From the New York Times, Sunday, March 15, 2009

Then there is Hylton High School’s home county, Prince William. What was once a mostly white, middle-class suburb 35 miles southwest of the nation’s capital has been transformed by a construction boom into a traffic-choked sprawl of townhouses and strip malls where Latinos are the fastest-growing group.

Neighborhood disputes led the county to enact laws intended to drive illegal immigrants away. White and black families with the means to buy their way out of the turmoil escaped to more affluent areas. Hispanic families, feeling threatened or just plain unwelcome, were torn between those who had legal status and those who did not. Many fled.

By last March, educators reported that at least 759 immigrant students had dropped out of county schools. Hylton, whose 2,200 student population is almost equal parts white, black and Latino and comes from working-class apartment complexes and upscale housing developments, was one of the hardest hit.

The New York Times is a large, well-funded newspaper that has national stature. Is the above excerpt from the article how things really happened here in Prince William County? Is this how our county looked to those outside the region? Is this how we want to be perceived?

Would you want to relocate in Prince William County after this description? If you were a business, would you want to move here?

At what point does it really matter what really happened? Has perception become reality?

47 Thoughts to “Remade in America pt 2: Is Perception Reality?”

  1. YankeeForever

    I would say it is an overly simplistic explanation. For one thing, I think some of the flight to more-affluent areas came well before the resolution, not after, when people decided they did not want to live next to flophouses and were scared of their property values declining. The tone of the article suggests that the resolution came out of nothing more than neighborhood squabbles. I hardly think that is the case.

  2. Rick Bentley

    I DO want to be perceived as a bad place to be if you’re illegal. And I’ll fight to maintain that perception.

  3. Moon-howler

    Rick, I gotta hand it to you, you are doing an excellent job.

    However, that is only one side of the coin. What if you aren’t an ‘illegal?’ Do you think your property values will ever get out of the abyss with this picture of Prince William County being painted?

    Yank, I agree. However, is perception reality? Does it matter what the truth is, when this perception of our county is being trumpeted nationwide?

  4. Moon-howler

    This article seems to be part of that BAAAAD reputation that we discovered in Business Week. Both Business Week and the New York Times have very wide circulation. All the business that our BOCS want to attract might just do some homework and decide maybe Prince William isn’t for them.

    I am very sorry to think that might be happening.

  5. Rick Bentley

    Yes I do.

    As to non-illegals being uncomfortable, collateral damage. It’s not my intention but it won’t keep me awake at night. No one’s rights are being trampled. No one has the right to overcrowd at will or to live in the US illegally.

    I actually have a few suggestions to send a more pointed message. I plan to propose these at the next BOS meeting :

    1. A luxury tax on tortilla shells

    2. A moratorium on soccer balls

    3. An English comprehension test, kind of like the old poll tests, before allowing anyone to purchase a cell phone in PWC

    A little attempt at levity there …

  6. YankeeForever

    Well, except that the Business Week article was all about how things were improving in PWC. I think that would contradict theories that PWC’s “reputation” is driving away business or home buyers.

    Erick Blackwelder, associate broker with Exit Realty in Woodbridge, said buyers have flocked to the market and have already bought many of the foreclosed homes that were in good shape. The remaining foreclosures are largely “junk,” he said.

    “It started in April 2008,” Blackwelder said. “It was like all of a sudden, somebody flicked on a light switch and there were buyers galore.”

  7. Here’s an interesting article on the resurgence of the ancient strain of fascism running through Europe.

    As the economy collapses, perhaps a new breed of fascists will emerge as before.

    Hopefully, this time we will just stand aside and let them exterminate themselves instead of joining in the bloodbath.

    Though I suspect Obama may take us down the exact same road as FDR.

  8. YankeeForever

    Where people go, businesses will follow. Business is driven by the available market. I think the only businesses who would shy away from a viable market would be those who could not find cheap labor there. And are those the exploiters we really want here?

  9. –Erick Blackwelder, associate broker with Exit Realty in Woodbridge, said buyers have flocked to the market and have already bought many of the foreclosed homes that were in good shape. The remaining foreclosures are largely “junk,” he said.–

    Yes, but who bought these homes? Landlords?

