Housing Complex

Who’s Affected by the School-Assignment Changes


Now that Mayor Vince Gray has adopted a set of changes to the city's school-assignment policies, the question many D.C. parents are likely asking is: How will this affect me? The office of Deputy Mayor for Education Abigail Smith has released some data that help answer this question. Here's a rundown.

High School

Most families—63 percent—won't experience any change to their school assignment. Twenty-six percent will be assigned to a new high school, while 11 percent—all currently in the Spingarn boundary—will lose their ability to choose from multiple schools.

The ward with the most affected students is Ward 7, where 1,266 students will be reassigned to a new school and 945 will no longer have a choice. Ward 3 will be the least affected, with no students reassigned. Cardozo, Dunbar, Roosevelt, and Eastern high schools will have the most new students in their boundaries.

Nearly half of affected students would move to a school with worse scores on the DC CAS test; fewer than one in 10 would move to a school with better scores. This change is most acute in Ward 7, where nearly every affected student would move to a school with worse scores, given the shift of many Eastern students to HD Woodson High School.

Read more Who’s Affected by the School-Assignment Changes

How D.C.’s Public School Boundaries Will Change Next Year



Mayor Vince Gray officially adopted a set of changes to the system that determines which public schools D.C. students attend, ending a nearly yearlong process of city proposals on the overhaul, but not the charged public reaction that is sure to continue.

The changes to the school boundaries and feeder patterns were released today by Deputy Mayor for Education Abigail Smith. It's largely the same as the proposal Smith unveiled in June, with a few boundary changes. And while it puts aside some of the more radical ideas Smith proposed in April, the shift in boundaries is sure to upset parents who will no longer be able to send their children to the schools they'd anticipated.

Rather than the existing complicated patchwork of feeder patterns that left many students with multiple school options and some schools overcrowded, the new rules will give each student one elementary, middle, and high school that she or he can attend as a matter of right. For the majority of students, this will mean no change, but for some, including 37 percent of high schoolers and 49 percent of middle schoolers, there will be either a new in-boundary school or the loss of a choice between multiple schools. Some well-regarded but overenrolled schools in the western part of the city, like Woodrow Wilson High School and Alice Deal Middle School, will be cut off to some students who can currently attend. That's likely to provoke a backlash from affected families.

The new rules will provide a long-anticipated update to a school-attendance system that's been in place for more than 40 years. The changes will take effect in the 2015-2016 school year, but students already attending schools will be allowed to stay there.

"The reason District leaders have put-off this project for a generation is the work is complex, inevitably controversial, and there is no way to avoid difficult choices," Gray said in a statement. "While change like this is never easy, it is in the best interest of the District—and especially our children—to move forward with the Committee’s recommended policies and boundaries.”

Read more How D.C.’s Public School Boundaries Will Change Next Year

Gray to FBI: Good Riddance

The current FBI headquarters on Pennsylvania Avenue NW.

The current FBI headquarters on Pennsylvania Avenue NW.

If you thought Mayor Vince Gray might be sad to see the Federal Bureau of Investigation leave the District, he's got four words for you: "I couldn't care less."

Last month, the federal government announced a short list of three potential sites for a new headquarters for the FBI, which will leave its outdated headquarters on Pennsylvania Avenue NW, the J. Edgar Hoover Building. Two were in Maryland, one in Virginia. The District was officially eliminated from contention.

But as Gray told an audience of hospitality officials at a meeting today of Destination DC, which promotes tourism to the District, he's not the least bit disappointed.

"I couldn't care less," he said. "In fact, I'm waiting for them to get the heck out of Pennsylvania Avenue."

The FBI's departure will likely open the Hoover Building to new development, which will almost certainly do more for street vitality than the hulking Brutalist structure that currently stands there.

"I actually think the greatest potential is for them to move and move as fast as they can," Gray said.

Read more Gray to FBI: Good Riddance

It Wasn’t Easy Biking in D.C. in 1982

1982 biking

Think it's hard biking in D.C. these days? Try 1982. The District Department of Transportation has just posted a guide to cycling in the District that it initially put out in 1982, when conditions and rules were a bit different.

First, the infrastructure: There was hardly any. The guide opens with a list of "D.C. Bikeways," but they're mostly just signed bike routes, which, as cyclists today know, generally appear arbitrary and all but useless. The Northwest quadrant, where new bike lanes proliferate each year these days, had no bike lanes at the time. Nor did Southwest or Northeast. The only two striped bike lanes were on Capitol Hill.

But maybe cyclists could take their bikes on the Metro to avoid the vast areas without safe biking facilities? No such luck, at least not five days a week or without a special permit. "Bicyclists are now allowed to take their bicycles on Metrorail on weekends if they have a permit," the guide states.

