In the year since New York became the global epicenter of the COVID-19 crisis, there’s been no shortage of predictions about the impending death of the city, hand-wringing about the new urban obsolescence, and rumors of residents fleeing for idyllic suburban life. But while census figures have shown the city’s population is shrinking — it was before the pandemic, too — there’s been little concrete data about which New Yorkers are leaving, and where they’re going.
A new study from the commercial real estate firm CBRE seeks to fill in some of those gaps. The analysis of 29 million address changes across the country found that New York City saw the largest increase in net move-outs last year, behind only San Francisco.
The outflow of population across the five boroughs was heavily concentrated in Manhattan’s core. Among the ten zip codes with the highest rates of move-outs last year compared to 2019, all but one was in Manhattan (the exception was Long Island City). They included swaths of Hell’s Kitchen, Midtown, both the Upper West Side and Upper East Side, Murray Hill, Kips Bay, SoHo, Chelsea and the Financial District.
The four zip codes that make up Manhattan between 42nd Street and 59th Street — 10036, 10019, 10022, and 10017 — lost more than 12,000 residents last year, up from less than 3,000 in 2019, according to figures provided by the firm. (The mapped data, which is based on permanent address changes made with the U.S. Postal Service Office, looked at the change in net moves between 2019 and 2020, normalized for an area’s total population.)
Some Brooklyn zip codes, including those that cover Greenpoint, Dumbo, and Crown Heights, also saw significant departures. The migration was more pronounced in gentrified neighborhoods, where a new crop of young professionals could afford to easily uproot during the pandemic, according to Eric Willett, the CBRE director of research, who oversaw the study.
“The real substantial change was that a small subset of the population — young, affluent, childless urban dwellers — moved dramatically more,” Willett told Gothamist. “About 33 percent of them moved in 2019. That increased by 10 percent in 2020. That’s the real driver of these migration patterns.”
The findings also reflect recent real estate trends, which have seen a sharp drop in Manhattan rent prices, with more modest declines in areas of Brooklyn and Queens, and little change inside many low-income neighborhoods.
Many of those who left did not go far. Of the Manhattan residents who recorded moves in 2020, 41% stayed in the borough — compared to just under half in 2019. The number of residents who moved to Westchester increased from 4,000 in 2019 to more than 7,000 last year. The three most common destinations for those who left the tri-state area were Los Angeles, Miami, and Palm Beach.
The analysis found that address changes reached their peak in the third quarter of last year, slowing only marginally at the end of the year — suggesting the moves were not spur-of-the-moment decisions in the early days of lockdown.
That’s because millennials are now aging into the “traditional family formation,” Willett noted, meaning that some New Yorkers likely accelerated moves to the suburbs that they would have made anyway in the coming years.
As more New Yorkers get vaccinated and life slowly begins to return to normal, it remains uncertain how many of those who left will return.
In an interview on WNYC this week, Joe Salvo, the city’s recently retired chief demographer, said he had little doubt about the city’s ability to bounce back, despite the continued population loss. He has said the larger threat wasn’t young professionals leaving, but that the city stops being a magnet for immigration populations — an outcome that remains unlikely, even as many well-off residents take to the suburbs.
“Everything happens in cycles. We’re now in a bit of a down cycle,” Salvo said. “The city will come back again. I’m optimistic that’s going to happen.”