Should I stay or should I go? The reality of the New York City exodus
Have reports of the New York City exodus been greatly exaggerated? Moving companies say they are seeing people leave Manhattan in numbers "never seen before.” The vacancy rate on rental apartments is the highest it's been in 14 years. And, anecdotally, we all know at least one person who is considering leaving – or who has already left – choosing more elbow room to work from home, cheaper rent, and a better quality of life over New York’s “new normal.”
Many no longer feel safe on the streets. Others simply have no choice – the stark reality of the economics dictating that life in one of the most expensive cities in the world is no longer possible.
But, for every person considering leaving, there’s another one determined to stay.
“My relationship with NYC is the longest relationship in my life,” says Jeff Dyksterhouse, a neighborhood real estate agent. “I moved here in 1985 with $300 in my pocket, right after graduating from the University of Michigan. My first apartment was at 525 W49th St, and NYC and I have gone through a lot together over the past 35 years, good and bad. But during that time she became my home, and an integral part of who I am, and I fell madly in love with her.
"I can’t imagine running out on a relationship when the chips are down, and I certainly can’t imagine ever leaving my home.”
“NYC is so much more than just a place. It’s an idea, an identity, a dream. Living here has never been easy – she’s always chewed up and spat out the weak, and it’s always been whatever you made of it. It’s no different now. I can’t imagine running out on a relationship when the chips are down, and I certainly can’t imagine ever leaving my home.”
Lucy Wu says she’s “sticking it out – NYC will always rise and come out on top.”
Zoe Flores agrees: "Our city is experiencing some hardships because of a lot of unprecedented mishaps and viruses, but believe me it will bounce back better then ever with the right leadership, programs, and services that our homeless, mentally ill, and disadvantaged need – and don’t forget prevention and youth services.”
"There are many challenges of living here, but I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else.”
“I’m sticking it out,” says Mallory Ann Szczepanski. “Years ago, I worked hard to make it to New York. It has always been my dream to live here, and during the pandemic I actually landed a better job. There are many challenges of living here, but I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else.”
Andrea Kleiman was born and raised in the city. “My mom is 82,” she says, “and I need to be here for her. I've thought about leaving eventually but don't see myself fitting in anywhere else.”
Matt Fox, who co-owns the store Fine & Dandy on W49th St - 9th/10th Ave, believes we’re in for a rough couple of years, “but the optimist in me says that we’ll come out of this better than ever. Pre-pandemic we heard so many complaints about NYC being so expensive. So glossy. Lost it’s grit. Maybe this is what will rebalance the city.”
“I'm here for good and bad times,” says Es Hanscom. “Twenty-one years and counting. There is no other place I'd rather be.”
“I am here for the long haul,” agrees photographer Ilona Lieberman. “It's in my family's blood since the late 1880s.”
"I’m on the fence," says Dalvin Brown. "I’m totally split on letting go of my place in the city for good. I love my apartment in Hell's Kitchen – I’ve made it my home. But it’s also hard to justify paying for a space in New York right now. The reopening attempt is giving me some sign of hope though."
Stephanie Jill thought she’d never leave. “I’ve lived in Hell’s Kitchen for over 15 years and am very proud of it,” she says. “I met my husband, who was in town for work, here, and told him very clearly, ‘I’m never leaving NYC.’
“Even when I moved out from roommate life, I told my husband, 'I’ll only live in Hell’s Kitchen.' We moved 10 blocks up the street.
“He’s an airline pilot and, while I spent most of my time in NY, I’ve spent the summers with him abroad. Last September was the first time I arrived back to NY and was sick of the dirt, garbage, homeless, weirdos, and paying over $4,000 for a shoe box apartment. It was getting out of control. And this was before COVID.
“Since Corona hit, we’ve been staying at my parents’ house in Rockland County, NY, until we know more about the fate of the entertainment and airline industry, both the fields we work in. I’m sad to say, but I’ve been happier living out of the city. It makes me disappointed, because what I loved so much about NYC life no longer exists.”
“I moved to NYC 30 years ago,” says Kelly Barndt. “The AIDS epidemic was still looming and we were mourning the violence against Abner Louima.”
She’s leaving – with a lifetime of great memories. “In 30 years, the city has experienced so many changes, and so have I. But in many ways it feels like we’ve cycled back. There’s so much tension that I now realize was missing for a few years. Maybe a rebuild is what is needed.”
Erika Searl has weighed up the pros and the cons and, after 15 years, is preparing to go. “The main con is the safety issue,” she says. “There are way too many sketchy people all around my apartment now. The plan is to come back if/when my company reopens in NYC next year, but in the meantime I am gardening and enjoying country life in another state – and saving tons of money on rent."
“After 22 years in this apartment and eight years of being the ‘queen of sublets’, I am seriously thinking of taking early retirement, and once we are allowed to, move overseas,” says Pamela Dayton.
“It’s a safety and quality of life issue at this point. Heartbreaking, but it’s the reality.”
Comedian Vicky Kuperman is looking for a place outside of the city, either to rent out and escape to, or flat out move. “It’s a safety and quality of life issue at this point,” she says. “Heartbreaking, but it’s the reality.”
“The pandemic has diminished my work by over 50% and that possibly won't bounce back until sometime in 2021 at the earliest,” says Nicolas Fenrir Tengri. “I’m middle aged and I’ve been here most of my life, always considered myself a devout New Yorker, but sadly my rent and bills still increase and, due to the pandemic, there's less and less work. I never in my life thought I’d have to leave this city. I have one more year on my lease, but if everything is like it is today in one year, I will have to pack up and go where the work is.”
"If we move out, I will be the first in three generations to leave before retirement."
Sean-Patrick Merron Hillman is a third generation New Yorker. “My wife and I are considering moving out of the city. If we move out, I will be the first in three generations to leave before retirement. The reality is that this Mayor and City Council have undone all of the hard work my fellow native New Yorkers have put in for the last 25 years.
“I was born and raised during the single most violent time in New York’s history. From the 70s until the mid-90s, this city was a wasteland. It was fun, but often lawless. My wife is from Australia, and I’ve tried to impart how dangerous this city can be at its worst. However, now that I have started worrying when she just goes out to walk the dog, I am considering the move.
“Yeah,” he says, “it feels like it’s time to leave. I just hate worrying about my wife’s safety if I’m not home.”