My first impression of downtown Hagerstown, Maryland, was of a beautiful historic town in need of people. As I walked around downtown on a weekday just before 5pm, the sidewalks were deserted. I tried going to a coffee shop to get a sandwich, but the shop I found was already closed for the day.
As it turns out, downtown Hagerstown is not devoid of residents. According to Mary, a long-time resident I spoke with, downtown is home to a large number of low-income residents. Many downtown residents moved to Hagerstown from Frederick, a city located 25 miles to the east that has been gentrifying in recent years. Mary relayed to me that as housing prices in Frederick become out of reach for low-income earners, they packed up and headed to Hagerstown.
A quick look at Zillow shows some great rental deals to be had in Hagerstown, such as $475 for a studio, $750 for a two bedroom, and $900 for a three bedroom apartment. For people of limited income, living in downtown Hagerstown offers affordability and walking access to shops, schools, the local library, health center, etc. On the other hand, living downtown surrounded solely by other low-income residents can be isolating in a place that offers few job opportunities. This article from the Brookings Institution discusses the challenges facing Hagerstown, including the opioid crisis. Can downtown Hagerstown successfully revitalize without displacing its low-income residents?