9,000 D.C. Residents May Have Left Permanently During The Pandemic, Data Shows Many city dwellers relocated to neighborhoods within the D.C. region. Others went further — to the beach.
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9,000 D.C. Residents May Have Left Permanently During The Pandemic, Data Shows

During the pandemic, D.C.'s (population) loss was Rehoboth Beach's gain. Rob Pongsajapan/Flickr hide caption

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Rob Pongsajapan/Flickr

Dropping rents in downtown D.C. and rising home prices in the suburbs are just two signs that the nation's capital hemorrhaged residents during the pandemic in 2020. And newly analyzed data from the U.S. Postal Service provides a clearer understanding of how significant the population loss may have been.

The city lost 2.6 times more people in 2020 than it did in 2019, with 17,882 more "net moves" recorded during the pandemic than the prior year, according to USPS numbers crunched by D.C.'s Office of Revenue Analysis. ("Net moves" refers to the difference between move-ins and move-outs.) Most moves took place after the city put in place COVID-19 restrictions, and an estimated 9,335 of them appear to be permanent.

According to the U.S. Census, in 2020 D.C.'s total population was 689,545.

But the numbers of moves — which are drawn from change-of-address forms that individuals and households file with USPS — also show a sharp increase in temporary relocations, writes Ginger Moored, a fiscal analyst with the Office of Chief Financial Officer, in a new blog post.

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"When someone submits a change of address form they mark the move as permanent or temporary, and the data clearly shows a higher portion of moves than usual were temporary in 2020," Moored writes. There were an estimated 186 temporary move-outs from the city in 2019. In 2020, the number soared to 8,733.

Neighborhoods around downtown D.C. lost the biggest share of residents during the health crisis, according to OCFO. The Dupont Circle area, Adams Morgan, Columbia Heights, 14th Street/U Street, and south Logan Circle/Franklin Square were hit particularly hard. Because those neighborhoods have a lot of apartment buildings, Moored writes, the trend indicates that "perhaps apartment dwellers were more likely to relocate during the pandemic than those in single-family homes."

Meanwhile, the less-dense northern edges of the city around Takoma/Shepherd Park and Chevy Chase/Friendship Heights/Barnaby Woods lost the fewest residents, data show — and the 20015 ZIP code actually recorded more residential move-ins than move-outs during the pandemic.

So where did everyone go? It's hard to say for sure, Moored writes, because USPS data were heavily redacted for privacy reasons. But it looks like many D.C. residents didn't go far: At least 31% moved to an address within the Washington region, paralleling a national trend of people relocating within the same metro area during the pandemic. Close-in suburbs including Chevy Chase, Bethesda, Silver Spring, Oxon Hill, Alexandria, and Arlington lured three times the number of D.C. residents between March and December 2020 than they did the prior year, according to Moored.

Bethesda was a particularly popular destination, data show. Not surprisingly, so were the Delaware beaches.

The growing appeal of the suburbs during the health crisis shows up in regional home sales price data. For example, the 20143 ZIP code — located in Prince William County, Virginia — felt a 42% increase in median home sale prices between 2019 and 2020, according to data analyzed by the Washington Post.

Rural communities, suburbs, and small cities across the country have attempted to capitalize on big-city population loss during the pandemic by rolling out tantalizing incentives to people who move to their jurisdictions. Earlier this year, West Virginia began offering $12,000 in cash to remote workers who relocated to the state for at least two years.

But there was also a large number of people relocating within D.C., especially from downtown to outer neighborhoods. Before the pandemic, ZIP code 20008 — the Connecticut Avenue corridor — lost population. That trend reversed during the pandemic. Navy Yard also saw the biggest increase in intracity moves, which could stem from the neighborhood's high number of new apartment buildings offering rent deals during the pandemic, Moored writes.

D.C.'s population growth has been slowing for several years. Fewer people are relocating to the city from other parts of the U.S., and for the last couple of years, "any population increase in D.C. has been entirely driven by births and international migration," the analyst writes.

The looming question now is how many residents will return to the city post-pandemic, Moored writes. Telework policies could play a big role — a fact that isn't lost on the city's economic development officials, who are actively encouraging employers to call their workers back to the office. But Moored says regaining every resident the city lost during the pandemic is a tall order.

For that to happen, "we would need to see an influx of residents into the city at levels we have not seen in several years," the analyst writes.

This story is from DCist.com, the local news website of WAMU.

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