Located right next to the District, much of Capitol Heights, Md. feels lush and overgrown, almost like a rural community that conveniently comes with its own Metro station. However, underneath the peaceful appearance is the reality that crime has plagued the town for years, and shows little sign of dissipating anytime soon.
Kudzu and Front Porches
Capitol Heights is in Prince George’s County, just east of DC’s Southern Avenue. On a map, the area—which is an incorporated town, with its own mayor and town council—sprawls a couple of miles southeast from the District border in a long wavy strip. But the community’s most densely populated neighborhoods are located just south of the Metro station, in lines of streets laid out in a grid pattern.
The area has only a few commercial thoroughfares, and most of the town consists of narrow streets lined with big trees, overgrown lawns, gardens, and vacant lots covered with kudzu. Even the grand-sounding Capitol Heights Boulevard is a little residential lane where locals sit on their front porches and check out passers-by.
Frame Houses and Ramblers, Foreclosures and Flippers
Mostly built after World War II, the Capitol Heights housing stock largely consists of relatively small (two or three bedrooms, and often only one main floor) Cape Cods, bungalows, frame houses, and ramblers. They’re in a variety of conditions — some very well-maintained, others hastily patched together with a variety of materials.
The average price of homes sold in the area is $216,000, but that number may not accurately reflect the range of home values. According to Keller Williams’ Shawnn Fayson, the region has seen a lot of foreclosure activity over the past few years, resulting in a lot of turnover and investment. “People are buying up distressed properties, and there’s a lot of flipping by investors,” Fayson said.
Anthony Wright was just finishing up work on a home he’d recently bought when he stopped to chat with UrbanTurf. “I buy and renovate houses, then rent them out as Section 8,” he said, adding that he now owns five homes in the general vicinity.
A Very Real Problem
Walking around Capitol Heights, one can see residents greeting and chatting with strangers on the street. But after dark, locals say the area can get dangerous.
“It’s not the safest,” Anthony Durant said as he strolled on Old Central Avenue. When asked if he thought it would be alright for a woman to walk around at 10pm, he shook his head.
Steven Yanez, 21, who’s lived in the neighborhood for five years, agreed. “It’s not safe at night. Three of us got assaulted last year. You have to be careful where you go,” he said, adding that hearing gunshots isn’t uncommon.
Crime actually used to be worse—or at least drugs and prostitution were more rampant, according to Wayne Marable, 51, a DC police investigator who owns Rosebud’s BBQ on Old Central Avenue. Things have gotten somewhat better, he said, but the town still has a ways to go.
Revitalization? Not Yet
Besides a nearby liquor store, Rosebud’s BBQ is one of the only viable business establishments on Old Central Avenue, which was once the town’s main commercial district. Marable said he’d love to see more development come to Capitol Heights. “Bike paths, façade changes—I’m keeping my fingers crossed,” he said. “We need revitalization. There are plans, but nothing yet.”
In 2008, the town and the state created a revitalization strategy for Capitol Heights that called for mixed-use growth around the Capitol Heights Metro station, the redevelopment of Old Central Avenue, and the creation of an industrial park that would draw jobs. So far, though, nothing’s been implemented, and there’s very little new construction anywhere.
But up on new Central Avenue—the thoroughfare that replaced the older main street—is a strip mall that includes a Safeway, CVS, Subway, and an H&R Block. There’s nowhere to really hang out, and no sit-down restaurants, but these places can meet residents’ basic needs.
Proximity and Access
The Capitol Heights Metro station is on the Blue Line, and the trip to Eastern Market takes just a few minutes; buses from the station can reach H Street NE in about 20 minutes. For those with a car, the Beltway, I-295, and Route 50 are each about two miles away.
And for sports fans, the town is roughly centered between FedEx Field (to the east) and RFK Stadium (just over the Anacostia River).
The Bottom Line
The issue of crime in Capitol Heights makes the community a lot less appealing as a place to live. And this is unfortunate, because the area’s cute houses and laid back rural vibe aren’t so easy to come by in the region.
- Zip Code: 20743
- Schools: Doswell Brooks Elementary, William Hall Academy (elementary and middle school), Walker Mill Middle School, Central High School, Suitland High School
- Capitol Heights real estate data from Redfin
- Capitol Heights rental data from Craigslist
Amanda Abrams is a Washington, DC-based journalist who has written feature stories for The Washington Post, Christian Science Monitor, and Washington City Paper.