Cash-strapped New Yorkers are doing the unthinkable: Moving to Jersey City – DIGIWIZ CENTRAL

Cash-strapped New Yorkers are doing the unthinkable: Moving to Jersey City

A Staten Island Ferry sails past the skyline of Jersey City, New Jersey, and the Statue of Liberty as the sun sets on August 19, 2023, in New York City.

Gary Hershorn/Getty Images

New Yorkers fed up with a tough housing market are making the pilgrimage to Jersey City.While Jersey used to be a New York taboo, it’s now booming — and even cool.New York City housing is becoming more elusive and expensive, and Jersey City is an attractive option.

Chelsea Vaughn was getting desperate.

She needed to move out of her Brooklyn apartment ASAP and was scouring the Internet for a new spot. Little did she know the answer to her housing conundrum wasn’t in Brooklyn, Manhattan, or even Queens — the key to the puzzle was in Jersey City.

Vaughn, a 31-year-old model, content creator, and podcaster, had bounced between cheap rooms in Brooklyn and Harlem for eight years, living the walk-up, pre-war building, no-laundry lifestyle.

But those apartments are getting pricier and harder to find. Her old landlord rented her Bushwick spot for over $1,000 more than she paid, she said.

“Anytime you’re looking for real estate or an apartment in New York, you’re never going to get everything you want,” she told Insider. But this time around, “I just wasn’t willing to compromise. I just feel like I am in a new stage in my life. I’m moving in with my boyfriend. I’m in my thirties.”

Chelsea Vaughn in New York.

Courtesy of Chelsea Vaughn

A fellow influencer had been urging her to take the trip across the river, extolling the virtues of Jersey City and telling her to give it a chance. When Vaughn got off the PATH train at Grove Street, she was “shocked.” The tree-lined streets and brownstones drew her in — and the new apartment with a washer and dryer, dishwasher, and two pools in the building was the cherry on top.

“We fell in love and now we’re here,” she said.

Vaughn isn’t alone. For years, New Yorkers have been discovering that, just across the river, the culturally maligned New Jersey might actually be a better option for them. Part of that is by design, Steven Fulop, the mayor of Jersey City, told Insider.

“When I came into office, we had a clear agenda, and then we also not only executed on that, but we actually spent money and time in marketing the city outside of just Jersey City,” Fulop said. That agenda included shaking up housing policy and investing in public spaces, arts, and nightlife.

“Some of it was very, very deliberate, and some of it was fortunate timing with regards to New York City not executing on those things,” he said. “I think any success story in life is a blend of execution and luck, but this is a good one.”

As NYC only gets pricier, Jersey City has become a more attractive option for those looking for bigger spaces and easy commutes. But the boom has been a double-edged sword. The last 10 years in Jersey City have marked a “renaissance really like no other,” Fulop said. At the same time, the influx of new developments has contributed to rising rents and displacement of lower- and middle-income residents, especially in a city with diverse working-class neighborhoods.

According to real estate rental platform Zumper, Jersey City ranks second in the nation for rent, trailing just NYC. But by certain measures the market there is even hotter than its Big Apple counterpart.

The median monthly rent for a one-bedroom in Jersey City was $3,280 a month in August, a more than 15% increase from January. NYC saw a 8% rise over the same period. The difference is even starker for two-bedroom units: a 22% increase for Jersey City, compared to 8% for NYC. A June report from the National Low Income Housing Association had similar findings, declaring Jersey City the state’s least affordable metro area for renting a two-bedroom apartment.

What’s clear, though, is that New York’s continued housing crisis has meant that more and more New Yorkers are doing something once met with cringes on the island: Voluntarily moving to Jersey.

It’s a far cry from past sentiment around the state, which was once so negative that online activists felt compelled to create a campaign rallying around the idea that Jersey does not, in fact, stink.

Warming to Jersey City

For Alexa Lacayo, the transition was harder. She cried at her first Jersey City apartment viewing.

“I worked my butt off for so long,” she said. “I come from immigrant parents who would’ve never imagined their daughter living in New York. So it just almost felt like my biggest dream was being taken away from me.”

The 26-year-old marketing manager moved from Florida to New York’s Financial District in 2021 — living there for a year before she and her boyfriend started thinking about moving in together. The options in Manhattan, however, were lackluster, and her boyfriend suggested looking into Jersey City and Hoboken.

In a last-ditch attempt to stay in Manhattan, they toured a “decent” apartment in Murray Hill. However, they met a resident in the elevator who told them to look up the building’s Yelp and Google reviews. The internet quickly revealed a mouse infestation.

