New Hints That Pandemic Exodus From Manhattan May Be Slowing Down

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

This article was originally published on by THE CITY

By Greg David, 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.”

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.

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.”

THE CITY is an independent, nonprofit news outlet dedicated to hard-hitting reporting that serves the people of New York.

NEWS | 17 comments | permalink
    1. John says:

      This is only part of the story. My building on Riverside, which is 60% co-op and 40% rental, is more than helf-empty. Some new people have moved into rentals, but most of the empty apartments still have shareholders and renters who are living elsewhere.

      • Garry says:

        Yep. A guy I work with is currently working from a state out west. I’m sure it’s quite common.

    2. Marti Cassidy says:

      Decreased prices attract new residents. In addition, decarceration begins with two jail closings next month, and these people will need housing and can be helped into apartments by Section 8 and vacant hotel conversions. Their nutritional needs can be met by restaurant conversions to free kitchens.

      I think we can assume that the people who fled the area were opposed to this, and that those who steadfastly remain are, on the whole, burdened with less systemic racism and privilege.

      • Otis says:

        Who is going to pay for these restaurants to supply released prisoners with food?

        And being opposed to massive numbers of released convicts into the neighborhood signifies of “racism and privilege”?

      • Sarah says:

        Why is it that conservatives are so terrible at satire? My working theory is that, lacking much ability or willingness to understand those different from them, they can’t enter into their mindsets and so can’t parody them effectively.

        • Otis says:

          You got it. Most UWS liberals I know are very tolerant and understanding and welcoming of people whose opinions differ from their dogma.

      • Charles says:

        I’ve read it all now. Beyond parody.

      • Concerned UWS says:

        Are you for real? One of the most expensive cities in the world? Released prisoners who require free food and rent have a right to live in Manhattan. They can’t first move to say, Utica NY to get their feet wet and build a cushion for their ultimate dream of Manhattan penthouse?

        Where in the constitution does it even suggest life, liberty, and a free apartment in Manhattan?

    3. UWSHebrew says:

      For sure, there has been a massive slowdown in people moving out. Any people are coming into rental apartments on the market, but its a very small amount. Rental prices continue to fall, and even with incentives such as no fee, one or two months free, apartments are sitting. Many people are on edge regarding the election, no matter who wins, maybe that has something to do with it, in addition to all the other garbage 2020 has brought to NYC.

    4. robert says:

      I know its jaded, but as lifelong Manhattan resident why would you want to move to Brooklyn. Fewer services and so and and so further. To use an old line when your out of town your out of town.
      There is still net movement out, but are being masked by rock bottom prices. Many of the coop/condos bought will sit empty for a period of time and then be sold at a large profit in a year or two
      The numbers of contract and leases signed may be up but those are sales and rentals with a 20+ percent haircut. Current rentals on the UWS are lower than any time since 2011.
      Also those that have moved have, many of the rest did not because of kids in school and/or job issues

    5. Christine E says:

      The interviewee’s perspective is of those who have the desire and means to afford a moving company. I have the impression that many people are foregoing moving companies altogether, and DIYing their move with friends or Uhaul or just abandoning their belongings, because the can’t afford to take them or have uncertain destinations. Household items are left curbside with increasing frequency these days, as can be seen when walking around the UWS and in Instagram treasure hunt faciliators like @curbalertnyc and @stoopingnyc.

      • Concerned UWS says:

        People who have no money can move here fee free. Well, the city lays for everything, including ongoing rent and food.

    6. Brett Lyon says:

      I still love NYC and would be happy to stay here, I’d even buy a place, but reality is that between now and the time I retire (I’m 50-something) I would pay well over $100k in city income taxes for…what? Dr. Di Blasio’s salary ? I’d also pay higher sales tax than many places, higher property taxes, higher than average state income tax, including on SS, and the general cost of living is higher. Give me one good reason to stay and I will.

    7. Pepper says:

      Most if not all of the apartments listed are only offering 1 year leases. Maybe if they offered 2 year leases they would rent them faster.