Residents, businesses leaving New York City as pandemic takes economic toll

Northeast

NEW YORK (NewsNation Now) — New York City, once the U.S. epicenter of the coronavirus pandemic, has gone from cautionary tale to success story, experts say, fighting a horrible battle and flattening the curve.

It’s a victory that comes with an enormous caveat. 

While the infection rate has improved, the economic toll has been devastating, with many observers now questioning whether the city will ever recover.

It’s an argument bolstered by the near-constant sight of moving trucks on the Upper West Side. Statistics compiled by United Van Lines during the first few months of the pandemic show the number of people leaving New York nearly doubled over the same period in 2019.

People are fleeing for the suburbs—or places farther afield—and in typical New York fashion, aren’t bashful about telling you why.

“I was walking down Broadway,” Monica Rosenberg tells NewsNation. “I was attacked by a homeless person. I was spit at, coughed on. I’ve had enough!”

Residents of this upscale neighborhood have been documenting its decline on social media ever since the city decided to use dozens of hotels around the city to house thousands of adults experiencing homelessness. The idea was to allow room to maintain proper social distance while clearing out the subways, which essential employees were using to get to work. At the time of Monica’s encounter, three of the hotels under contract with the city were within blocks of each other in her neighborhood. 

Many of her neighbors are already packing up, and with them, several neighboring businesses. The Guardian Angels are patrolling the streets of New York in a way locals haven’t seen since the 1980’s.

Making his rounds, Guardian Angel Milton Oliver notes the tough decisions the DeBlasio administration has been forced to make in an unprecedented time, but says he’s seen this play out before. 

“People won’t stand for it,” he says as his gaze falls on a shirtless man drinking on the Broadway median. “And that’s what’s gonna happen. If they keep destroying the stores and businesses, there won’t be a place to go buy milk and break for our kids anymore. It has to stop. It has to end.”

But some fear it’s only beginning.

Ex-NYDP detective Bo Dietl walks the streets like the mayor of Midtown, warmly greeting passing cops- asking how they’re doing, how much time they’ve got before they can collect their pensions. He’s worried about them. He’s worried about New York.

“There’s guns all around us right now,” he says. “We might be able to walk up to somebody right now who has a gun on them.”

 Bo’s fervent belief is that neither state nor city politicians are offering enough support to law enforcement. The result, he says, is police more reluctant than he’s ever seen them to do their jobs. 

“Back in the ’70’s and ’80’s, at least the cops could do something,” he says. “Now the cops don’t wanna do nothing, ‘cause they’re afraid of losing their job.”

New York business leaders seem to agree. More than 150 of them recently wrote a letter to mayor Bill DeBlasio, warning he must do more to address crime and quality of life issues, or risk more businesses moving out.

Commercial and residential vacancy rates are already skyrocketing in Manhattan, the latter to a 14-year high.

“I don’t want to see anyone suffer,” DeBlasio stressed during a recent City Hall briefing. “We have been fighting to bring this city back!”

Even religious institutions are struggling. Iconic St. Patrick’s Cathedral reports the drop in tourist traffic resulting from the pandemic has blown a $4-million hole in its annual budget.

Charities are fighting to keep up with the need. The city recently estimated that 2-million of its residents are dealing with some level of food insecurity. 

Early in the pandemic, New York’s largest poverty-fighting organization, the Robin Hood Foundation, activated its emergency relief fund for just the third time in its history.

“The first time was on 9/11,” says Chief Operating Officer Derek Ferguson. “Then Hurricane Sandy, and now COVID-19. And that meant that we called upon all of our best partners, relationships, donors, corporations and said, ‘Look- we need to act quickly.’”

That they did. They’ve been running at full speed ever since. But the need does not subside, it grows— and it’s growing everywhere. Imagine a $1.8-billion industry stopped dead. That’s Broadway.

Broadway closed quickly, realizing there was no other choice, first through the summer, then through the year. And then?

Eric Falkenstein is a veteran producer whose credits include ‘Jitney’ and ‘Bridge and Tunnel.’ He’s bright, compassionate, and deeply aware of how serious this is.

“You can’t count up a number of days in the last century that Broadway’s been shut down by something like a hurricane, or a war, or anything else,” he says, “that add up to what we’ve lost already.”

Imagine you trained your entire life as a performer, from the age of about 5, to land your big break in New York City, on Broadway, only to be abruptly told one day not to come to work. That’s Tamar Greene, the bright-eyed and charming tenor who plays George Washington in ‘Hamilton.’

“And you’re left with, like, nothing,” Greene says, standing outside the Richard Rogers Theater. ”Everything stopped. All your income stopped, all your passion stopped, and you’re like, ‘I’m literally just existing. No income, no nothing. Everything I’ve worked so hard for all these years, and it’s all gone.”

Tamar knows it will be back, although there are those who question that. 

An op-ed entitled “New York City is Dead Forever” met with a quick rebuttal penned by comedian Jerry Senfield, predicting a phoenix-like rise. 

It’s easy to get discouraged. Most glum of all should be the New York realtor. Manhattan property sales fell 56% in July. 15-thousand apartments sat vacant in August. Yet realtors remain among the most bullish about the city’s future. 

Robert Pini of Compass explains it this way: 

“The thing New York has is– everything. It has a diversity of people and it has a diversity of business. Fashion, real estate, any business, it’s all here. I always say, if you’re going to bet against New York, you’re always going to lose.”

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