Diocesan News

How to Afford to Stay In NYC? You Need Luck, Pluck, and Flexibility

Buyers often prefer to purchase a two-family home because it allows them to live in one unit and rent the other to a tenant to generate income — a row of two-family homes in Bensonhurst. (Photo: Paula Katinas)

JAMAICA — Beatrice Mills-Henry, a parishioner of St. Clement Pope Church, has watched over the years as some of her neighbors sold their homes and moved out of New York City, with many citing one reason — the high cost of living in the Big Apple.

But Mills-Henry, who has lived in her Jamaica home for 20 years and has resided in the same neighborhood for more than 50 years, said she isn’t going to follow the hordes of New Yorkers pulling up stakes and leaving the Empire State.

“I’m not going anywhere,” she declared. “I like to joke with my friends at church that the only way I’m leaving St. Clement Pope is in a coffin!”

However, there are plenty of fed-up New Yorkers who don’t share Mills-Henry’s sentiments. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, four of the five boroughs lost population during Fiscal Year 2022 (July 1, 2021-June 30, 2022). Only Manhattan gained residents.

Realtors have also noticed the trend. 

“We’re seeing a lot of migration,” said Daniel Akerman, listings specialist for the Queens-Brooklyn Team at Keller Williams real estate agency. 

Where are people migrating to? 

Akerman said while Florida has remained a common destination point for people leaving New York, people are also moving to Georgia, specifically the Atlanta metropolitan area, and more migration to Texas.

Father Robert Adamo, pastor of St. Ephrem’s, said the outward migration is nothing new. 

“I’ve seen it over the years,” he said. “What’s happening is that children who grew up here and went to school here were marrying and could not afford to remain here to raise their children. It was so expensive to live here. And the people who buy these homes are people who are not Catholic. 

“There have always been new immigrants. That’s the urban experience,” he added.

Still, there are many people determined to stay in New York, even if it means making financial sacrifices. 

Mills-Henry and her husband, for example, haven’t taken a vacation in years other than to see family. 

“But a real vacation, where you go someplace and stay in a hotel? No. I can’t remember the last time we did that,” she said.

And despite the outward migration, there is still a demand for housing, Akerman said. 

“This is where it gets a little complicated because supply and demand are the two sides of the equation. And what we’ve seen is that the supply is tight,” he explained. “There’s not a lot of supply on the market. It’s not a straight-up buyer’s market where there’s a ton of inventory and only a few buyers.”

In the past 90 days, the Keller Williams team has handled the sales of 326 two-family homes in Queens. The median price was $990,000.

Two-family homes are in demand because the second unit can provide income for the owner, Akerman explained.

Those hunting to rent an apartment are finding high prices. According to rentcafe.com, the average rent for a Brooklyn apartment is $3,250 a month. In Queens, the average rent is $2,801.

Father Patrick Longalong, pastor of Our Lady of Lourdes Church in Queens Village, said he recognizes that people are making sacrifices to stay here. 

“It’s not just about the rent that they have to be mindful of,” he said. “They also have to be mindful of putting food on the table, paying insurance, paying for whatever it is that they need to be able to survive to be able to live in New York.”

The high cost of living has other ramifications, according to Father Longalong.

 “It’s not just that people give up things that we regularly enjoy,” he said, “but sometimes they have to make the hard decision of whether or not to put their kids in Catholic school.”

Apartment hunters who are willing to wait and expand their search can find rewards. There are neighborhoods, such as Gerritsen Beach, for example, where the average rent is $1,777. The most affordable Queens neighborhood is Hollis, where the average rent is $1,551.

There are programs designed to help New Yorkers afford to stay here. According to the New York City Rent Guidelines Board, approximately 1 million New Yorkers live in rent-stabilized apartments. The rents for these units are regulated by the Rent Guidelines Board and are usually below market rate. Rent stabilization was established in 1969. 

The board voted earlier this month to raise rents by 2% to 5% for one-year leases and 4% to 7% for two-year leases. A final vote will take place on June 21. People can search for buildings that contain rent-stabilized units on the Rent Guidelines Board’s website.

There is also rent control, which covers apartments in buildings constructed before 1941 in which the tenant has lived in the unit continuously since 1971. There are only 16,400 apartments that fall under this category, according to the Rent Guidelines Board.

When it comes to buying a home, Akerman advises against sticker shock. 

“People don’t know all of the options they have. And they often think they need a lot more money than they actually need,” he explained, adding that the best thing to do is consult lenders and real estate experts. 

He added that a lot buyers aren’t aware of all their options, including one that may allow people to buy a house with a 3.5% down payment through an FHA loan, if they qualify: “There’s a million different ways that you can structure the purchase of a home to make it affordable.”

Some New Yorkers are able to stay put because of fortunate family circumstances.

Barbara Vellucci, a parishioner at St. Ephrem in Bay Ridge, considers herself lucky. She lives in the house her parents purchased for $30,000 back in 1968, and the mortgage is paid up. “My house was bought and paid for decades ago,” she said. While there is no mortgage, Vellucci pays $8,500 in property taxes.

“I’m going to say I’m here for now,” said Vellucci, who is active in St. Ephrem’s and Bay Ridge civic organizations. “My friends are here. My community activities are here.”