Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

Islands of Disadvantage

Photo shows a twisted and rusty chain link fence in the Culmore neighborhood of Fairfax County. The fence is emblematic of the disparities in wealth in the area.
Screen capture
VPM News Focal Point
Islands of disadvantage are particularly striking in Northern Virginia, where some of the wealthiest counties in the United States are. Those counties nonetheless contain pockets of poverty and disadvantage.

The neighborhood of Culmore is considered an island of disadvantage – an impoverished area largely in the midst of one known for being wealthy. Million dollar homes sit mere blocks away from apartment complexes that house several families in a single unit. 


BILLY SHIELDS: Federico Perez makes his way from his apartment to the Culmore Support Center in Fairfax County. The food bank there is one of the services he uses. It's one of several services offered by an outreach organization called Second Story.

FEDERICO PEREZ (CLIENT & VOLUNTEER, SECOND STORY): Our most important problems are the high cost of rent...

BILLY SHIELDS: He says he can't work now after an accident left him needing a crutch to walk. Perez's wife is covering the rent at their apartment, which he says is almost $1,700 a month, rent which he says they can barely afford.

JADE LEEDHAM (EXECUTIVE VICE PRESIDENT, SECOND STORY): Fairfax County is definitely an affluent county, and there is a myth that there is no poverty. And Culmore happens to be one of the islands of disadvantage.

BILLY SHIELDS: An island of disadvantage. It's a term used by Dr. Steven Woolf to explain the disparities in the area.

STEVEN WOOLF (DR. STEVEN WOOLF): In some of these neighborhoods, it's Third World living conditions.

BILLY SHIELDS: Culmore is largely an enclave of migrants in the Bailey's Crossroads area on Leesburg Pike. A lot of the apartments here house more than one family.

STEVEN WOOLF: They often have to spend a tremendous amount of time in multiple jobs in order to bring in an adequate income to meet their expenses.

SORAYA BORJA (VICE PRES. COMMUNITY-BASED SERVICES, SECOND STORY): The high prices of the rent is what is affecting them the most.

BILLY SHIELDS: But go three miles down the same road and it becomes Broad Street in Falls Church. There you'll find homes like this one, valued by Zillow at $1.7 million. And the economic disparities in this area are stark. Those who have better living conditions also have a longer life expectancy.

STEVEN WOOLF: Northern Virginia has a 17-year gap in life expectancy.

BILLY SHIELDS: In other words, a resident living on one side of this fence has a life expectancy that's 17 years less than someone living just down the road.

STEVEN WOOLF: People have a misconception that health is determined by healthcare, and in actuality, what really shapes our health are our living conditions.

BILLY SHIELDS: Perez is just taking it one step at a time, trying to keep the roof over his head while living on an island of disadvantage. For VPM News Focal Point, I'm Billy Shields.


Billy Shields is a multimedia journalist with VPM News Focal Point.
Related Articles
  1. The True Cost
  2. Bringing Families Home
  3. Are kids the key to solving poverty?
Related Stories