    And why is there just “junk” left? What’s up with that? (Don’t try to tell me they are all prior flop-houses filled with illegals, please. Give me a real reason.)

  10. Rick Bentley

    “Don’t try to tell me they are all prior flop-houses filled with illegals, please.”

    That IS what happened. Some of the houses looked bombed-out when they left. One is three doors down from me.

  11. You Wish

    I know that the two houses on my street that were foreclosed on were bought by families – they had been renting apartments and now where able to buy. And yes – one was a known flophouse with 4 families living in it.
    So no, not all homes are bought by landlords. The houses that I’ve seen that have been bought by landlords have been cleaned out, redone and quickly rented to families. Is that a problem?

  12. As the economy collapses, and tent cities begin to spring up, You Wish is gonna wish for the return of flophouses.

  13. YankeeForever

    I have a good friend who is a real-estate agent in this area. Her business has picked up considerably. The people who are contacting her are families–several military–and single people who appear to be interested in the homes as primary dwellings,and she is very happy to finally have several offers pending. And yes, she has seen a lot of “jumk” and they were homes that were modified to such a large extent that they would need to be gutted and rebuilt to have any real value to anyone–walls built every which way, dangerous electric-code violations–you name it. I’m sure there are other reasons for having “junk,” but there are a whole lot of houses that were altered beyond reasonable repair to accommodate a lot of occupants.

  14. Rick Bentley

    We have 25 units on my street. 3 years ago roughly half were illegal flophouses. Now there are no flophouses on this street and nearly all the houses are owned by or rented to families, sometimes with a single renter. And a healthy proportion of Latino families.

    The Rule of Law resolution and the downturn in construction work were a “cleansing rain” so to speak. My neighborhood is much diffferent, and much better.

  15. Moon-howler

    Rick, I have to ask…how did you know their status? Door lentils marked? And I am glad things are improved for you. As I have said many times, I had to endure a bad neighborhood many years ago, and it isn’t fun. It had nothing to do with legal vs illegal though.

    Yank, I think that the Business Week article referred mostly to how the real estate was picking up. I don’t think that article painted a very flattering picture of PWC.

    Some homes are being sold to families and some are sold to investors. Many of the houses in the less expensive neighborhoods are being bought up to rent out. This will be problematic down the road.

    This excerpt from Business Week is not flattering, in my opinion.

    Across the country in Prince William County, Va., outside Washington D.C., buyers are out in force. The market, where subprime loans and boom-time construction were rampant, was badly damaged in the downturn. Making matters worse, a controversial law in Prince William County that allowed police officers to enforce immigration laws helped drive out many of the Central American immigrants who came in to work on building the new homes during the boom. Many of those immigrants who moved to neighboring Fairfax County allowed their Prince William County homes to go into foreclosure, said John McClain, senior fellow at George Mason University’s Center for Regional Analysis.

  16. Rick Bentley

    They didn’t generally speak English … overcrowded to third world levels … and one more piece of evidence … THEY LEFT EN MASSE.

  17. Rick Bentley

    At some point you have to make assumptions in life.

    After the illegal aliens next door evacuated and the house next door was a foreclosed property, one of them or possibly someone else broke through the locks and was living in there nights. When a realtor came in one afternoon I all but saw the squatter flee out the back (from my back window – saw the back fence and back door open after he ran out) and saw the scared realtor run back to her car (from my front window).

    Hey but maybe I’m just assuming! Maybe he had reached a private arrangement with the bank and was paying rent. And maybe the realtor just saw a big spider. I wouldn’t want to assume illegal squatting was going on! That would be racist and presumptious of me.

    After all my family’s safety is a trivial matter compared to whether the construction companies can hire labor cheaper.

  18. You Wish

    M-H – how is renting going to be a problem down the road? The houses are occupied, kept up and paid on. Explain the problem to me – don’t you think that it’s better to have the houses bought, cleaned up and rented out to families rather than to have them sitting empty? I’m not trying to be an a$$ or be difficult – I’m being very serious. I live near Quantico and many of the units in my neighborhood are rentals. I’ve lived here 11 years and have never seen any problems with the houses that are rentals. They are rented out by families that are stationed here for 3 – 5 years. They are kept up with and the only reason that I know they are rentals is because of the amount of time I’ve lived here and seen the “for rent” signs.

