Long-time residents of the New York City area may be recognizing something very familiar in the midst of the abnormal challenges COVID-19 has brought to the city. Between 1970 and 1980, over one million more people moved out of the New York City area than into it (according to the US Census Bureau), and those who remember this flight from the city have likely also similarly witnessed moving vans and For Sale listings popping up with increasing frequency over the summer. NYC has entered yet another mass exodus, as intra-city movement has been largely replaced by migration out of the city, towards the suburbs of upstate New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut.
It is not fear of infection in a densely populated area that is driving people to leave. Rather, among increasing crime rates and fears about the future of the economy, a frequently cited reason for moving is that the cultural benefits of the city have been lost. It is no news to anyone that living in New York has its own unique set of challenges. However, millions of people make the decision every day to sacrifice many of the conveniences offered by the suburbs in exchange for the art, culture, food, and nightlife only New York City can offer. With a majority of those benefits inaccessible right now, many residents are asking themselves, “what’s the point?”. New Yorkers are accustomed to a lively mix of art, music, dining, and shopping, but these are not safe to interact with while the pandemic is ongoing.
This severed tie to community has given many the final push to the suburbs. The number of people moving from the city elsewhere during the pandemic is double the amount that left the city last year, Bloomberg News reports. This shift has left significant vacancy issues for the city, concentrated primarily in Manhattan, where contracts have decreased by nearly a third in condos and co-op properties (ABC News). It has also significantly shaped the buying and selling atmosphere in the suburbs outside of the city. For example, as the New York Times cites, in July, there was a forty-four percent increase in home sales in suburbs surrounding DC, with even higher increases in specific areas like Westchester, (112%) and Fairfield county (73%). With more potential buyers seeking homes than homes being sold, buyers are making quick and competitive offers — creating unique situations where sellers are getting their asking prices (or higher), often in cash.
As this indicates, those leaving the city are typically high-earners due to the fact that they have the mobility to move. This loss of higher income residents could potentially result in lowered tax revenue with the potential to impact the quality or availability of city resources for those who remain. While this news may sound grim, some city leaders have expressed optimism about incoming traffic in the future and have lauded those that have remained in the city. Mayor De Blasio, commenting to the New York Post about the exodus, said that “the vast, vast majority of New Yorkers are standing and fighting, they are loyal to this city.”
It is worth noting that these trends may not be permanent, but rather a temporary symptom of the pandemic. With a comprehensive reopening strategy and a focus on public health, there is hope that New York City will make a full recovery, including a return to a stable housing market. New Yorkers that remain in the city are positive about the future of their city.