Nor could you ride unrestricted on the quiet streets of Georgetown. Bicycles were banned from O and P streets NW in Georgetown due to "hazardous trolley tracks."

In fact, you couldn't bike anywhere without first registering your bike. "All bicycles ridden in the District must be registered within 14 days of acquisition," the guide advises. "Registration costs $1.00 and is good for five years. Proof of ownership and identification are required of all persons registering bicycles. Bicycles may be registered at any District police station or fire station between 8:00 a.m. and 8:00 p.m. daily."

Read more It Wasn’t Easy Biking in D.C. in 1982

Morning Links

chapinNIMBYs, activists, and a loss of prestige: The Education Issue. [WCP]

DDOT's installed 7.5 miles of bike lanes this year, but probably won't meet its target. [Post]

Micro-living to the max: a 196-square-foot house for a family of three (plus a dog). [Dwell]

WMATA loses $4.2 million in settlement over procurement violation. [City Desk]

Renderings of what's coming to South Capitol Street. [JDLand]

What to do if your building doesn't have bike parking [Gear Prudence]

Today on the market: Columbia Heights 2BR—$469,000

The Calm Before the Dorm


“Development Invades the Preserve of the Wealthy,” declared the Washington Post headline. A new residential project near American University called Westover Place had neighbors up in arms, worried that their peaceful lifestyle would be disrupted by a horde of new residents.

“Here you have these fine established residential neighborhoods, which will be impacted with increased density and traffic and all kinds of things that really could be very damaging,” Polly Shackleton, the D.C. councilmember representing the neighborhood, told the Post.

Illustration by Robert Meganck

Raymond F. E. Pushkar, vice president of the Spring Valley-Wesley Heights Citizens Association, complained that the city was “allowing all sorts of development in established neighborhoods.” Neighbors worried that the new residents would worsen traffic and make it harder for them to find parking spaces.

That was September 1977. Fast forward 37 years, and residents of the area are still making the same complaints. Only this time it’s the people who have moved into once-controversial Westover Place raising a stink.

Their target is AU, specifically the “East Campus” dormitories that the school plans to build on a parking lot near Westover. The battle over the East Campus has been going on ever since the university presented its campus plan in 2011. The residents of Westover Place, a gated community east of AU between Massachusetts and New Mexico avenues NW where townhouses routinely sell for more than $1 million, worry that the proximity of additional students will create noise, worsen traffic and parking congestion, and provide regular visual reminders that they bought homes directly next to a college campus.

The university has taken a number of steps to accommodate neighbors’ demands. As the campus plan approval process kicked off, Advisory Neighborhood Commission 3D requested that “student residences should be built with tinted windows that shield from residents’ views the type of window hangings that are characteristically found in the windows of AU’s student dorms.”

AU didn’t exactly move to block out views of Pink Floyd, Bob Marley, and “My Goodness My Guinness” posters, but did agree to orient the dorms such that no windows will directly face Westover Place.

Neighbors demanded a buffer between their homes and the dorms. The university consented to placing administrative buildings in between, and to creating a 65-foot landscaped space between those buildings and Westover Place, fenced off so students couldn’t congregate there.

With neighbors worried that the East Campus would bring too many students to the area, AU agreed to cut the number of beds there from 770 to 590. To address noise concerns—and for the safety of people passing below—AU decided to use windows that open only four inches.

But some neighbors want the university to go further. In a June missive to the Westover Place email list, a group of residents listed their demands. Four inches were evidently four too many: The windows on the East Campus buildings, they wrote, shouldn’t open at all. A fenced-in buffer wouldn’t suffice either; a stone wall should be erected parallel to the Westover Place homes that border the campus. And the university should place a guard at the entrance to Westover Place to make sure that no AU students or faculty park in Westover.

Read more The Calm Before the Dorm

Why Did Developer WC Smith Buy Up Most of Congress Heights?

WC Smith

A walk along the District’s far southeastern edge reveals much that wasn’t there 20 years ago. Heading eastward from the Congress Heights Metro station on Alabama Avenue SE, the first stop is the Shops at Park Village, anchored by a Giant that became Ward 8’s first full-service supermarket since the last century when it opened in late 2007. Turn right on Stanton Road, and there’s the sprawling Villages of Parklands, with more than 1,000 apartments, plus townhomes and a splash park (renovated in the 1990s and 2000s). Off to the right are the Park Vista apartments (completed 2011) and the 75 single-family houses of Asheford Court (2009); to the left is the 257-unit Orchard Park apartment complex (2008) and the Town Hall Education Arts and Recreation Campus, a performance, education, and office development better known as THEARC (2005).

What do these properties have in common, other than having transformed a once-decrepit (if still-poor) section of Congress Heights and Shipley? They were all built or rebuilt by the developer WC Smith.

