coupled with shifting racial demographics and higher incomes in northern Prince George’s County neighborhoods may indicate that gentrification is spreading from Washington, D.C. to the surrounding Maryland suburbs.
“Everyone talks about gentrification in D.C., but it’s happening here too,” said Raquel Brown, a resident of Mount Rainier, a P.G. County neighborhood that abuts Washington. “This area has changed a lot even just within the past few years.”
Subdivisions including Chillum, Bladensburg, Riverdale and Hyattsville have become wealthier, whiter — and their home values have increased faster than the rest of P.G. County since 2009 — mirroring changes happening in nearby Northeast Washington, D.C., a Capital News Service analysis found. For example, the average home price in Hyattsville increased by about 22 percent from 2009 to 2016 compared to an increase of only about 7 percent in the county overall.
During this same time period, the population of black residents decreased in these areas and increased in the county’s outer suburbs, indicating that the inner suburbs are gentrifying. For example, in Riverdale the population of black residents decreased by about 26 percent from 2009 to 2014.
Gentrification generally happens when new development in an area attracts higher-income residents and increases home prices and rent, prompting lower-income residents to move elsewhere.
From politicians to city planners, academics and urban residents themselves, people have debated the root cause of this controversial issue and what should be done to solve it. However, the conversation surrounding gentrification is typically limited to urban areas alone and does not address its effects on surrounding suburban neighborhoods.
Dr. Carolyn Gallaher, a researcher of urban politics and author of the book The Politics of Staying Put: Tenant Right to Buy in Washington D.C. said she believes gentrification is spreading from the city into parts of Maryland.
After studying changes gentrification in Washington for several years, she said conditions are ripe for development and displacement in P.G. County’s inner suburbs.
“When you have dis-investments and developers pull money out, conditions become ripe for re-investment,” Gallaher said. “The money is tapped out in some of the wealthier places. When developers can’t build in D.C. anymore they’re going to start looking elsewhere.”
Poor neighborhoods with high crime rates and little new development eventually become prime targets for companies and real estate developers looking to build, she said. When retailers that cater to a wealthier income group begin to open, gentrification is often not far behind.
Prince George’s County Home Values have Increased in the Inner Suburbs, Mirroring D.C.
From 2009 to 2016, the most noticeable increase in home values has occurred in Prince George’s County’s inner suburbs. The pattern of growth mirrors the change in D.C. from 2009 to 2016, suggesting that gentrification has spread across the city’s border from Northeast D.C. into Prince George’s County.
Employees of Community Forklift, a store that specialized in reused and refurbished home supplies, says low rent costs were a factor in starting the business in Hyattsville.
“This area was kind of cheap retail space,” said Rob Olksy, an employee at Community Forklift. “There used to be a lot of low-income people in this area, but we’re creating green jobs and paying above minimum wage. We do a lot of good for the community.”
Even though Community Forklift sells to customers of all income demographics, Olsky says wealthy cities like Edmonston are big supporters of the store. Olsky said many wealthy customers are attracted to the store because they want their homes to have a “rustic” look.
“Reused is kind of the new thing,” said Olsky.
Prince George’s County as a whole has become less white, dropping from about 23 (23.34) percent to 21 (21.37) percent in recent years, but the inner suburbs are one of the few areas where the white population has increased in recent years. From 2009 to 2014, the population of white residents in the inner suburbs has increased by about 8 (7.89) percent.
These neighborhoods, which have historically been well below the average median income for the county, have now begun to see an increase in wealth and community development. The median income in these areas rose by nearly $15,000 in just a few years.
In Bladensburg, the town’s Community Development Corporation has implemented an economic revitalization plan to promote local investment and partnerships with retail businesses and upscale housing contractors. Other areas such as Seat Pleasant, Mount Rainier and Colmar Manor also have mixed use development plans to revitalize the towns.
As the surrounding area develops, local business owners face pressure to keep their prices high in order to afford rising rent and utility costs. Unfortunately for Lisa Harris, the owner of The Waterhole organic juice bar in Mount Rainier, this means selling drinks at prices most black residents, many of whom are longtime residents, cannot or will not buy.
“Most of my clients are white,” Harris said. “They think my prices are cheap compared to D.C., but black people would rather buy a 99-cent iced tea from the corner store. I have to cater to the people who will support me.”
Although development can help bring in more money for businesses, low income and minority residents have become scarcer as the changes are implemented.
Longtime residents say they’ve definitely noticed a change in the area over the years. Chris McKay, a resident of Bladensburg for over 20 years says many of the area’s black residents were pushed out of their neighborhoods as rent and the cost of living went up.
“Most of the black people are moving out of this area,” McKay said. “They’re moving out to Bowie and Waldorf because it’s just too expensive to live here.”
Several of Prince George’s County’s outer suburb neighborhoods have seen a noticeable increase in minority residents as white residents continue to move out. Areas like Queen Anne, Nottingham and Marlboro have seen an 18 percent increase in the black population and have more than doubled the percentage of Hispanic and Latino residents.
In Washington, D.C., city officials implemented The Opportunity to Purchase Act (TOPA) to stop the displacement of its lower-income residents due to gentrification. Housing and development officials in Prince George’s say there are no similar laws in the county.
Joel Cohn, Legislative Director for the Washington, D.C. office of the Tenant Advocate, which is a government department that give technical and legal advice to renters in the city, said the “condo conversion craze” in the 1970s and 80s was a big motivator for legislators to create TOPA. Single family homes were being bought up and repurposed into condominiums. Many families were displaced when they could no longer afford their rent or mortgage, he said.
“TOPA was an effort by the council to make sure that tenants don’t fall through the cracks during periods of economic boom,” Cohn said. “It can be a beneficial situation for all the parties.”
Sarah Luell, communications director at the Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development, said no similar state or county law currently exists that covers P.G. County. Although the changes that sparked a wave of gentrification in Washington are spreading to Maryland, state and local lawmakers have yet to target the issue.
Without any laws to protect tenants during periods of economic development, low-income and minority residents face the risk of being pushed out of their homes. Although it might cost a city additional money to protect low-income residents, it can be a worthwhile investment for for everyone involved.
Gallaher says the money invested will prevent long term spending on social services for the homeless and families that have fallen apart due to displacement.
Gallaher said city officials must ask themselves “where do you want to spend your money? In preventative care or emergency care?”