By Peggy Taylor
Last year, in commemoration of Black History Month, I wrote a piece on the decline of the Black population on the Upper West Side. This year, after reading an article in The New York Times entitled, “Why Black Families Are Leaving New York, and What It Means for the City,” I’m experiencing a moment of déjà vu as I witness the decline of the Black population, not only on the Upper West Side, but in the entire city.
According to the Times, the city’s Black population declined by nearly 200,000 over the past two decades, or about nine percent. The number of Black children and teenagers living in the city fell more than 19 percent from 2010 to 2020. According to the latest census data, about one in five New York City residents identifies as non-Hispanic Black, compared with one in four in 2000. Blacks are leaving New York and other Northeastern and Midwestern cities primarily because of high housing costs, The Times said, in what amounts to a reversal of the “Great Migration” of the 1920s, when we left the South en masse in search of better living conditions, less racial discrimination, and jobs.
Today, Blacks are returning to the South, where many still have family and where it can be easier to raise children. New York Times columnist, Charles Blow, now a resident of Atlanta, urges Blacks to follow his lead in order to consolidate the political power that can help fight racial oppression. “As Frederick Douglass once wrote about escaping slavery, ‘I prayed for 20 years but received no answer until I prayed with my legs,’” Blow wrote. “Black people must once again pray with their legs.”
As much as I lament this exodus and am saddened to see fewer and fewer of my brothers and sisters (except for the “help”) below 96th Street, I follow enough international news to know that this exodus is more of a class — middle-class — phenomenon than a racial one.
Some of my middle-class white friends are also being priced out of the city because of unsustainable housing costs (“The rent is too damn high,” said former gubernatorial candidate, Jimmy McMillan, in the early 2000s.) One just moved to Pittsburgh; another to Houston; another plans to “give the city another year.” According to Nathan Gusdorf, executive director of the Fiscal Policy Institute, 300,000 New Yorkers left the city last year, not because of higher taxes, but because of higher housing costs.
Upstate and Long Island New Yorkers are being priced out of their hometowns by Covid-fleeing Manhattanites. French students can no longer live in Paris because Airbnbs have taken affordable housing off the market. The Canadian government recently banned foreigners from buying property there after so much Vancouver housing was gobbled up by wealthy Chinese. Central Asian residents are being driven out of their hometowns by well-heeled Russian draft dodgers. Young people are risking their money on cryptocurrency, because they fear that they can no longer buy a house with traditional savings and stock market investments.
So, cities are becoming increasingly populated by the very rich, the very poor, and the luckily rent-stabilized. I am happily one of the latter, so I’m one of the fortunate Black New Yorkers who will not have to join the reverse migration back down South. Every day I count my blessings that the monthly rent for my 328-square-foot studio is only $613.16, instead of the market-rate of $4000. I can live without having to have a roommate, and I can sleep without waking up with cold sweats of worry every night.
The five interviewees in last year‘s article are still around and still Upper West Siders. They are still loving their co-ops, condos, and rent-stabilized digs and feel fortunate to be New Yorkers. Like me, they adore the city’s museums, its concert halls, its theaters, its restaurants, its bustling streets and sidewalks. They have no desire to join the exodus for a quieter life down South. I, a New Yorker for 46 years, definitely don’t want to return to my hometown of Montgomery, Alabama.
Furthermore, I don’t drive.
New York sadly has become a city for the very rich unless you’ve been here for a long time. This was what Bloomberg designed along with those pulling the strings big real estate wanted. A city for absent billionaires and millionaires and techies and almost every bit of development in the past 10-15 years has been aimed at them. Leaving either an exodus of the middle class and/or an increasing homelessness. But how it has affected race in this city is a kind of social engineering that may or may not have been intended but one could easily say borders on racism.
Sure, blame it on Bloomberg but did his successor di Blasio do anything to fix the inequalities in the city?Do you think Eric Adams is any better? It’s a socioeconomic problem that a mayor who ran on a “tale of two cities” and a present mayor who is all talk but no action, failed miserably to address it.
Its true-DeBlasio did little to fix the inequalities in the city except for Pre-school education which was no small thing-and attempting to build affordable housing which was more a giveaway to big real estate. But Bloomberg and his buddies devised the plan to make New York a luxury product and build baby build. He literally drove around with his real estate pals determining where they would rezone (midtown for one) and what they would tear down to build luxury towers, buildings. It’s undeniable. The concept was that this would increase the tax base and enrich the city’s treasury. I’m not too sure that worked out too well for anyone but the developers. A lot of those buildings remain half empty and many which have been sold are to people who don’t live here and therefore don’t pay taxes. I’m afraid the new Mayor is so impressed by big real estate that he may talk a big game while he rezones the city for more luxury housing ostensibly under the guise of building affordable housing. Each Mayor has contributed to making this city unlivable for anyone but the wealthy.
The middle class is also leaving, because they can’t afford all the Dems social programs. Do you really think the Bronx pays for itself?
A very nice article. Thank you for helping to put a face on the housing crisis!
Excellent piece. Thank you. I wish things weren’t as you describe.
Contrary to liberal myth rent regulation hurts far more people than it allegedly helps and is the reason why the city is unaffordable for the middle class and why so many are fleeing.
If we did away with these archaic laws the city would be far more affordable and welcoming.
And while you’re lamenting the decline of the city’s Black population keep in mind the city’s demographics are constantly changing.
The Brooklyn neighborhood I lived in as a child in the 1970s was almost 100% Jewish and Italian. Today it is almost 100% Black.
That’s life, times change.
If you deregulated rents, you know what would happen? All those apartments will go to market rate and a lot of long time residents would have to leave, that’s all. There won’t be any revolutionary lowering of rents citywide.