    So what are the problems down the road?

  19. Elena

    The only hope for a sustainable community is to develop the commercial and business viability. If the “perception” is that we are an unwelcoming community to “outsiders” we will struggle to attract that side of our much needed revenue. Clearly, to be so dependent on housing, to pay for our required county services is NOT in ANYONE’s best interest. PWC needs real a real visionary to be a part of the BOCS and unfortunately, we haven’t seen one speak out yet. Mike May is our best hope, I just wish he would make his “inner voice” his “outer voice” 🙂

  20. Moon-howler

    Neighborhoods that are mostly rental units have less stability than owner occupied houses. Additionally, there is less up-keep on the houses when owners aren’t living there. You can go around PWC and look at the neighborhoods that are heavily investment property. They are generally on the decline.
    And to answer your question, if the houses were fixed up and maintained, and occupied, yes, that would be better. However, historically, that isn’t the way it works.

  21. Moon-howler

    Check out the change in demographics here in Prince William County on the NYTimes Diversity in the Classroom interactive graphic.

    Amazing rates of change! Compare to other jurisdictions.

  22. Second-Alamo

    Rental property may be less well kept than owned property, but that could also be the fault of the landlord. It wasn’t that long ago that many here were moaning about vacant houses with uncut grass. Now the only complaint is the houses becoming rental property. I’d have to say the situation has definitely improved based on the complaints filed here. The issue of flop houses many still exist, but not to the magnitude of the pre-Resolution economic downturn times. Lets hope those situations NEVER return.

  23. Starryflights

    @Rick Bentley

    I would have contacted the authorities and informed them that somebody was illegally residing in the house.

  24. Second-Alamo


    Those amazing rates of change in Hispanics certainly wasn’t due to a huge increase in immigration visas, or naturalization. Does that not concern you, and does that not constitute a minor invasion of sorts? I’ve heard that term used before, and people railed against it, but in a lot of ways it is indeed an invasion of slow and steady progress with no end in sight. At what point does this country turn into Northern Mexico? Don’t say it can’t happen, the rates say it can!

  25. Moon-howler

    I have been moaning about too much investment property for months. I also moaned about vacant houses. Investment property, empty houses, foreclosures all lower our property values.

    Of course its the landlord’s fault if property isn’t kept up. I would hardly expect a renter to make that kind of investment in the house. Another potential problem with rental property is that the landlord just isn’t around to see the impact on the rest of the neighborhood.

    Is all rental property bad? Of course not. However, there is a rental critical mass for neighborhoods. I just don’t remember what the critical mass ratio is. Perhaps someone out there will update us.

  26. Starryflights

    Second-Alamo :MH,
    At what point does this country turn into Northern Mexico? Don’t say it can’t happen, the rates say it can!

    Ah sez “it can’t happen”!

  27. Moon-howler

    I don’t think we know the balance of legal vs illegal, SA. I strongly believe we should know who is in our country. (or someone should…perhaps that was the royal ‘we.’) however, I don’t come from an environment where status is an issue. I don’t obsess over it. So ideologically, I care about status. Practically, I don’t pay much attention to it.

    I don’t like the word ‘invasion’ because it connotates an enemy, a ‘them’ vs ‘us’ mentality. I don’t think that it is productive thinking for most of us.

    I think what happened to PWC is that the rate of change was just too rapid for the community to be able to assimilate newcomers. The end result was anger and Resolution. Had the same growth taken place over the past 50 years rather than the past 15, I feel certain the outcome would have been different.

  28. Starryflights

    Rick Bentley :I DO want to be perceived as a bad place to be if you’re illegal. And I’ll fight to maintain that perception.

    Keep up the good work! You are doing an excellent job! Pretty soon, nobody will want to live in Prince William County.

