Article and photos by Lisa Olson
As Hurricane Sandy barreled toward New York City in October 2012, Alex Cohen left his apartment in lower Manhattan for a weekend trip to Atlantic City. Expecting the storm to blow over as Hurricane Irene had the year before, he ignored the mandatory evacuation warnings issued to his neighborhood. Cohen had no idea he would not be able to move back into his apartment for nearly eight weeks.
“It’s a very old building, so you expect it, of course, to be standing, but how bad is the damage, how bad could it be? Are windows broken, is it completely flooded?” he recalled thinking after hearing news of his displacement, noting that those questions were his “top concerns.”
Cohen’s apartment building, a high-rise luxury building at 1 West Street, which shares an adjoining address with 17 Battery Place, an office building, suffered major flooding damage and required months of repairs.
“I was skeptical that something like Sandy could happen again,” he said, but with his “faith in New York City,” Cohen said he believed that “it would be okay” to return.
Despite his ordeal, Cohen, 29, did not abandon his home or his neighborhood in the financial district. After his lease ended, he decided to rent a different apartment within the same building.
In the three years since Hurricane Sandy, rents have increased in the same parts of lower Manhattan that were severely affected by the storm, as has new construction. Although rentals in the financial district declined briefly after Hurricane Sandy, they rose a few months later. Even Cohen’s building, which sustained severe damage, reported high occupancy levels shortly after the storm.
“New rentals jumped” and the “vacancy rate fell” since last year in downtown Manhattan, according to the April 2015 Elliman Report, a monthly survey of Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Queens rentals. The median rental price increased 3.3 percent to $3,609 from $3,495 in April 2014, according to the report.
“Everything is hot downtown right now, and has been since before Sandy,” said Danny Davis, a real estate broker for Town Realty who specializes in lower Manhattan properties, referring to the real-estate market in lower Manhattan.
The market seems unphased by the city’s recent hurricane history.
In preparation for Hurricane Irene, the New York City Office of Emergency Management issued “the first-ever mandatory evacuation of coastal areas on August 26, 2011. The evacuation encompassed 375,000 residents living in evacuation zone A,” according to the agency’s website.
Then, in anticipation of Hurricane Sandy, on October 28, 2012, the city issued the second-ever mandatory evacuation for Battery Park City and part of the West Side waterfront.
Despite having been directly affected by the only two mandatory evacuations ever issued by the city, in two successive years, the financial district continues to attract renters.
Major construction projects like the World Trade Center and Fulton Street Transit Hub have made the area a desirable place to work and live. Manhattan’s Community Board 1, which includes the financial district, described the area in its Summary of 2014 Accomplishments, published on Jan. 26, 2015, as “a community built on resiliency and hard work that continues to rebuild and to develop.” It lists mitigating “quality of life problems related to construction including post-Sandy rebuilding,” as a major accomplishment, noting that “local residents, businesses, city agencies and event promoters,” have made improvements possible.
“Many people that were here during Sandy moved out, because there was quite a bit of vacancy,” Cohen said about his building, But “as things opened up, people filled in, and now there’s demand to live back in the building again. After a few years without a hurricane, people don’t seem to mind what so ever.”
For many residents like Cohen, convenience is a key reason to stay in the financial district. “It’s really all about the money, it’s simply easier for me to make money if I live down here,” he said. Ultimately, said Cohen the idea of another storm battering lower Manhattan was “worth the risk.”