New Yorkers in crisis over soaring rents

This is how Shea Long, a software developer, found himself able to live without roommates at the age of 30. He moved into a one-bedroom apartment in midtown Manhattan early last year and paid rent of $2,150 a month. He knew he was getting a deal as part of a massive landlord move to reduced rents amid the pandemic, to keep tenants in place while many others fled the city at its peak of Covid-19.

Then, in April 2022, when he logged into the online payment portal as usual to submit rent, a message appeared: from June he will pay $3,650 (£2,912).

His new rent price is a reality he doesn’t want to swallow, of course – but Long thinks he may have no choice but to stay, once he factors in all moving expenses, a new security deposit, first month’s rent and more. He also wants to avoid the intense anxiety of trying to find a new place that’s even available because inventory is the lowest it’s been in New York since the 2008 financial crisis. “It’s not really worth going through all the stress” if all those fees are barely cheaper than his 60% rent increase, he says. “Right now, I’m considering getting a roommate again, because it’s just eating away at my 401(k) retirement savings.”

Long’s conundrum is one that many New Yorkers face because moving to a cheaper apartment is no longer as simple as browsing real estate listings. Renters often find themselves financially and logistically unable to leave their apartment if they want to stay in town, placing them in unavoidable positions that squeeze them beyond their means.

This was also the case for 29-year-old account manager Andy Ward, who moved into a studio in Brooklyn last year and was paying $2,100 a month, with one month free, as an incentive for the pandemic. But in April 2022, when Ward received an automated email asking him to sign his lease renewal contract online, he was greeted with the news that he now had to pay an extra $400 every month.

Sam Chandan, professor of finance at New York University in New York and director of its Center for Real Estate Finance Research, says tenants feeling the most pressure are those occupying “workforce housing.” work,” or “affordable and achievable rents for the teacher, the firefighter, the policeman.” So not only can they not stay in their current apartment, but they could be moved out of town altogether. And although the Big city life has always favored the wealthy, some fear that this crisis will force out working class tenants, potentially meaning that only a certain privileged class of people will be able to live in big cities.

“They don’t move at all”

These rent spikes are unlike any other city like New York, experts say. “The pace of rent increases has really outpaced anything we’ve seen in recent memory,” Chandan says. “In many cases, rents have increased faster than the median family income.”

What is mainly driving this increase is that more and more people have flocked to cities in droves around the world, Chandan explains; for example, more people are moving to New York now than before the pandemic. According to the local government, the reopening of office buildings and schools has played a big role in relocating people to New York, as has the arts and entertainment scene, like Broadway, which has rebounded.

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