When Rents Were Reasonable

This week, the website DC Urban Turf dug up a wonderful map from the Library of Congress that shows the prevailing rents for each block in the city as of 1937. GM wanted to focus on what this map says specifically about Georgetown, and how much more affordable of an neighborhood it was then.

The selection above shows Georgetown. This is the legend for the colors:

Of course these numbers are 1937 era costs. To relate to our present day you need to adjust the prices for inflation. This is what the consumer price index inflation calculation produces for the colors:

  • Yellow: Less than $356
  • Orange: $356 – $517
  • Green: $517 – $695
  • Brown: $695 – $873
  • Blue: $873 – $1336
  • Red: $1336 – $ 1764
  • Purple: Over $1764

As you can see from the map, large swaths of Georgetown were Orange, Green, and Brown, suggesting rents in today’s dollars of $356 – $873. That would be a pretty good price!

But inflation calculators can sometimes be deceiving, particularly for real estate. And the fact that the top color starts at $1764 (which is not exactly a premium rent by today’s standards) suggests that the adjusted numbers aren’t quite right.

So a better sense you should take from this is that whatever the nominal numbers were, Georgetown was in the lower half of the overall market.

Another interesting thing is how the rents vary around the neighborhood. Not surprisingly, the fancier parts of upper Georgetown were on the higher end, and most of the area below M St. was the lowest priced. And finally, a couple Blue blocks (the highest rating that existed in Georgetown) are scattered around town. These are still fairly pricey blocks today, even by Georgetown standards. But even then, they were only just in the upper half of the overall market, as suggested by the legend.

Interestingly, this snapshot was taken at the dawn of the gentrification of Georgetown. FDR’s New Dealers had only just arrived, and were starting to rehab houses around the neighborhood. In the decades that followed, housing costs spiked, particularly after the adoption of the Old Georgetown Act. Between that and the Alley Dwelling Act of 1934, the Black population of Georgetown was particularly impacted. What once was a large population would dwindle to a small, proud few.

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