Best places to raise a family in the Southeast
Choosing a home in which to raise a family is a complex decision for any homebuyer that depends on several factors. Fifty-three percent of house hunters with children at home count school district quality as a deciding factor in where buy, while 50% said proximity to schools plays a big role, according to 2019 research from the National Association of Realtors. The best schools have low student-to-teacher ratios, high graduation rates, robust test scores, and an array of arts, music, and extracurricular activities.
Safety is also key, putting cities and towns with low crime rates on the list. But sometimes a rural spot with little crime may have lower graduation rates or fewer quality job opportunities. Housing makes a difference, as families need affordability. Tough decisions arise when desirable communities draw rising demand, pushing prices higher and moving the cost of homes out of reach of families with children.
Transportation matters, whether it’s an easy drive to a job or public transportation that allows commuters to travel quickly at low costs. Parents might consider the social life of a town, and many of the most appealing places have high proportions of families with children under age 18.
Other communities clearly show a commitment to family life, hosting carnivals and annual festivals or funding a quality public library system.
The outdoors play no small part. Many of the best places to raise a family have parks, playgrounds, swimming pools, and trails for walking, hiking, and biking. Also significant are cultural and arts opportunities. Often the best places to raise families are located near colleges, universities, and venues that stage music, theater, and art exhibitions.
To help families of all stages take a data-driven approach to finding the best communities within the Southeast, Stacker looked to Niche's 2019 Best Places to Raise a Family report, which evaluates dozens of important components. Public schools carry the heaviest weight among the considerations included, while crime and safety, cost of living, demographics, and community resources all factor strongly (full methodology here).
The Southeast consists of Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, and West Virginia. Only places with populations of more than 15,000 were considered, and at least two places from every state were included.
Read on to find out the best places to raise a family in the Southeast.
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#50. Wheeling, WV
- Population: 27,521
- Median home value: $104,300 (63% of residents own)
- Median rent: $616 (37% of residents rent)
- Median household income: $41,171
- Educational attainment: 12% masters or higher, 18% bachelors, 26% some college, 43% high school or less
Suburban Wheeling gets top ranks for its schools. It is popular with young professionals, is just 58 miles from Pittsburgh, and offers lots of family-friendly activities. Children can enjoy the town’s many parks or family outings to Wheeling Nailers hockey games. Wheeling is also home to a symphony orchestra and a host of summer programming including arts and crafts, sports camps, swimming and tennis lessons, and day camp.
#49. Morgantown, WV
- Population: 30,099
- Median home value: $182,500 (43% of residents own)
- Median rent: $779 (57% of residents rent)
- Median household income: $37,900
- Educational attainment: 24% masters or higher, 25% bachelors, 24% some college, 27% high school or less
Morgantown is home to West Virginia University, the state’s largest university, which offers a wide array of summer camps and programs for local youth. The town is also the region’s medical, cultural, and commercial hub. Morgantown High School also gets high marks with an above-average, 89% graduation rate.
#48. Zachary, LA
- Population: 16,879
- Median home value: $214,700 (72% of residents own)
- Median rent: $1,090 (28% of residents rent)
- Median household income: $79,346
- Educational attainment: 15% masters or higher, 23% bachelors, 30% some college, 31% high school or less
The suburb of Baton Rouge has been rated the top-performing district in Louisiana for several years, according to the state’s department of education. A popular attraction is the city-operated Zachary Youth Park Complex, housed on 33 acres, with programs year-round and facilities for baseball and softball, as well as a half-mile walking track and picnic areas.
#47. Burlington, KY
- Population: 16,776
- Median home value: $165,000 (69% of residents own)
- Median rent: $938 (31% of residents rent)
- Median household income: $73,304
- Educational attainment: 9% masters or higher, 19% bachelors, 32% some college, 40% high school or less
Burlington is a suburb of Cincinnati with high ratings for family life. The local Boone Cliffs encompass 74 acres of old-growth forest with unpaved trails for hiking. The town is within 15 miles of dozens of attractions including Cincinnati’s Smale Riverfront Park, Great American Ball Park, and Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden.
#46. Fayetteville, AR
- Population: 81,889
- Median home value: $193,000 (38% of residents own)
- Median rent: $747 (62% of residents rent)
- Median household income: $41,158
- Educational attainment: 22% masters or higher, 26% bachelors, 27% some college, 25% high school or less
Fayetteville is a suburb that gets an A+ rating for its schools. The town features a premier public garden, the Botanical Garden of the Ozarks, one of the nation’s last drive-ins, and the Razorback Regional Greenway, the longest system of interconnected trails in the state.
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#45. Clinton, MS
- Population: 25,398
- Median home value: $155,600 (66% of residents own)
- Median rent: $946 (34% of residents rent)
- Median household income: $57,667
- Educational attainment: 16% masters or higher, 24% bachelors, 34% some college, 25% high school or less
Clinton, in the Jackson metropolitan area, has great schools and was rated by Niche in 2019 as the most diverse place to live in Mississippi. The town is home to a picturesque Main Street and downtown complete with an open-air market and brick streets.
#44. Mount Pleasant, SC
- Population: 80,661
- Median home value: $413,600 (71% of residents own)
- Median rent: $1,465 (29% of residents rent)
- Median household income: $90,454
- Educational attainment: 23% masters or higher, 37% bachelors, 24% some college, 15% high school or less
Mount Pleasant has stately live oaks and historic houses, and its residents are a mix of retirees, young families, and professionals. The Memorial Waterfront Park has a lush lawn perfect for family picnics and a nautical-themed playground while Mount Pleasant Pier offers fishing and Laurel Hill County Park has miles of running, walking, or biking trails through a variety of landscapes.
#43. Prairieville, LA
- Population: 30,536
- Median home value: $222,000 (87% of residents own)
- Median rent: $1,151 (13% of residents rent)
- Median household income: $98,130
- Educational attainment: 11% masters or higher, 26% bachelors, 29% some college, 34% high school or less
Prairieville is a Baton Rouge suburb with top-ranked schools and old-fashioned charm. It is well known for its huge open-air flea market that with some 400 booths has something for everyone. The town is also home to Southwood Park & Playground, Oak Grove Community Par, and Jump-N-Jive, a kids’ space that offers private and public events including dances, game nights, and open play.
#42. Fish Hawk, FL
- Population: 17,698
- Median home value: $323,900 (82% of residents own)
- Median rent: $1,777 (18% of residents rent)
- Median household income: $111,531
- Educational attainment: 24% masters or higher, 37% bachelors, 26% some college, 14% high school or less
Fish Hawk in the Tampa Bay area stands out for its parks and nature trails. It is considered family-oriented for its extensive after-school programs, nearby attractions and parks, and highly rated schools. The town has a high military population and a slightly longer commute time than the national average (33.4 minutes versus the national average of 25.1 minutes). The Fish Hawk Sports Complex, opened in 2008 and managed by the Fishhawk Youth Sports Association, is home to the Fishhawk Youth Baseball League, Miss Tampa Bay Softball League, Fishhawk Coyotes Lacrosse, Wolfpack Football, and Fishhawk Soccer Club.
#41. Five Forks, SC
- Population: 17,500
- Median home value: $282,400 (91% of residents own)
- Median rent: $1,357 (9% of residents rent)
- Median household income: $109,781
- Educational attainment: 23% masters or higher, 39% bachelors, 26% some college, 13% high school or less
In Five Forks, more than half the population is families with kids under 18. The public schools put an emphasis on after-school activities and community volunteer work. There is a bevy of nearby child-friendly attractions like Defy Greenville—the trampoline park—and Frankie’s Fun Park.
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