that the metro area offers—from jobs to cultural activities to networking with other African Americans and professionals.”
Key for Williams was potential earnings. The couple bring home more than $400,000 a year: He’s a senior regional sales manager for a pharmaceutical company; his wife, Vicki, 47, works for the American Speech Language and Hearing Association as a chief staff officer for multicultural affairs. They’re among the 20% of black households within the metro area earning annual incomes that top $100,000–the highest percentage on our list. For residents, bringing home a big paycheck helps since it’s more expensive to live in Washington than any other top 10 city, with a cost of living nearly 40 points higher than the national average. However, the area has the lowest black unemployment rate–6.2%–and our survey respondents considered the robust job market a big part of the region’s appeal.
NASA Chief Financial Officer Gwendolyn Syk
es relocated from Alaska to attend The Catholic University of America. She stayed because of the employment prospects. “Job opportunities are excellent due to the tri-state metropolitan area. You have Washington, D.C., Maryland, and Virginia that offer political, business, and technology opportunities for developing a career,” says Sykes, an Arlington, Virginia, resident and one of BE’s 50 Most Powerful Black Women in Business.
Washington’s diversity and bountiful local attractions make it ideal for raising a family, say D.C. residents LaVaughn, 32, and Keisha Turner, 29. “It’s infinite in terms of activities we can do as a family,” say the Turners, who have three children ages 6, 5, and 11 months.
The city’s infamous crime rate has dropped too. Homicides decreased from 301 in 1997 to 169 in 2006. “The perception of the city has changed. There is a lot more business development,” says D.C. Mayor Adrian M. Fenty. On the flip side, this development has made some neighborhoods unaffordable, pricing out middle-class African Americans. The once “Chocolate City” has yielded to gentrification as the population of Caucasians, Asians, and Hispanics has increased. At $404,900, D.C. has the highest median home value of all the cities on BE’s list. The Turners purchased their four-bedroom home in 2000 for $140,000; it is now worth about $400,000. To remedy the housing situation, organizations like the Washington Area Housing Partnership and Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments have launched affordable housing campaigns. Other positive factors: D.C. has the lowest foreclosure rate (0.3%), property taxes, and sales tax (5.75%) among the top 10.
Survey respondents are very dissatisfied with the quality of education, however, stating that the public schools are in desperate need of repair. The Williams pulled their daughter Lana, 18, out of public school after the third grade because it was overcrowded and needed capital improvements. Their youngest, 14-year-old Mia, has attended private schools since kindergarten.
Robert Bobb, president of the D.C. Board of Education, admits there are myriad challenges within the district. However, he asserts that the public schools within the metro area are doing well, particularly in Fairfax and Montgomery counties, and D.C. is not far behind. “There