It’s not uncommon for a developer to go all-in for a neighborhood. The JBG Companies control much of the U Street corridor between 7th and 14th streets NW. Douglas Development bought up much of F Street NW downtown. Nearly all of EastBanc’s properties are within a block of M Street NW in Georgetown. After all, there are advantages to controlling a neighborhood: The developer gets to choose what goes around its properties, theoretically creating a kind of value-building symbiosis.

But there are three things that set WC Smith’s domination of the Congress Heights area apart. First, unlike U Street or downtown or Georgetown, it’s one of the city’s poorest neighborhoods; the average median household income of the census tracts within a half mile of the Congress Heights Metro station is less than $32,000, the lowest of any Metro-station area in the District. Second, the extent of WC Smith’s dominion over Congress Heights is unparalleled: In some sections of the neighborhood, there’s hardly a square foot it doesn’t control.

And finally, in a town where developer-bashing ranks among the favorite pastimes, you’d be hard pressed to find a Congress Heights resident with a bad word to say about WC Smith.

“Let me tell you something,” says Mary Cuthbert, the self-proclaimed “queen of Congress Heights” and a 50-year neighborhood resident who chairs the local Advisory Neighborhood Commission. “When the other developers wouldn’t come near Ward 8, when they were slumlords and their buildings were falling down, William C. Smith fixed those buildings for people like me.” Read more Why Did Developer WC Smith Buy Up Most of Congress Heights?

The Suburban Poverty Shift


As protests over the shooting of an unarmed teenager continue to roil Ferguson, Mo., the Brookings Institution takes a look at the socioeconomic context of the town's social unrest. The unemployment rate in the St. Louis suburb increased from less than 5 percent in 2000 to more than 13 percent in 2010-2012. For residents who do have a job, real earnings declined by a third. The poverty rate doubled.

It's a trend, Brooking points out, that's common to suburbs around the country. In nearly every major metropolitan area, suburban poverty has increased over the past decade; it's also become more concentrated in high-poverty neighborhoods.

The D.C. area's no exception. Brookings recently published metro area-level data on urban and suburban poverty in an interactive feature that highlights the divergence between the District and its suburbs.

In the "primary cities" of the D.C. region—namely D.C., Arlington, and Alexandria—the population in poverty declined by 3.5 percent between 2000 and 2008-2012. Meanwhile, the percentage of poor people living in both census tracts with 20 percent or higher poverty and census tracts with 40 percent or higher poverty declined. In other words, poverty became less prevalent and less concentrated.

Compare that to the rest of the metro area. There, poverty shot up by more than 42 percent. And the percentage of poor people living in tracts with at least 20 percent poverty increased from 4.2 percent to 14 percent. (The share living in tracts with at least 40 percent poverty remained at zero.)

Read more The Suburban Poverty Shift

Morning Links

deanwoodKids: Does D.C. really need them? [Post]

Besides, it costs $342,552 to raise a child in D.C. [NerdWallet]

New FBI headquarters? Metro says bring it on. (Especially in Greenbelt.) [PlanItMetro]

Vacant house on P Street NW collapses. [WJLA]

In Honest Tea experiment, D.C. moves from least honest to most improved. [USA Today]

More than twice as many people born in D.C. move to Maryland than stay in D.C. [NYT]

Today on the market: Deanwood rental house—$270,000

D.C. Home Prices Jump at the Top and Bottom


So D.C.'s rental market is sharply divided, with plenty of apartments for well-paid professionals without families but few for residents of more modest means. But what about its home sale market? Here, the answer's a bit more complicated.

Home prices in the D.C. area have gone up across the board in the past five years, but according to an analysis by Redfin shared with Washington City Paper, the amount by which these prices have risen doesn't fall into a neat pattern. Instead, two groups of homes have seen the biggest price increase: the cheapest ones and the most expensive ones.

The top fifth, or quintile, of homes in the D.C. region—an area that includes 14 counties in Maryland and Virginia—have sold for almost exactly 10 times the bottom quintile, in both June 2009 and June 2014. Over those five years, the homes in the top quintile saw a price increase of 56.7 percent, while those in the bottom quintile grew 55.4 percent more expensive. Homes in the middle experienced smaller gains, with the most modest change occurring in the fourth quintile, a rise of 27.3 percent.



Nela Richardson, Redfin's chief economist, says the sharp gains in the first and fifth quintiles are taking place for different reasons. For the cheapest fifth of D.C.-area homes, the price spike has everything to do with the recession. "These are home that were hit hardest by the recession and now are rebounding," Richardson says. "The farther you fall, the more ground you have to regain." These homes also drew a lot of interest from investors, both personal and institutional, who saw the opportunity to snap up cheap housing at rock-bottom prices and have since refurbished and sold these properties for more money.

Read more D.C. Home Prices Jump at the Top and Bottom