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The Pandemic Hit Cities Hard. And Then There’s Washington, D.C.

Washington, D.C., underwent one of the most dramatic urban revivals of any U.S. city during the past two decades. Newcomers poured in, businesses expanded and developers transformed the area with high-end condos, entertainment and shopping.

The pandemic and rising housing prices began cooling that growth. The city lost a net of nearly 19,000 households to moves in 2020, according to U.S. Postal Service permanent change-of-address data. That was more than every state in the U.S. except California, New York, Illinois and Massachusetts.

Like many other big cities, the district is grappling with how to stem the outflow of Americans seeking easier and more affordable lives. Unlike many big cities, it has a particular challenge that could spell trouble for the long term.

The 61-square-mile U.S. capital relies heavily on the federal government as its biggest employer—and officials have signaled that remote work is here to stay. That effect is trickling down to the legion of businesses in the government’s orbit, with some federal contractors, lobbyists and think tanks offering similar flexibility.

Residential changes have rippled across the region, with USPS data showing net loss to suburbs, which in turn have net outflows to exurbs. As in many other major cities, the district’s violent crime rate has risen during the pandemic, with 198 homicides last year, the highest number since 2004. City leaders are also contending with homeless encampments in tourist-dense areas like around Union Station.

Ben Freeman’s slippery slope out of Washington began a few days into the pandemic when he left his basement apartment for his mother’s guesthouse in northern Florida.

Confident that his employer, an international-policy think tank, would let him work remotely for the long haul, he soon bought a car, gave up his month-to-month lease and moved his furniture into storage. Then he bought his first home, a place with ocean views in Flagler Beach, Fla., that costs him less per month than his District of Columbia apartment. He returns to Washington occasionally for a flurry of meetings.

“When I’m there, I’m like a golden retriever running around catching up with everyone I need to,” Mr. Freeman, 40 years old, said. “And when I’m home, I burrow into my research and writing. It works out.”

Read more from the Wall Street Journal here>>>