  29. Second-Alamo


    The upkeep of a rental property is partly the responsibility of the renter. The renter can either keep the lawn presentable, or allow it to become a vacant lot. The renter can decide to take out the trash, or let it pile up. The renter can decide to use the yard as a driveway or not. Landlords, from what I’ve heard, can’t do inside inspections, so what happens to the inside of a home is mostly dependent upon the renter. So don’t blame the any total lack of upkeep on the landlord alone. The movie Pacific Heights comes to mind!

  30. Rick Bentley

    “The only hope for a sustainable community is to develop the commercial and business viability. If the “perception” is that we are an unwelcoming community to “outsiders” we will struggle to attract that side of our much needed revenue.”

    Well I understand what you’re saying and aiming for. But while you aimed for that difficult-to-obtain goal, PWC was slipping towards becoming a Spanish ghetto full of overcrowded houses and less property tax per capita, sliding rapidly and dramatically towards becoming a lower-class area where middle-class taxpayers with means would not want to live.

    Up in the penthouses the view looked okay, because the “new structure” was papered over with enormous increases in property values, based on irresponsible lenders and borrowers who planned to subdivide times ten. Everything looked A-OK! At the ground level what those of us who remained were looking at was not “just too rapid for the community to be able to assimilate newcomers”, it was a rapid change of a suburb into a ghetto.

  31. Moon-howler

    You are right, SA. It certainly is.

    I don’t believe inside inspections can be done either without a lot of fanfare at least. The owners also have to go by fair housing practices if they own a certain number of units. In other words, if someone looks like a crud ball, you might still have to rent to them. There definitely is another side and I am at fault for not mentioning them.

    However, it is another reason for not doing cheers over another rental unit on the street. Rental units just seem to have too many variables that aren’t in our control.

  32. Rick Bentley

    Rental units are preferable by a large margin to flophouses. Hence the sigh of relief you sometimes hear in local neighborhoods.

  33. Moon-howler

    Some areas can attract businesses on snob appeal. Palo Alto comes to mind. Prince William County really has to stretch for that snob appeal.

  34. Moon-howler

    Rental units can be flop houses also. I have a very undesirable rental unit near me at the moment. It is full, very full, of white people. I think it might be an upstairs/downstairs rental. I am not even sure. There are enough toys in the yard to stock an aisle in Toys R Us. Plenty of junkers taking up street space also. The evenings bring on the Par TEEEE. KaBOOM all night long. Maybe I don’t see the difference in rental and flop house.

  35. Rick Bentley

    Well, I would confront that problem and if necessary eventually call the police.

  36. Moon-howler

    Trust me, I did. Actually, they recently moved. Not sure who is left there now but it is much quieter. No tears shed here.

  37. BooHoo

    I would disagree with your characterizing the NYT as a “well-funded” newspaper. The NYT has been in dire economic straits for some time, and recently has to seek a large private loan (at 12%) to remain solvent, as no traditional lender would touch them. Rightly or wrongly, the “Gray Lady” has been criticized as being very biased, and has made several gaffs over the past few years, causing it’s readership to decline significantly. As I write this, their stock is trading at less than the $4.50 it would cost to by the NYT sunday edition in NYC.

  38. “Don’t try to tell me they are all prior flop-houses filled with illegals, please.”

    Rick, I meant ALL.

    And as you know, assumptions are bad because they make….

    Anyway, being a landlord is a big responsibility, and if people become landlords just because they can’t afford their mortgages, then they aren’t going to be seasoned landlords. Furthermore, since no landlords, seasoned or otherwise, have no oversight or regulation in this county, they can do whatever they want–including running flop-houses. It’s high time we hold landlords responsible for their rentals. I am not saying it’s an easy job, but it is one that must be done.

  39. “Furthermore, since no landlords”

    Omit the “no” here. Otherwise, I’ve posted a double negative which ain’t no good.

  40. kelly3406

    I think the NY Times piece was a political hatchet job. As pointed out by several of the previous commenters, the piece was a gross over-simplification. It was likely intended to portray PWC as ignorant, racist, and unwelcoming, as demonstrated by its treatment of illegals. And clearly the wages of such sin must be the death of the real estate market in PWC. This makes such a compelling story that it “must” be true. Such bias is part of the reason that newspapers are failing.

