Corona crisis in New York: Escape from the Big Apple

Manhattan is the heart of New York. But now there are many vacant apartments in the district – and not only there. Thousands of residents have fled: from Corona, fear and unemployment.

By Antje Passenheim, ARD-Studio New York

They shape the streetscape of New York: moving trucks. Boxes and furniture are piling up on the streets everywhere. Big Apple packs up: Let’s get out, more and more residents think since Corona has spread in the city.

Susanne Bertram, head of HR and administration at an office in the middle of Manhattan, left the city with her family in March: “We moved away because it became clear to us relatively quickly that not both parents work from home here can.”

At least not in an apartment with three children, a childcare facility and only two bedrooms, says the Dortmund native. The city is also no longer what it used to be. Bertram says: “At the moment there is just not much possible with children in New York.” You couldn’t even visit playgrounds. The worry that you could get infected there is too great.

Escape to Long Island

Exodus from the Big Apple: According to analysis of telephone data, 420,000 New Yorkers left the city between March and May. In the south of Manhattan, five percent of the apartments are vacant, in the richer neighborhoods almost half of all apartments. Many wealthy people have fled from the “Upper East Side” or from “Soho” directly to the “Hamptons” – a region in the east of Long Island.

Many younger people are no longer there either. They moved because they could no longer afford the expensive apartments in Manhattan: students, artists, and restaurant workers who became unemployed overnight.

Alison Bernstein, founder of the housing agency “Urban Jungle Group”, has a lot to do: “Our business is booming!” The agency has recorded an increase in orders of 350 percent compared to the previous year since the beginning of the pandemic.

Bernstein usually helps New Yorkers find the right apartment in the right neighborhood. “Now everyone just wants to get out,” she says and explains: “You live in the city because you want to be in the city. But when everything falls apart – lifestyle, restaurants, parks – it becomes extremely difficult.”

Wave of evictions threatened

Many more New Yorkers could involuntarily leave in the coming weeks. “Corona aid is running out for the unemployed,” says Stijn Van Nieuwerburgh from Columbia University. What is meant is unemployment benefit.

The economist explains: “It was topped up with 600 dollars a week. If it is eliminated, many households will reach their limits.” Van Nieuwerburgh fears that there could be a wave of evictions.

“The rents have already fallen by around seven percent”, analyzes real estate expert Jonathan Miller and sums up: “There are simply fewer tenants here – at least until the crisis is over.” It is questionable whether those who have left will actually come back afterwards.

Mother and administration boss Bertram hardly believes it: “Life is now much easier and New York has become a stranger to many.” But optimists are happy: if prices actually continue to fall, that could attract a lot of new things.

Deutschlandfunk reported on this topic on July 23, 2020 at 6:37 a.m.


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