Housing Complex

More Immigrants to the Suburbs, D.C. Not So Much

Percentage of population that's foreign-born. Red = 2000, Blue = 2010. U.S. Census.

People sure want to come to Washington from other countries—but not really the city itself. That's the takeaway from a rundown of the numbers by George Mason University's Center for Regional Analysis, covered today in the Examiner.

The area gained 200,000 immigrants over the last decade, or 20 percent to the region's overall 9.6 percent growth rate. Most of that growth, however, came in places like Montgomery County, which now has about 313,000 foreign-born people, and Fairfax County, which has 328,000. The District's percentage showed almost no change.

It's a continuation of a longer-term trend in this region, where immigrant communities have settled in places like Falls Church, Virginia and Langley Park, Maryland. A very detailed Brookings Institution report using 2000 Census numbers showed how immigrant populations were mostly growing in the closer-in suburbs rather than D.C. itself, which was the only jurisdiction out of those listed at right to have decreased in population overall between 1990 and 2000.

It's also a loss for the city: Immigrants are often the ones who start businesses and revitalize commercial corridors (bringing the best food with them). Of course, it's not obvious how a city makes itself more immigrant-friendly; established communities create their own magnetism, and with places like D.C.'s Chinatown quickly atrophying, clusters in the 'burbs already have a head start.

But availability of jobs and affordable housing also has a lot to do with where immigrants settle, just like any other demographic. On that basis, D.C. should try to compete for its share.

  • Richad

    This city has no jobs for immigrants!!

  • cminus

    The city has lots of jobs for immigrants: IT professional, doctor, architect, scientist, accountant...

    (As the Examiner analysis mentions, but this synopsis doesn't, immigrants to the DC region are far more educated than immigrants to other parts of the country. They're as likely to have an advanced degree as the area's US-born residents.)

  • http://twitter.com/elcolin Colin

    "Of course, it's not obvious how a city makes itself more immigrant-friendly..."

    You answer your own question towards the end -- more affordable housing. The way to do this is make it easier to build, especially by eliminating the height limit. Granted, that isn't going to happen anytime soon, but that's at least part of the answer.

  • Simon

    As DC's laws become more and more immigrant-friendly, fewer immigrants can actually afford to live here.

  • JM

    @Colin -
    There's certainly a class of immigrant that wants more affordable housing. But large numbers of well-educated immigrants are settling in Reston, Rockville, and Falls Church - not exactly cheap locations. I think a bigger issue is (i) perception of crime in the city; (ii) the schools (I'm guessing more immigrants have or want to raise families than the Millennials moving into DC after college); (iii) perhaps a general perception that "urban" = "crowded and poor". I suspect that what entices some immigrants to the US is the vision of a large house, lawn, and quiet cul-de-sac, not a small condo downtown.

  • http://twitter.com/elcolin Colin

    @JM -- Good point about schools and expensive housing doesn't explain everything, but I have to think it is a factor.

  • Daddy Grace Fish Sandwich

    Some are illegal aliens, not immigrants.

  • LOL

    Undocumented migrants are still immigrants, dudebro. The word encompasses that.

  • Thayer-D

    Immigrants are coming to DC if you forget the arbitrarily small confines of DC's diamond boundries. They're all over Queens and the outer edges of Brooklyn, but New York (Manhattan) incorporated those "suburbs" more than 100 years ago. Schools is another large factor. If you're going to go through the hardship of uprooting your whole family to a new country/culture, why put up with crappy schools when you can give your offspring a real boost into the mainstream. Fix DC's schools and you'll hear the anti-gentrification wail as far out as Dale City.

  • shilpi

    As the child of immigrants who made housing decisions based on schools, I definitely agree -- if DC had good schools, everything would change. Good public schools mean everything to immigrants who don't have the connections, etc, that non-immigrants do.

  • er

    yup, schools. schools. schools.

  • Lydia DePillis

    @Shilpi - Good point. Obviously, immigrants probably care about a lot of the same things native-born people do--perhaps even more so.

  • http://westnorth.com Payton

    @JM: and many of those well-educated, wealthier immigrants work in the suburbs, at jobs in sectors like engineering and pharma that are well settled in the DTR or 270 corridors, respectively. If the jobs, the houses, and the schools are all out in the burbs, then why not live there?

  • http://urbanplacesandspaces.blogspot.com Richard Layman

    This has been a multidecade phenomenon, in large part because of the cost of housing and commercial property--even in bad times the costs were comparatively high. It's why Asians (Vietnamese, Koreans) are out in Fairfax County (with an earlier stop at Clarendon) and later generation Latino immigration went to Langley Crossroads and Arlington, etc.

    It then becomes more pronounced as familial-related immigration goes directly to the suburbs.

    Read _Arrival City_. (I have to admit I haven't read it straight through but it's truly an important and extremely well written book.)

  • Daddy Grace Fish Sandwich

    Most Salvadorans coming to the U.S. are from rural villages, poor, illiterate, and live like animals. They have brought their third world customs with them here.