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Families may be moving out, but 'If I were 22 or 23, I’d flock to NYC': professor

Sarah Paynter
Reporter

More New Yorkers are ready to kiss the Big Apple goodbye during the novel coronavirus pandemic, but the city’s allure is already drawing in a new generation to take their place.

The city is going to be hard-hit in the short-term following the novel coronavirus pandemic, but it won’t be the end of the city’s vibrance, according to Richard Florida, professor of economics and urban planning at the University of Toronto, who has studied historical pandemics and their impacts on cities.

"In the short run, we're going to see an acceleration of those family-formation, young-family moves out of cities into the suburbs. So what might have happened over two or three years is going to happen in a month,” said Florida.

New Yorkers are eyeing the suburbs as they shift to work-from-home during the novel coronavirus pandemic. Over 60% said they would move if they could work remotely, compared to just over 50% in Boston, San Francisco and Seattle, according to a new Redfin survey of over 900 employed Americans from May 3-5. 

New York City skyline

People love cities like New York for their public amenities, according to Florida, noting that with museums, parks, playgrounds and restaurants closed, cities are even less attractive.

“I think a lot of people, after being in their small apartments for two months straight, realize that maybe it's not such a great lifestyle, even though New York itself outside your apartment is so great,” he said.

If “you've got a kid or two and another kid on the way. You go, oh my God. I'm going to go to Monmouth County. I'm going to go to the Hamptons. I'm going to go to Hudson, or I might leave,” said Florida, who said he has a friend who is leaving Chelsea for Charlotte, N.C. because “they’ve outgrown their apartment.”

According to apartment search data, there has already been a small increase in New Yorkers looking to move elsewhere. In January and February, 27.9% of New York searchers were looking outside the city for their next rental, compared to 29.4% in March and April, according to an Apartment List analysis.

“Families with kids who were already moving to the suburbs, about ready to move to the suburbs, the kids were getting close to school age, they wanted a yard and a swingset, those folks are gonna leave places like New York City,” said Florida. “When you have kids, that’s typically a move, except for the super affluent, who can afford all sorts of private schools and big apartments.”

But new renters from outside the city will make their way to New York City, as they did after the bubonic plague, the black plague and the Spanish flu, according to Florida.

“In the history of pandemics, young people, ambitious people, people from rural areas who want better jobs, flock to cities,” said Florida. 

The key, says Florida, is depreciating real estate prices. As office, retail, and high-end luxury pied-à-terres lose tenants, there may be more room for middle-class renters.

“Now, we have a chance to arrest that and turn our cities into places creative people, artistic people, the middle class can live in,” said Florida. “Our cities might become affordable enough for artists and creatives and middle class people to move back…  If I were 22 or 23, I’d flock to New York City in a minute. If I’m an artist looking for an affordable studio, I might be able to get one.”

Sarah Paynter is a reporter at Yahoo Finance. Follow her on Twitter @sarahapaynter

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