Waiting for the Boom to End

By Sheridan, Barrett | Newsweek International, May 26, 2008 | Go to article overview

Waiting for the Boom to End


Sheridan, Barrett, Newsweek International


Byline: Barrett Sheridan

The average rental price is up 5 percent--down from the usual 10 or 15 percent, but still a long way from a crash.

New York City, with its plethora of investment bankers and consultants, is a city of numbers. Here are a few to consider: The average price of a Manhattan apartment in 2008: $1.7 million. Dinner for four at a top New York restaurant: at least $500. The chance that the financial crisis will send rents and prices plummeting? Priceless.

Well, maybe not priceless--even schadenfreude has its limits. But there's no doubt that for many New Yorkers, particularly those who don't work for Goldman Sachs or Lehman Brothers, the credit crunch has its proverbial silver lining. Manhattan, after all, is a borough where the average rent for a one-bedroom apartment is $2,600 a month, and many of the borough's 1.6 million residents pay much, much more than that. It would take a person with a Gandhian sense of empathy--or a broker's license--to wish for a swift return to the frothy real-estate market of last year. Instead, much of the city is hoping for a crash--or at least a minor dust-up--that will send rents and other prices tumbling back to reasonable levels.

The creative classes, in particular, feel it's time to reclaim a slice of the city. These are the actors, artists, writers and designers who in recent years have been priced out of neighborhoods they once considered their birthright. That includes the Lower East Side, once a grungy community, a kind of East Coast Haight-Ashbury, which last year received its first luxury high-rise: the Ludlow, replete with doorman, sun deck, valet and one-bedroom apartments that go for about $4,000 a month. The absurd prices have sparked fears of a creative exodus. "It's getting incredibly competitive," says Richard Florida, author of "The Flight of the Creative Class" and director of the Martin Prosperity Institute, an economic think-tank. "It really worries me. But as [writer and urbanist] Jane Jacobs said, if a place gets boring, even the rich people leave. As places lose that energy, they're likely not to be able to sustain themselves."

Many, then, see in the housing crisis potential salvation. The gossip Web site Gawker.com, which gives voice to the occasionally acidic irony of the "creative underclass," is one of the many sites where unguarded optimism is on display. As one recent blog post put it, "We're just hoping that with recent Wall Street busts and freakouts, things may soon be swinging in the other direction; that is, in the favor of the middlish-creative classes. Pride always cometh before the fall!" The fall in this case, of course, refers to the fate of the financiers as well as optimistic expectations for monthly rental rates.

But why the optimism? …

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