The Best Places for Young Families in West Virginia
Thinking of taking that first step toward owning a home? If so, it may be because you’re also about to start a family, and your priorities have shifted. This is the time when renters start looking for greater economic security, more space to spread out and a community where having kids is both a popular and welcome choice. Mortgage rates are still at historically low levels, so now is also a good time for young families to enter the housing market.
Before looking for a place for your family, keep in mind that you’ll need to weigh a variety of home-shopping criteria, like the amount of affordable housing in the area where you’re looking, the quality of local schools, employment prospects, commute times, and how much you can expect to pay in housing costs relative to income.
West Virginia offers a range of locations, from historic mining towns and university communities to small cities located near high-tech corridors. In most of these locales, affordability is high relative to local income, and the rate of homeownership is high. If you’re thinking of moving to the state, consider the following list compiled by researchers at LendingTree; it was set up to zero in on the state’s best places for young families.
- Bridgeport is the best place to raise a family in West Virginia, with a final score of 81.2.
- Hurricane and Sissonville take the second and third spots with final scores of 76.8 and 76.4, respectively.
- On the other end of the list, we found Martinsburg to be the most challenging place for young families in West Virginia, with a final score of 41.6.
- Philippi and Ranson finished out the bottom three communities on our list, with final scores of 43.8 and 48.8, respectively.
The top 10 cities to live in West Virginia
No. 1: Bridgeport
This growing, central West Virginia city offers a small-town vibe but is located in Harrison County, home to high-tech employers in industries such as aerospace, biometrics and health care. It’s also within driving — but probably not commuting — distance of two major cities, Charleston, the state capital, and Pittsburgh, Penn. Bridgeport’s ranking was boosted by a high median household income for families with children and reasonable housing costs, a median of $944 per month. The homeownership rate for families is 88.7%, one of the highest percentages in the state. Unemployment is low, and the high school graduation rate is near 100%.
No. 2: Hurricane
Located some 30 minutes from both Charleston and Huntington — the two largest West Virginia cities — Hurricane’s population is growing, unlike some other places in the state. As in Bridgeport, household income is high, $99,188 per year, and so is the homeownership rate for families, almost 77%. Housing costs, meanwhile, appear very reasonable relative to income, a median of $783 per month. Prospects for employment here are excellent, but families with children should know that 5.4% of older teens are not enrolled or graduated from high school.
No. 3: Sissonville
Some 15 miles north of Charleston, Sissonville offers the promise of very affordable housing, strong job prospects and good schools. The median housing cost is just $493 per month, but median incomes are on the lower end, $52,399 per month. However, the homeownership rate of 79.9% is high. Sissonville is closer to an urban area, so it’s not surprising that the average commute time is 24.6 minutes.
No. 4: Culloden
Like Hurricane, Culloden, also in the Huntington area, has a high median household income for families with children ($90,074), balanced by a reasonable median housing cost of $719 monthly. Almost a third of families have children, and about 70% of those families own homes. Culloden’s commute time is about average for West Virginia, at 21.8 minutes.
No. 5: Teays Valley
Like Hurricane and Culloden, this small, unincorporated community is located in the key corridor between Charleston and Huntington. Household income is higher here, but so are housing costs, a median of $955 monthly for families with children. Adding to this area’s family-friendly appeal: The homeownership rate for families with children is the second-highest on this list, 83.1%. Also high: the number of households with children, which is more than one-third.
No. 6: Cheat Lake
Cheat Lake is near fast-growing Morgantown, home to West Virginia University, but it’s also within commuting distance of the high-tech companies on Interstate 79 near Fairmont. This lakeside community offers access to water sports and has the second-highest household income on our top 10 list. The homeownership rate among families with children is 71.8%, even though the median housing cost is the highest on the list, at $995 monthly. However, Cheat Lake has a low unemployment rate and strong high school graduation rate.
No. 7: Vienna
Vienna is on the Ohio River near Parkersburg, the fourth-largest city in West Virginia. It’s also home to Ohio Valley University, so young families looking for an affordable college town might like it here.The median housing cost is just $615, while the median household income among families with children is $72,969. Only a quarter of households have children — typical with college areas — but 77.5% of families with children own homes. The commute time of 17.2 minutes, on average, is the shortest for a West Virginia top 10.
No. 8: Shinnston
Like Bridgeport, this small, historic mining town in north-central West Virginia is between Charleston and Pittsburgh, with each city about two hours away. The energy industry, from coal mines to the Harrison Power Station, fuels Shinnston’s economy. Housing costs appear very affordable; families with children have a $68,669 median annual income and pay a median of $587 monthly. Not surprisingly, the homeownership rate for families with children is 78.1%. Schools appear strong in Shinnston, but the 6.7% unemployment rate might worry some young families, as might the 25-minute average commute time.
No. 9: Bluewell
This small community in southern West Virginia near the Virginia border is just 10 minutes from the larger city of Bluefield, which puts it in easy reach of shopping, dining and recreation opportunities, such as local festivals and an arts center. The median household income of families with children is low, $40,246 per year, while housing costs are higher than they are in some communities with higher incomes, such as Shinnston. Still, families moving here will find plenty of company: Almost 41% of households have children, the highest percentage on our top 10 list.
No. 10: Pleasant Valley
This city is a newcomer in West Virginia; it was created in 1995 by combining four other communities (Benton’s Ferry, Kingmont, Pleasant Valley and Millersville) into one.
Located in the northern part of the state, Pleasant Valley is near Fairmont and that area’s busy technology corridor. Median housing costs here are $651 monthly, while the median household income of families with children is $79,750. Among families with children, 73.3% own homes, but only a quarter of households have children.
Understanding the rankings
We chose seven indicators to rank cities and towns with above 2,378 people in West Virginia for how good they are for young families, which were then scored to create an overall ranking of the best places for young families. The seven indicators we used were:
- Median family income: Money isn’t everything, but a place with high family incomes suggests a place with good job opportunities and a community with more resources.
- Median monthly housing costs for all households: For families already dealing with new child care expenses, reasonably affordable housing is important.
- Homeownership rate of families with children: This indicates where homeownership is both more common and — perhaps important for a family looking to buy — more practical.
- Unemployment rate of 25- to 44-year-olds: This indicates where the job market is healthy and suggests a higher quality of life locally. We focused on 25- to 44-year-olds in particular to capture the most common ages for parents of young families.
- Percentage of 16- to 19-year-olds not enrolled or graduated from high school: To estimate high school graduation rates and, therefore, school quality, we calculated the percentage of older teenagers who were not in high school yet had no high school degree. This number is not the actual high school dropout rate, but is well-correlated.
- Average commute time: Shorter commutes mean less stressed workers who have more time to spend with their families.
- Percentage of households that have children: A community with more children means that other families have already decided it’s attractive. It also usually means more educational and recreational activities suitable for children and their parents and that residents are concerned about policies that benefit families with kids.
Analysts used data from the 2017 5-Year American Community Survey by the U.S. Census. Each of the seven metrics was given a value according to its relative location between the highest and lowest values. The values were then summed and divided by seven for an equal weighting. The analysis was limited to Census-designated places with populations of at least 2,378.