  41. Moon-howler

    In the past 2 weeks we have had 2 articles in 2 different publications give an overview of what happened in Prince William County. (Business Week and the New York Times) I am sure a rewrite of the Johnstown Flood would almost be unrecognizable to those who were there.

    The point is, that is how others see us. If there weren’t a story to be told, then there would be no distortions. This would not be happening. Stories like these do not evolve out of a vacuum.

    The politics of the past year and several months seem to be coming home to haunt us. And yes, our reputation, predictably, has suffered.

  42. michael

    Pinko has the right idea, we do need to hold more landlords accountable to the law, because they will break the law if they can get away with it.

    We also need to define the zoning law conditions that allow a neighborhood to grow and maintain it’s economic viability. This is equivalent to architectural covenants.

    No property can be worth more in real estate values when the “owners” ignored building codes and put in multiple bathrooms, multiple kitchens and multiple electricity outlets (some even just steal electricity by wiring directly to the county/city junction box, and bypassing the electric meter.)

    The zoning laws need to be based not on fire codes that determine the maximum number of people who can live in a home, but on the number of adult people in the home per square foot, and the number of multiple bedrooms, baths and kitchens that is necessary only for the average family size of two adults and four kids, and not the average multi-tenant size of 6 adults and 2 kids (something wrong with that equation).

    BY creating zoning that creates home catagories by number of adults, you get rid of the multi-family problem.

    Zone 1, 2 adults, 4 kids under 18 max
    Zone 2, 3 adults, 4 kids under 18 max
    Zone 3, 4 adults, 4 kids maz (is an apartment house, and not a single family home).

    These should be the new zoning laws, based on number of adults per square foot, and limit the sq footage for large homes to less than 4000 sq feet period to prevent “hidden” apartment houses in large homes.

  43. michael

    We also need to teach our kids to be less concerned about everyone in their class making the same grade and having everyone pass a test by lowing the academic test standards. We need them to stand up for their right to compete with international students and demand that they have the most “knowledge taught to them as “individuals” rather than ethnicities. They need to stand up and DENOUNCE the formation of ETHNIC GROUPS in theor schools and the formation of ETHNIC CLASSES in their schools. If they do not, the good students will grow up ignoring everone who does not belong to their ETHNICITY, their GENDER, their RACE, or their RELIGION.

    This is what political advocacy does to the political alignment of KIDS in schools and they WILL seperate if you LET THEM. Then it will be a “race to the top” to prove which ethnicity always gets the best grades. I don’t think you want that to happen, but if you keep pressing the formation of ethnic advocacy groups, the kids will form one of their own and only let members of their own ethnicity into the “highly gifted student club”, demanding special ethnic centric education, more money for them and increased ethnic privilege. Ptotected classes will be advocate by every kid who then wants money to get the highest grade possible.

    YOU FIX THIS by giving different “income levels” different amounts of money to get an education that is taught to the same HIGH STANDARD of Internationally competitive knowledge. This is what Obama intends to do, but his focus is on ETHNICITY, rather than income level, and he is wrong in this.

  44. Moon-howler

    Michael, what happens to the families that have more children after they buy a house in zone 1?

    I think there should be ways to prevent over-crowding also. I think the problems standing in the way are all the ‘what ifs’ (parents in law, fertility acres couple, college students, adult children coming home to stay with a kid or 3 after divorce). There are abuses we are trying to stop. Unfortunately, legitimate situations need exceptions. No one has figured out how to get around that yet.

    I used to live next door to people who had what I consider to be an excessive number of children (greater than 10). I realize we can’t determine how many children a couple has in this country.

  45. michael

    You get a zoning waiver per new child or move to a new zone MH. It simple and it can be verified your family additions are not “illegal”.

  46. michael

    You only have to base such zoning waivers on certified birth certificates. Just like you can get case by case building code waivers for special exceptions (rare), you can get zoning waivers for special exceptions (that should be rare), but everyone else has to follow the law or be told to meet the law or move. THe issue is community waelth, wealth preservation and community growth and how your oversized family affects others in your neighborhood.

  47. Moon-howler

    Well, something has to happen to preserve neighborhoods. I am not sure if I like that much government interference with how people live in neighborhoods but I have also seen the alternative.

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