LaTasha Gunnels was outbid four times before she snagged a home in Anacostia, the southeast Washington, D.C. neighborhood that comes with a discount because of its reputation for drugs and crime.
The 35-year-old nurse said the area, in a section of the city across a river from Capitol Hill known for its historically high murder rates, is changing rapidly. Buyers like Gunnels, priced out of costlier spots, helped lift values 21 percent in the Anacostia area in 2014, the biggest surge of any D.C. neighborhood, according to data provider Real Estate Business Intelligence.
“I’m not going to sugarcoat it -- crime is still there -- but police officers are on every single corner and nobody has bothered me yet,” Gunnels said. “What I’m paying for my mortgage, people are paying for one-bedroom apartments in other parts of D.C.”
Across America, long-neglected neighborhoods known mainly for their high crime rates, from Anacostia to New York’s Bedford-Stuyvesant to South Central Los Angeles, are drawing buyers as a more than 50-year low in the U.S. murder rate opens new possibilities for singles and families who want to become homeowners.
Coupled with falling crime rates is a growing desire among young Americans to live in cities to be near jobs and nightlife. They are moving to urban areas at a higher rate than any previous generation, according to a report last year by market researcher Nielsen NV.
Crime in the U.S. continues to decline. The rate of murders and non-negligent manslaughters per 100,000 people was 4.5 in 2013, the lowest since at least 1960, according to Federal Bureau of Investigation crime statistics.
“Cities are safer and the economy is valuing cities in a way they didn’t 30 or 40 years ago,” said Alan Berube, deputy director at the Brookings Metropolitan Policy Program in Washington. “Washington, D.C. was the murder capital of the country 20 years ago. Nobody calls it that anymore.”
Washington led the country in annual homicides eight times in the 1980s and 1990s, according to the Pew Research Center. Ward 8, which includes Anacostia, had among the fewest residents and led the city with 20 percent of murders most of those years. Now, as crime falls and prices soar out of reach for all but the wealthy in much of the rest of the nation’s capital, Anacostia is drawing a new wave of buyers.