By Josephine Mitchell.
I like Montgomery County. In fact, Montgomery County has been very good to me. I lived within its borders for six years and currently work in Gaithersburg. That being said, I don’t love Montgomery County. Furthermore, I will never live in Montgomery County. Let me tell you why.
When I moved to “MoCo”, I was one of those “Millennials” that had graduated from college during the Great Recession of 2008. Simply finding employment, especially in my field of study, was first and foremost. When I secured a job working in DC, I uprooted and moved to a small apartment, which I shared with two other 20-somethings.
I was quick to learn that Montgomery County had a reputation in the DMV among other people my age. When I would invite people who lived in neighboring jurisdictions over for a party or a get together, their response was almost a universal:
“You live in Montgomery County? Why?”
“My parents live there.”
“Montgomery County? Isn’t that where the IKEA is?”
“It’s boring in the suburbs.”
As I explored the nearby areas, I learned that they were right: neighboring jurisdictions offered more excitement and better options. The perception among many people my age is/was that Montgomery County was boring. Montgomery County was for parents. Montgomery County was where you worked, not where you played. Montgomery County just wasn’t cool.
To address these problems, the County developed a Nighttime Economy Task Force. Instead of acting or asking people what they wanted or working to lower the cost of rent in places like Bethesda and Silver Spring, a governmental panel was formed to discuss how to make MoCo more *exciting*. Nothing screams excitement like a government panel.
The Task Force, for all its good intentions, was met with considerable push back from older generations and it died a slow death with little to show for its efforts.
Now, I am not attacking MoCo or its elected leaders. When I did call it home, I found a certain charm in the quiet streets of my neighborhood and my friendly, older neighbors. However, the writing was always on the wall: Montgomery County was not meant for people my age.
Another primary factor in my decision to avoid living in Montgomery County is the exorbitant cost of living. As I grew older, I started looking to buy a house, to put down roots of my own. It made my head spin just reading the asking prices for some homes across the County, while generally nicer homes in my price range, a mere 20 miles away, were going for half the price. After paying entirely too much to live in a glorified shoebox in Bethesda, my girlfriend and I made the decision to move to the City of Frederick about three years ago.
We’d run the numbers. Both of us had pretty good paying jobs, we had savings, we lived close to where we worked, but the overall cost of living in Montgomery County was simply unsustainable for someone our age. If we ever wanted to own a home, we’d have to leave the County. By moving to the City of Frederick, we were able to do that, buying a beautiful home right in the historic district that would have sold for millions in Montgomery County. If we had stayed, we would have continued living in that shoebox, a shoebox that recently sold for $850,000.
Once settled in, I was surprised at the number of other Montgomery County ex-pats that had departed for very similar reasons. Slowly, a singular thread began to emerge: people my age just didn’t want to live in Montgomery County, whether due to the unbelievable costs or the lack appealing entertainment options, or because they didn’t fit the “Montgomery County model” – the whole 2.5 kids, a dog, a white picket fence and an overpriced Audi with a WJHS bumper sticker.
The City of Frederick, much like Austin, Texas or Louisville, Kentucky, is a bubble of blue in a sea of red. The City Council, all Democrats, have made it a point to make the City of Frederick a tolerant, inclusive, place and I appreciate their efforts. They encourage new business owners and have an ordinance which prohibits nearly all chain businesses in the downtown area. They actively embrace both artists and entrepreneurs. Something new is happening and to people my age, new is exciting.
Rightly or wrongly, the impression among people my age that have left the Montgomery County, was that the leadership was out of touch with what people really wanted. When they did push the redevelop of an area, like the ongoing White Flint project or Bethesda Row, no one my age could even afford to live there, and the vast majority of the shops catered to, how can I put this, the upper crust.
I know some people stay for the excellent schools, but “millennials” aren’t having children like older generations and as more people move to other areas, the County, and subsequently the school system, are seeing a shrinking tax base. Look at the current budget situation or the opinion that its policies are “anti-business.”
Nowhere is perfect, I get that. But what I see happening in Montgomery County is the slow expulsion of anyone who doesn’t fit the “Montgomery County model”.
Montgomery County remains the suburbs – expensive suburbs at that – and to a generation of people that grew up in the suburbs, that’s just not appealing or practical. This is the same generation that is being crushed by the weight of the student debt crisis. The same generation that hasn’t seen wages rise with the cost of living. The same generation that wants new and fresh as opposed to big box retailers and chain restaurants. The same generation that now, in their late 20’s and early 30’s, are looking to buy homes, to sink their own roots. And when they do, they are finding the soil in Montgomery County to be unsustainable to life.
Editor’s Note: Josephine Mitchell is a pseudonym. She does not wish to be identified because it might cause complications at her place of employment.