A block party on W Street in September. Courtesy of Kathy Chamberlain.

A block party on W Street in September. Courtesy of Kathy Chamberlain.

Hillcrest feels a little like an island. The southeast DC neighborhood is surrounded by a jumble of strip malls populated by hair salons, takeout joints, and check cashers, but inside the community’s boundaries, there is one quiet, rolling street after another, each lined with dignified homes that sit above well-tended lawns or low-rise apartment and condo complexes resembling college dorms. The suburban atmosphere extends to the area’s residents, a diverse mix that host annual block parties and holiday luncheons together, fostering a strong sense of neighborliness.

The Silver Coast

Hillcrest is located east of the Anacostia River and just west of the Maryland border. It’s bounded by Pennsylvania Avenue to the northeast, Southern Avenue to the southeast, Naylor Road to the southwest, and an imaginary line forming a right angle between the intersection of Naylor Road and 27th Street, and 31st Street and Pennsylvania Avenue.

Hillcrest is often referred to as southeast DC’s most suburban neighborhood, and an outsider could be forgiven for thinking he or she was in a Maryland or Virginia subdivision. For years, the community has been home to many of the District’s high-profile politicians, including Kwame Brown and Vincent Gray. One resident that UrbanTurf spoke with referred to it as the “Silver Coast”—not quite as elite as the city’s Gold Coast neighborhood on upper 16th Street, but pretty impressive nonetheless.

It Seems Peaceful, and It Is

A Washington Post article about the neighborhood a couple of years ago commended Hillcrest’s residents for their neighborhood watch efforts, and locals today say crime really isn’t a major issue.

“Oh, we had a problem once with youngins stealing cars, but [the police] got on top of that,” said Sheila Suggs, who just moved back to the area after a five-year hiatus. Others mentioned past issues with drug dealing or robberies, but no one UrbanTurf spoke with had been the victim of crime themselves, or seemed particularly worried about it.

And indeed, the total number of crimes (both property and violent crimes) that occurred in the community over the past year was about one-fifth the number of those that took place in a residential section of Georgetown during the same period.

3121 Alabama Avenue SE

Home for sale on Alabama Avenue

A Lot of Home for the Price

They aren’t much to look at in the winter, but in warm months, the area’s most notable physical features are its sizable, well-maintained lawns and gardens. But the houses are nothing to sneeze at, either. The most common style seems to be brick colonial, but there are also bungalows, Cape Cods, Tudors, a few ranch homes, and some models in fieldstone, most with driveways and backyards.

But because of the Ward 7 location, home prices are significantly cheaper than they would be in northwest DC, said Darrin Davis, owner of Anacostia River Realty. Davis said that a three-bedroom home in the area sells on average for around $350,000, and that a comparable home in Georgetown or Capitol Hill “would probably cost close to a million.” 

While most of the homes are detached single-family houses, the neighborhood’s east and west corners are anchored by large condo and co-op complexes. To the west is Naylor Gardens, a 42-acre co-op campus built during World War II to house defense workers; at the eastern end is Fairfax Village, a tight network of townhouses and condos. Both are attractive, and remarkably affordable; $100,000 is enough to purchase a one-bedroom unit in either one.

As for rentals, a one-bedroom unit goes for roughly $900, and a two-bedroom for around $1,200, although as Craiglist indicates, there aren’t a lot of rental options at the moment.

You Have to Like to Cook

When UrbanTurf first profiled Hillcrest back in 2008, we noted that the neighborhood was frequently singled out for what it lacked, and that hasn’t changed very much. Those who choose to live in Hillcrest have to accept that they won’t have many commercial options, at least for the near future. There’s a big Safeway and a few shops at the western edge of the community, and services like drycleaners and drugstores scattered around, but a number of residents said that to head out for a dinner other than pizza requires a 10 to 15-minute drive to Capitol Hill.

Darren Davis pointed out that Anacostia and Deanwood, both located east of the river, have sit-down restaurants—but so far, only one each. “Given all the [politicians] we’ve had living here, we should have had more services,” Adrienne, a 30-year resident told UrbanTurf, indignant about the lack of options.

Intersection of Suitland Road and Bangor Street SE

Intersection of Suitland Road and Bangor Street SE

Not For the Smart Growth Set

There are various bus lines that serve Hillcrest, but the number that head back across the river towards central DC is limited. The closest Metro station is Naylor Road on the Green line, just over the border in Prince George’s County, but it’s not a walkable option for many Hillcrest residents.

For drivers, though, the neighborhood is quite convenient. Downtown DC is a straight shot northwest along Pennsylvania Avenue, and the Anacostia Freeway, which isn’t far, links up with I-295 and eventually with I-395 and northern Virginia’s major highways.

The Bottom Line

Articles about Hillcrest inevitably call it DC’s best-kept neighborhood secret, and it’s true: most Washingtonians would probably be surprised to learn of the suburban-like community located on the city’s eastern flank. It’s certainly not for everyone, though. The City Paper has written that “if bars and clubs are the destination, you’ll be getting in the car or waiting on a bus.” That said, if your ideal night is blocking off the street and having a cookout with neighbors, Hillcrest may be the place for you.

Amanda Abrams is a Washington, DC-based journalist who has written feature stories for The Washington Post, Christian Science Monitor, and Washington City Paper.