Rent regulation laws actually benefit those in Manhattan and perhaps small parts of
Brooklyn and Queens. Every where else in
city legal regulated rent is higher than what market supports.
Were the Jews and Italians all priced out by Black people paying more to get their apartments?
What a great article!
Migration is a thing. But also consider whether more people are identifying as multiracial rather than black and whether the birth rate is lower in the black population than it has been.
I share your surprise and regret over many things that are happening in our neighborhood population but there may be other reasons too.
Even (?!) Borough President Mark Levine acknowledges that so far, outsourcing the production of affordable housing to real estate developers has led to mostly zero affordable housing and more luxury condo towers. Even towers that have FEWER UNITS than the older buildings that were demolished to make room for the towers.
so true and well said
Im continually disappointed by the lack of investment in lower income housing for families. Of all colors. Our social services model for housing prioritizes single homes. This is part of the issue. Even if they want to build a family where will they live?
A nitpick with that Fiscal Policy Institute study claiming housing costs is more responsible than taxes for people leaving NY: the study was only comparing costs for people moving to NY suburbs like NJ or CT. Those states also have high income or property taxes.
If we start comparing things to states with low/no income taxes, we tend to see both lower cost of living from housing and reduced taxes.
Hochul’s budget proposal contains items like raising payroll taxes and maintaining a 2021 “emergency” tax increase on pass-through entities and corporations (read: small businesses). This kind of stuff gets too little attention and debate. We are all being squeezed to support a state and city government that doesn’t know how to prioritize, and that is making life unaffordable especially for those on fixed incomes.
I love this neighborhood. However, it has gotten rich, lily white and boring. I have lived in my apartment for 46 years. My building went co-op. I pay dirt cheap maintenance which is 55% deductible. I can’t afford to move, nor do I care to. However, I miss the diversity and unspoken community spirit. BTW, I’m lily white.
Escaping sky-high crime as well.
They said it would happen..the exodus of those who cannot afford it..maybe also older folks retiring and want a different life ..combo of happenings..
Very thoughtful piece. Thank you. In addition to race and class, age also plays a role. Many of us olders are losing community here. NYC is not just a city for rich, white folks – it’s a city for young folks.
just saying…Ownership has been the “golden retirement nest egg.”
Affordable OWNERSHIP, but not the old Mitchell Lama style, which didn’t let folks make profits when they sold, is the solution to raise up the poor and allow people to stay in place through changing economies. Where are the progressive plans for affordable ownership?
Everyone’s leaving the city all the time. Every ethnic group. It’s just that right now blacks aren’t really being replaced as they leave. Others are incoming more than blacks. But the overall population is still stable or rising.
This is a really simple one: NIMBYsim = racism. When you refuse to build you keep supply low but demand remains constant and the folks who are most effected are those with the least economic opportunity due to a legacy of racism. NIMBYs continue that cycle. The end result is that the victims of historic racism are victimized again: forced to flee. Don’t try to rewrite the laws of supply and demand. Just support more supply.
You need to come look out my window. There are four new large apartment buildings in the last five years. They’re not cheap but they’re definitely being built.
It’s even more simple. Noone has a primordial right to live in a place they can’t afford. When something’s too expensive, you don’t buy it. When a city is unaffordable, you move on. And no, that doesn’t vary with skin color. And no, that doesn’t make them a victim.
Housing being unaffordable to only the rich is not a natural occurrence of supply and demand. These inequalities have been engineered and if you believe in a deep state but can’t fathom how moneyed economic interests rig the system to their benefit, you are not being honest in the least bit
It’s not only black people leaving. It’s been reported that in the past year NYS has experienced net loss of 250,000 residents. So I ask why the rush to build more new housing?
Very insightful preceptive. I look forward to more of your articles.
I’m an African American that recently moved to the UWS from Atlanta, GA. The price for a tiny studio apartment far exceeded the mortgage of my 3,000 sq ft home in the suburbs but I love the vibe of the city and my UWS neighborhood. Oftentimes the lack of folks that look like me here makes wonder if I will be able to form a diverse circle of friends as a senior.
You’ve got a friend in me!! While we may not look too alike, our hearts are so similar!
You know that I love you. Let’s make our plan for tea and a catch up soon? We can form our own diversity friendship circle. Sending a big hug and 💗
Hi Shirley. I’ve been living here on the UWS for 40 years after having spent many years prior living in multiple countries. Sadly the vibe in NYC has changed substantially in the last dozen or so years. Not easy to make friends any more and so many of the people I’ve known have left. C’est la Vie.. Meanwhile .. don’t give up! There’a lots to do here still and hopefully you’ll find things that will mean you’ll have friends going forward of all races with whom you’ll find things you’ll have in common.. AND the music scene is coming back to life in NY after the pandemic! Yeah!
We don’t have money for affordable housing,59 make sure teachers, police officers and firefighter don’t have to travel 2 hours to serve our neighborhood, yet we have all the money in the world to house migrants in Central Park hotels. As well as multiple homeless shelters.
This isn’t a real thing. Why try to put blame on migrants who control nothing for the unaffordability of the housing market created by corporate interests and developers? This kind of response is exactly how the rich and connected who are buying the politicians and running policy get their way. All anyone has to do is wave immigrants or some other poor, powerless group of people like a shiny object to distract you from who’s really screwing you.
Wonderful piece, Peggy. Thank you
Peggy, this is beautifully written. Your emphasis on class instead of race is refreshing in today’s world of nuance-free discourse on these issues. Thank you.
You’re welcome, and thanks for your “nuance-free discourse.”