You didn’t need to have your finger on the millennial pulse to know what the next generation was up to in early March: they were emptying out of New York City en masse into the suburbs of the tristate area. In the first three months of the pandemic, nearly 10,000 people changed their mailing address from New York to Connecticut – an eight-fold increase from 2019. As Manhattan and parts of Brooklyn began emptying out, an onslaught of doomsday media coverage began, delivering different iterations of the same fatal diagnosis: New York City is dead and gone. Young people have left and they’re never coming back. Now that we are approaching the six-month mark of the pandemic, is this true?
With any millennial behavioral trend – and especially this one – there are actually two millennial pulses to take. Millennials range in age from 23 to 39 years old, placing them in varying stages of life. For many 30-somethings, leaving Manhattan for Connecticut is a well-established trend. Pre-pandemic, 33-year-old Jessica Paris and her husband signed a 15-month lease in the Harbor Point development in downtown Stamford.
“I’m married, we’re going to try to have kids soon, and I have no desire to commit to a house. So, what if we move to Stamford?” she said.
Ted Ferrarone and Mike Handler, co-presidents at Building and Land Technology, the real estate firm behind Harbor Point, have built thousands of apartments over the past 10 years that have cultivated a younger, more vibrant community in Fairfield County.
“We’ve always had a decent amount of outmigration from New York City to Stamford,” Ferrarone notes, “but we’re seeing about double that rate today.” However, while the pandemic has accelerated the transition into suburban adulthood for 30-somethings, many 20-somethings headed north for a very different reason: they were moving back in with their parents.
Naomi Sabbah, 25, left her Manhattan apartment back in March for her childhood home in Stamford.
“Your place in New York isn’t just your apartment; it’s your favorite bar, restaurant, or clothing store, and if those places aren’t open, you’ve just lost three-fourths of your place.” Many millennials assumed the move home would be short-lived; Sabbah recalls that although she was home for nearly five months, she never unpacked her suitcase. As Handler predicts, “This is going to be a marathon – not a sprint.” He doesn’t think there will be a rush back into the city as fast as the rush out: “There is an evolution to a crisis.”
This presents an opportunity for Connecticut; if its smaller cities can offer a sense of normalcy faster than New York City can, more people may come. In Connecticut – if you don your mask and your sense of spatial awareness – you could already be back in your office part-time, your gym, or your favorite restaurant. Conversely, it is largely unknown when New Yorkers will be back in a routine that feels familiar. Additionally, you pay a premium to live in the Big Apple. But as the impacts of the pandemic drag on, New Yorkers will likely wonder: What is that premium for?
While conditions in New York City have deteriorated quickly, the long term prognosis remains unknown. Despite all that has happened, it still retains its enduring appeal to some. Would Sabbah consider a permanent move to Connecticut anytime soon?
“Never,” she said. “You would have to drag me feet first out of the city.”
Others feel differently – When Paris’s lease at Harbor Point expired in February, she and her husband moved back to New York City, to enjoy the freedoms of the city for a little while longer and to be closer to their Manhattan offices. A month later, they were both working from home for the foreseeable future.
“If our lease was just two months longer we would have been quarantined in Connecticut, so it’s very unfortunate,” she said.
Wherever they live, all millennials are taking stock of their surroundings. Even if they aren’t currently planning to relocate, their long-term priorities have been recalibrated. As time goes on, those who relocated to Connecticut temporarily will have to ask themselves why they preferred a house, not an apartment, and walking around a quiet neighborhood, not a city street, when the pandemic was at its worst.
A decision made in the hour of need is always indicative of something larger. Even if they’re not yet ready to confront the answer, millennials will still have to ask themselves: When the going got tough, where did you want to go?
Jessica Freedman of Stamford is a Bill Cibes Journalism intern for the Connecticut Mirror.