Virginia is an anchor in the mid-Atlantic region, squarely between the Southeast — one of the fastest growing areas in the U.S. — and the Northeast, the country’s economic center. In turn, Virginia has adopted elements of both regions, allowing young families living in the commonwealth their choice of communities: affordable and fast growing or established and stocked with amenities.
For example, Virginia is growing faster than the country as a whole, with the state population jumping over 16% since 2000, compared with 12% for the rest of the U.S.
As well, the state also resembles its neighbors to the north. It has an above-average proportion of college-educated residents, with 35% of its population having completed a bachelor’s degree or higher, compared with the 29% national average. The state is also quite a bit more expensive: the median home value in Virginia is $244,600, which is higher than the national median of $176,700.
When NerdWallet crunched the data to find the best cities for young families in Virginia, we found many excellent places with great schools, recent economic growth and family friendly communities throughout Old Dominion.
Smaller communities. The average population of the top 10 best places of 29,186 is a fraction of the statewide average of 59,797. Smaller cities are apparently attractive to young families in Virginia, because 30.56% of households are families with children, a number that is 50% higher than the state average.
Above-average schools. The average GreatSchools rating of the cities in the top 10 is 7.6 out of 10, which is significantly higher than the statewide average of 5.7.
Greater Washington, D.C. Seven places in the top 10 are in the Washington, D.C., area, so young families looking to settle near the nation’s capital have a variety of options.
Home affordability. We looked at median home value and selected monthly homeowner costs to prioritize affordable communities.
Prosperity and growth. Looking at current and past family incomes, we calculated the income of residents, as well as the projected long-term growth of each city.
Quality of education. We looked at ratings at GreatSchools.org to find the best schools.
Family friendliness. This year, we added a new component to our methodology: the percentage of families with school-age children and the poverty rate for young children. This measure helps determine if an area is not only affordable for families, but if it is also a healthy one for children.
Best cities for young families in Virginia
With a population of 11,863, Gainesville is the smallest place in the top 10, but families love this Prince William County city: 40% of households are families with children, the highest mark in the state. Gainesville is more expensive than many other cities, with median home values at $408,100. But for the cost, Gainesville provides not only the most family-oriented community in the state, but also excellent schools, with an 8 out of 10 from GreatSchools.
Much like Gainesville, Burke is also a family friendly community with excellent schools, but with relatively expensive homes. Though median homes are on the high end at $478,300, families will find a school system that scored an 8 at GreatSchools and a community where over a third of households are families with children. But even with relatively expensive homes, Burke is one of the more affordable communities — a median family can expect to spend 21% of monthly income on homeowner costs, the lowest proportion in the top 10.
Centreville is the largest city in the top 10, with a population of 73,476, but over a third of households are families with children, so there’s a large concentration of young families in this suburb of Washington, D.C. With median home values of $369,200, Centreville is the second-most affordable of the five Fairfax County places in the top 10. And the town’s two main parks — Cub Run Stream Valley Park and Ellanor C. Lawrence Park — offer a nearby escape into forests and streams that are perfect for exploring on foot or bike.
With a median home value of $602,100, Vienna is by far the most expensive place in the top 10. However, young families will find an incredible value for their housing dollar. The town earned a GreatSchools ranking of 8, and over 36% of households are families with children, nearly double the statewide average. The town also hosts a number of annual events, such as Viva! Vienna! in May and a Halloween parade along Maple Avenue.
5. Bon Air
Originally developed as a resort community for 19th century residents of nearby Richmond, Bon Air still sports much of the beautiful Victorian architecture of the time. History aside, the median home value of $217,900 is the lowest in the top 10, and the town earned a GreatSchools score of 9, which is tied for the highest mark in the state. Even though only 20% of households are families with children, the blend of affordability and excellent schools likely will help that number increase.
With the lowest cost of living and a high percentage of families, Mechanicsville is another top destination for young families in Greater Richmond. Median home values of $229,600 are below the statewide median, so it isn’t surprising that over 25% of households are families with children. And with a location just 7 miles from downtown Richmond, residents of Mechanicsville are only minutes away from some of the best cultural and economic opportunities in the region.
This Loudoun County town is swarming with young families — over 37% of households are families with children, the second-highest mark in the top 10. The town holds several popular annual events, including the flower and garden festival in April and the Leesburg Airshow in September. Whether exploring the 138-acre Ida Lee Park or hiking up to the crest of the Red Rock Wilderness Overlook, active families will enjoy the town’s parks.
Young families are attracted to Poquoson, which is located on the Virginia Peninsula on Chesapeake Bay, not only for its beauty, but also for its affordability and the schools. The city’s median home value of $302,400 is significantly below the top 10 average of $378,080, and local schools earned an 8 at GreatSchools, one of the highest marks in the state. The town’s biggest annual event is the Poquoson Seafood Festival, a three-day event with music, children’s entertainment, a fun run and, of course, plenty of crab.
The third Fairfax County place in the top 10, Chantilly is another city that is full of young families: over 35% of households are families with children. With median home values of $432,700, Chantilly is also more affordable than its neighbors Burke and Vienna. Residents here can take advantage of one of the best attractions in the state: the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center, which is an extension of the National Air and Space Museum. There, aspiring aerospace engineers can check out a Concorde, SR-71 or the space shuttle Discovery.
The fifth, and most affordable Fairfax County town in the top 10, Lorton offers suburban D.C. residents an attractive option with good schools (a GreatSchools score of 7) in a community where 31% of households are families with children. Located along the Occoquan River, Lorton also provides an array of outdoor recreational opportunities with the nearby Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge, Mason Neck State Park and Pohick Bay Regional Park all offering plenty of hiking, kayaking, canoeing and wildlife watching.
On the map below, click on an icon to see more details about each place on the top 10 list.
Best cities for young families in Virginia
All data are from the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2013 American Community Survey. Our methodology focused on four factors:
Home affordability. Home affordability, 30% of the total score, was calculated by averaging index scores for median home value and median selected monthly owner costs. The lower the costs, the higher the score.
Growth and prosperity. Growth and prosperity are 20% of the total score. The two metrics involved were growth in family income from 1999 to 2013, and median family income in 2013. Both were weighted equally and positively.
Family friendliness. To measure if an area is a good place for families, which is 30% of our total score, we looked at the percentage of married couples with at least one child under age 18, and the percentage of families in poverty with at least one child under age 5. The percentage of families with at least one child was 70% of the score, while the percentage of families in poverty was 30% of the score.
Educational quality. Using data from GreatSchools, every place was assigned a ranking from 1 to 10 for the quality of schools. Education is 20% of the total score.
Leesburg, Virginia, image via iStock.