By Emily Washington
At ULI Washington’s recent Trends Conference, Ellen McCarthy moderated a panel on the qualities that millennials demand as they begin starting families. The panel featured AJ Jackcon of EYA, Mary Filardo, of 21st Century School Fund, and Sharicc Boldon of Downtown Baltimore Family Alliance. The panelists all emphasized that many millennials who moved to the District as young singles wish to stay here as they start having families, but the private and public sectors must provide a specific set of services for this to be a viable option for young families.
McCarthy explained that the biggest obstacles to DC retaining the coveted millennial demographic as this generation ages is a lack of affordable housing. While often the movement of young families to the county’s surrounding DC is blamed on poor quality schools, school quality actually ranked very low on young families’ lists of neighborhood requirements in recent survey data.
As Filardo said, “It’s a myth that schools drive people out of the city. In reality, many of the neighborhoods that once had high densities of children have been torn down, but the city continued building schools even as school age population was declining.” But she explained that this trend is likely approaching an inflection point. The Office of Planning projects that the District’s school age population will grow from 80,000 to 100,000 by 2017 and will hit 130,000 by 2022. Despite the District’s reputation for providing low-quality schools, DC schools offer some very attractive services for young families including all-day preschool for some three-year-olds and for all four-year-olds.
Jackson agreed that school quality is not a key contributor to families’ decisions when determining whether or not to raise children in the city. “The perception of crime is a bigger obstacle than schools, even though these perceptions may be out of date,” he said. While perceived crime may continue to be a deterrent to families considering home purchases in the District, he said that he is seeing more families moving in to EYA’s projects. “What families want are places that are less congested than the Rosslyn – Ballston Corridor or Chinatown,” he said. “DC offers intangible neighborhood qualities that cannot easily be replicated in new developments. Arlington also has some great neighborhoods, but they are not affordable for many young families.”
However, Jackson explained that while millennials who move to DC as singles may increasingly stay in the city as parents, it’s unlikely that many families will select homes in multifamily buildings. “We face obstacles in building apartments for families because the construction costs of three- or four-bedroom units run about $350,000 without including land or profit.” For this reason he suggested that townhomes with shared common space may provide a better model for family housing than apartment buildings, while still achieving relatively high densities.
Sharicca Boldon said that while in the past many families have moved out of Baltimore when their children reach third grade, she sees this trend reversing. Filardo agreed, saying that retaining middle class millennial families in DC schools through high school is a key step toward achieving socioeconomic integration in these schools. “ DC neighborhoods were integrated before schools were, like we saw with Adams and Morgan [the segregated elementary schools from which the neighborhood gets its name]. Schools are still segregated in terms of race and class. In the middle and high schools we will find out if the District is succeeds in being friendly for the families of millennials.”