Thursday, August 7, 2008

My friends are moving out of Manhattan

So long, Manhattan?

And so the exodus begins? In the past two weeks, three of my friends have told me they're moving out of Manhattan to one of the boroughs. Their reasons vary from wanting a quieter neighborhood to missing trees but let's be honest: they can't afford Manhattan anymore.

Con-Ed just raised their rates. Most of my friends in rent stabilized units just got their renewal agreements. Food has doubled in price and halved in packaging size. Our salaries are not growing fast enough to keep up.

Living in NYC is about monetary sacrifice when you're young (unless you're young and privileged). I don't mind that 60% of my income goes towards rent because I get to live in the greatest city in the world. That's the trade-off I chose. Recently though it's become tight. This story is nothing new -- it's the same song and dance that's been written for decades. Most recently the real estate boom drove out the artists and the bohemians. The average income of a NYC resident is well above $100,000/year and in my zipcode it's closer to $450,000/year. It's tough to compete with that when you're a recent college grad or even a 20-something making a decent salary.

With the economy in a downturn I can see how living in Manhattan becomes frivolous. We live in a whole other world...we don't cook our own meals; we pay others to chauffeur us around town; we spend our weekends elsewhere; we hire people to deliver the things we buy to us. We're taxed on our luxuries, from the cost of driving food in to the city to the cost of sending our trash out. If you haven't lived here your whole life at some point you say enough.

But if there is one thing I learned as a commuter it's that the mental cost sometimes outweighs the monetary cost. Sure, your rent may be $200/mo cheaper but now you've got a 30-minute subway ride each way to work instead of a 15-minute one. The train is always crowded and you probably stand most of the time. Want to get a meal late at night? Sorry, except for the corner store your neighborhood closes at midnight. Good luck catching a cab after hours. And then coming into Manhattan becomes a pain because it doesn't seem as close as it once was. You don't tell your friends this though. It's tough enough for them having to leave Manhattan.

One result is that the boroughs become more expensive too. When I was in high school and college Brooklyn was super cheap. Now many apartments rent for the same rate as Manhattan units. I can only imagine Queens will become the same way. It's interesting because I feel like we are right on the cusp of a rental rate drop. But it can't come soon enough for some of my friends.

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