New Hints That Pandemic Exodus From Manhattan May Be Slowing Down

Greg David, THE CITY

People enjoy outdoor dining along Orchard Street in the Lower East Side, Sept. 25, 2020.
People enjoy outdoor dining along Orchard Street in the Lower East Side, Sept. 25, 2020. | Hiram Alejandro Durán/THE CITY

This article was originally published on by THE CITY

The latest report on apartment rents in New York appears to paint the same picture drawn since the pandemic first shook confidence in the city: Vacancies are soaring, especially in Manhattan, and rents are falling — both an apparent consequence of people fleeing.

But other numbers — including an uptick in Manhattan lease signings to near pre-pandemic levels even as more apartments go on the market — suggest the flight from the city could be ebbing. That jibes with what Dan Menchini, owner of U Santini Inc. movers in Brooklyn, has seen in recent weeks.

“The exodus has slowed down a lot,” he said Thursday. “We’re back to moving people within the city and when people need to relocate because they are doing construction work on their homes.”

Hiram Alejandro Durán/THE CITY
Dan Manchini, owner of U Santini Inc. movers in Brooklyn, has a seen a slow down in people leaving the city.

The edition of the closely watched monthly Elliman Market Report issued this week found that the median effective rent for a newly rented Manhattan apartment declined in September to $3,036, an 11% drop from a year ago.

The Manhattan vacancy rate shot up to 5.75%, the fifth consecutive month it has set a record. The number of apartments available is triple that from a year ago and the highest in 14 years.

The story in upscale parts of Brooklyn and Northwest Queens is similar. Brooklyn median effective rent has declined 3.4% from the same time last year, and the inventory of apartments for rent has almost tripled. Rents are down 12.4% in Northwest Queens and the number of available apartments has doubled.

New Leases Signed

But Jonathan Miller, the author of the report, noted the growth in inventory in the last month was much less than the month before as more new leases are signed. Some 5,018 new leases were inked in Manhattan in September, almost identical to the number sealed during the same month a year earlier.

At the same time, there’s been a slowdown in the sales in Westchester and Long Island, where the numbers jumped over the summer due to what brokers have called a wave of city residents buying homes in the suburbs.

While still higher than the same time last year, the number of new signed contracts in Westchester fell to just over 600 in September from a peak of 900 in July. The Long Island contracts dropped to just over 2,900 from almost 3,700 in the same period as fewer buyers bid on homes.

“With new leasing activity in Manhattan rising to pre-COVID levels, and new signed contract activity in the outlying suburbs plateauing in recent months, the intense outbound migration pattern that began in the early days of ‘shelter-in-place’ may not be sustainable much longer,” Miller said.

A ‘Crucial’ Period Approaches

The wave of people moving from Manhattan to Brooklyn or other boroughs may also be at a plateau. In the last few months, people who were uncomfortable living in a 300-unit apartment building in Manhattan could find apartments in much smaller residential buildings elsewhere for a lower rent.

‘The next 30 to 60 days are crucial with the flu season, the fact the virus is still here and the election.’

Now more people are returning to the city and are moving within Manhattan to take advantage of rent deals or get much more space, said Hal Gavzie, executive manager of leasing at Douglas Elliman Real Estate.

Still, he noted: “The next 30 to 60 days are crucial with the flu season, the fact the virus is still here and the election.”

Keeping New York’s population from declining sharply may not be about stemming the exodus from the pandemic-scarred city but the impact of the anti-immigration policies of the Trump administration. The Department of City Planning has attributed a fall in the city’s population by 132,000 between 2016 and 2019 to the drop in new arrivals from other countries.

“New York City has always seen people move in and out,” said Mitchell Moss, an urban policy and planning professor at New York University. “What makes New York vital is we get people to move in from all over the world and the Trump administration has frozen the doors to the city.”

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