Movin’ On Up: Is It Really Cheaper To Move to Manhattan?

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We’ve known for a while now that the gap between Manhattan and Brooklyn rents has been closing, as prices across the bridge level off or dip slightly, while housing costs in North/Northwest Brooklyn (not necessarily the borough at large) continue to climb. We’ve even heard stories here and there of businesses moving back into Manhattan for cheaper storefront space, but now two separate trend pieces (sort of) confirm it: people are fleeing Brooklyn for the relatively cheap safe haven of Manhattan! Some of them, anyway.

Over the weekend, the New York Times chronicled the plight (we use the term loosely) of young people forced by the real estate market to move to the Upper East Side but disappointed by its lack of coolness as compared to the Lower East Side or Brooklyn, (“I have friends in the East Village who will not come up here”), and yesterday, the Daily News ran a similar piece claiming that, “With rents soaring in the ‘it borough,’ a growing number of Brooklyn tenants are throwing up their hands and turning back – to Manhattan.” One broker told the paper, “Tenants are beginning to consider Manhattan – of all places – for improved affordability,” and another added, “Brooklyn is getting hotter and there is a lot less inventory. I just had clients who started in Williamsburg and Brooklyn Heights. They moved to the Upper East Side.”

Crazy, to be sure—things have come along way in the past decade or two—but the key thing to note here is that last bit, the actual neighborhoods in question. Williamsburg, Brooklyn Heights, and Park Slope, the most in-demand and wildly expensive neighborhoods in the entire borough , versus the Upper East and West sides, which have lost a good deal of cultural cache over the last twenty years, but are still wildly expensive. This may be a trend, but it is only a trend for the wealthy, i.e. people who rightly think $2,700/month is too much for a cramped studio in Williamsburg, but  can still dole out $2,000 a month to live by themselves uptown. In other words, people who most likely didn’t try their hand at apartment hunting in Bed-Stuy, Bay Ridge, or Queens before heading back over the bridge.

By and large, Manhattan rentals are still far less affordable than those in Brooklyn, and as MNS CEO Andrew Barrocas points out in the Daily News, “even the most expensive buildings in Brooklyn’s most desirable neighborhoods charge rents that are 30 percent to 35 percent lower than those in Manhattan’s best buildings.” It’s just that there may, in fact, be an actual ceiling on how much people will pay for what one defector called “the cachet of the ‘B word'” (yeesh). Plus, most Brooklyn neighborhoods just have much less housing stock than more established, built-up areas like the Upper East Side (hence, the ongoing flood of new apartment buildings we’ve been getting). It’s an interesting development, but then, the people forced to choose between DUMBO and the Upper West Side aren’t the ones I’m really worried about in the 2014 housing market. It’s the people without any choices at all.

Follow Virginia K. Smith on Twitter @vksmith.

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  1. “People forced to choose between DUMBO and the Upper West Side aren’t the ones I’m really worried about in the 2014 housing market. It’s the people without any choices at all.”

    Yes! I remember when $800-1000 was a reasonable price for a 1 bedroom in Brooklyn. When I was growing up, sometimes you could even find cheaper in places like Bay Ridge. But now? I can’t afford to even rent a room – and I’m not looking at Williamsburg, DUMBO, or the other “hip” neighborhoods. It’s a tragedy that native Brooklynites are being priced out, but I guess that’s the way it goes.