Housing Complex

The Most Powerful Person in D.C. Real Estate

(Darrow Montgomery)

Controlling your housing prices. (Darrow Montgomery)

It's not my beat, but I hear that schools chancellor Michelle Rhee is a big deal in this here mayoral race. Here's how she ties in to real estate, though: It's a pretty widely-acknowledged principle that good schools are a huge factor in local property values. Until recently, that didn't hold so much in D.C., since anyone of any means would shell out for private schools or move out of the District once their kids entered kindergarten. Now, getting into the right district for a high-performing school is a key element in the housing search.

Don't believe me, believe Councilmember Tommy Wells, who just came out with a new spot discussing neighborhood schools: "We have had a renaissance," Wells says. "Just to see the excitement of the realtors who are so happy with me because now people say, not just 'are we in the boundaries for the cluster, but are we in the boundary for Brent, are we in the boundary for Maury, are we in the boundary for Tyler...Really no other urban area in America has had so many traditional elementary schools come back online as schools of choice in such a concentrated area."

All of this means that the Chancellor's decisions–which schools are closed, which are renovated, and which principals go where–can govern where current and prospective parents want to live. It also impacts the childless, since their home values go up if they live in a good school district. Hell, it even affects commercial real estate–many companies consider school quality when they decide where to put large numbers of employees. That, in turn generates more property taxes, which feeds into the city's general fund, which helps programs all over the city. All of which makes Rhee's decision to stay or go in a potential Vince Gray administration that much more important.

I'm writing in much more depth about this for next week's education issue. If you've got particular insights or experience with this phenomenon, please get in touch: ldepillis@washingtoncitypaper.com / 202.332.2100 x224.

  • candycane1

    OMG: Real estate is already in a downward spiral and you are putting Rhee in this mix too? I beg to differ. With scores dropping as they have I know parents who are now sorry and questioning where to put the children because the school of choice dropped in scores.

  • oldmh

    Michelle Rhee had little to do with the Capitol Hill school "Renaissance." That came about through the commitment of CH residents who decided to stay and enroll rather than leave for the suburbs.

  • TripLBee

    To suggest that Rhee is overrated, would be the understatement of this young millenium. She is a horrible superintendent. The fact that DC schools are improving has much more to do with demographic shifts in the student population that with anything else. The schools are improving in spite of this dissembling amateur at their helm.

  • LOL

    I think she is leaving regardless of the election outcome because she is about the be the first lady of Sacramento.

  • nobodyouknow

    "since anyone of any means would shell out for private schools or move out of the District once their kids entered kindergarten..."

    There is an attitude problem here, based on a stereotype, that transmits to sloppy thinking.

    The real impact on property values comes from the preferences of those who's children remain in public and charter schools. By far, their desire for good schools, and their willingness to move for them, have always represented the largest share of property owners.

    The people of "means" that send their children to private schools may in fact be not of "means" but instead are sacrificing nearly everything to provide their kids a good education. In any case, there are far fewer property owners that send their children to private schools, and consequently they have a small (if negative) but impact on property values.

  • http://ABF ABF


  • Sheila H. Gill

    Ditto ABF!! Rhee may be incline to do better in Real Estate in Sacramento, if she takes a math course in accounting. However, one of Rhee's weakness is MATH!!
    Rhee definitely need to relocate and start another career. She isn't qualified/certified to be a SUPERINTENDENT!!

  • incredulous

    There are just four public high schools with significant numbers of AP courses or a significant core of serious academic parents and students. Wilson, Bannekar, Ellington, and Walls. None of them have benefited from Rhee. (The improvement of the Walls capital plant was under way when she arrived. The Wilson plant improvement has been underfunded, due to budget constraints.)

    For the not-quite-tony real estate market, the Wilson academic program has been significantly downgraded by the Rhee appointee, class lengths and structures converted to 48 minute periods, and intellectual leaders on the faculty dismissed so that the installed administration not feel threatened by questions they can't answer.

    The diminishment of childrens' HS attendance opps for high education - high educational aspiration parents means there's nothing to this rumor of a Rhee-l estate boost. Well, not unless a charter HS opens, located geographically to selectively draw high income kids.

    If that charter school opens, what with restructuring under Rhee's Pete Cahall, Wilson HS will be toast. (Bannekar draws almost <5 white students annually, Ellington is for the arts, and Walls is enrollment-limited and currently over-capacity.)

  • DDBB

    It's also good if children can walk to school. Selection of schools for closings and consolidations takes on a whole new significance when viewed through the real estate/wealth perspective.

  • Are y’all serious?

    Tommy...are you kidding me. Kelvin...how ya' doing? If we must change mayors...then why not change councilmembers.

  • DC native

    DC has always has school district "favorites". Oyster was renovated well before this mayor's administration and this impacted home buying preferences. Rhee did not create such real estate preferences.

    And is everyone aware that Rhee is NOT responsible for school re-construction? That plan, schedule and financing was approved under superintendent Janney and is currently the responsibilty of Alan Lew; a great program manager who works for the mayor but not the chancellor. Lew (hope I'm spelling his name correctly) is in a position equal to Rhee.

    So we should all be concerned about Lew staying; not Rhee. Since Lew worked under the Williams administration I'm hoping we have a good chance of him staying. Rhee can go enjoy sunny California!

  • Lydia DePillis

    DC Native,

    Fair point on Lew. I didn't mean to say that Rhee was the only one making decisions here, or that she's wholly responsible for the good schools in the District, by a long shot. But her decisions do carry a lot of weight, whether you think they're the right ones or not.


  • Dr Pangloss

    This is mostly about demographics. Rhee has done a fine job of channeling that force for change, and has gotten a ton of pushback from folks who know which side their bread's buttered on.

    The best thing about this demographic-based renaissance is that, since it happened on Rhee's watch, she's going to get credit for it. And the deranged Rhee-haters out there are going to have to live with her elevation to the rank of national hero. Man, will that ever piss them off.