The episode made Lacayo reconsider Jersey City. She liked the space and the views of the skyline. She’d been able to host dinner parties, something she loved to do but wasn’t able to back in Manhattan.

She says “it’s been lovely” to be in Jersey City, and that she and her boyfriend are most likely going to renew their lease.

“I had my one-year Manhattan adventure, and I think that’s all I’m probably going to get,” she said, adding: “I still get a little upset that it just isn’t fair that, in order to live in a city where there’s so many people, most people work two, three jobs to just get by.”

That’s not to say that Jersey City is much cheaper, but there are more options: Along the Hudson River waterfront in Jersey City, dozens of luxury high-rises have sprouted up within the last 10 years, some filled with their own coffee shops, heated pools, and rooftop dog runs.

Mayor Fulop said high housing prices are one challenge the city faces. “Even though Jersey City has very strict rent controls, and we’ve done a lot on affordable housing overlay zones and inclusionary zoning, the laws limit what you’re allowed to do from a state standpoint,” Fulop said. “The demand has certainly increased prices.”

Redfin reported that home sale prices in Jersey City rose 13% since last year, putting the median sale price at just under $700,000.

The spike in prices has led to thousands of eviction notices for less affluent residents, an August ordinance that allocated more funding to affordable housing said.

“People who are low income, extremely low income, they’re being completely priced out of the market,” Susannah Byrne, the executive director of the York Street Project, a Jersey City-based social services agency, told Insider.

Jersey City has, in recent years, passed measures like a fee on developers that will help pay for attorneys for people facing eviction and emergency rental assistance, Byrne said — things she said should’ve happened 30 years ago, but is hopeful will have an impact now.

“The impacts of these ordinances, the inclusionary zoning and the developer’s fee and what will come out of that, are yet to be seen. But I do think that they will help going forward,” she said. “Do I think more needs to be done? I do think more needs to be done.”

The city has acknowledged an eviction and affordability crisis. The ordinance from August notes that “numerous residents are homeless, or are at the risk of homelessness.”

But while construction has flatlined in New York despite a frenzy of demand for apartments, Jersey City is on a building spree and reenvisioning what public housing development should look like. On Thursday, Fulop announced a new 8,000 unit building would contain 35% affordable housing. For reference, every borough in NYC except Brooklyn issued fewer than 8,000 residential housing unit permits for the entirety of 2022, as noted on X by economist Joey Politano.

“Holy sh*t – 8K units?! Y’all putting us to shame across the river,” one NYC realtor wrote in a X reply to the news.

‘Once you have it, you can’t go back’

Fulop said that there’s a special character to Jersey City — and that’s part of what’s drawing in and keeping people there, in addition to the burgeoning arts scene and booming developments.

“When people come visit, they could see that and feel it,” he said. “When they become part of the community, they certainly recognize it immediately.”

Zack Chibane, a 32-year-old attorney, felt that. He and his wife moved from Manhattan to Jersey City in 2021. At first, he felt he was constantly defending the decision to hop on the PATH train. Now, he knows at least eight to 10 acquaintances who have taken the Jersey City plunge since he moved. Indeed, Jersey has emerged as a real millennial hotspot: New Jersey ranked third on SmartAsset’s list of states with the greatest net number of millennial movers making over $200,000 a year.

“Every week I have a moment where I’m thinking, thank God we decided to make the leap and move somewhere that we didn’t know a whole lot about,” he said. “Jersey City obviously doesn’t have the same cachet as Brooklyn and some other neighborhoods.”

He and his wife were able to buy a place and were drawn in partly by the availability of housing, diversity, nightlife, and restaurants. An added bonus: They no longer have to pay New York City local taxes. As soon as he updated his address at work from New York to Jersey, “the next paycheck was hundreds of dollars more.”

He loves the separation from work and the variety of restaurants and places to go; while he’s not able to just walk across the street and grab a midnight snack like he could in New York, the other conveniences of Jersey City make up for it.

“I don’t think I would have even considered Jersey had I not been forced to because I couldn’t afford to live even in Brooklyn,” said Vaughn, the influencer. If she were to return to New York, the apartment would have to be the right price, or she’d have to make a lot more money. When it comes to the space and amenities that Jersey City provides, “once you have it, you can’t go back.”

For the Jersey City-curious, both Vaughn and Chibane recommended making the journey across the river. New Yorkers could happen upon what the two of them realized: New Jersey might just be the place to be.

“My advice is to check your preconceived notions about the state of New Jersey and Jersey City specifically at the door, and get on a PATH train and come check it out,” Chibane said.

Read the original article on Business Insider
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