The "full" L train shutdown may no longer be happening, based on what Governor Andrew Cuomo said during his surprise announcement on Thursday, but another burdensome and increasingly unavoidable fact of city life is back coming to Williamsburg: rent hikes.
Over the last year, the trendy North Brooklyn neighborhood, which would arguably have been most affected by what would have been a 15-month disruption in subway service, has experienced declining rental demand and increasing vacancies amid greater competition. Williamsburg, which has a glut of new luxury rental developments, was the only neighborhood in the city that saw a decline in rental demand in October, down 1 percent since last year, according to the listings and data firm Streeteasy. Monthly median rent in the neighborhood was $3,000, unchanged from the prior year.
Unlike the condo market, where buyers typically make decisions based on a longer horizon, the rental market has taken the biggest hit from the anticipated L closure, said Jonathan Miller, a real estate appraiser.
So with the potential end of one nightmare comes another for Williamsburg renters: real estate experts expect landlords who had been forced to reduce rents and offer huge concessions to try to make up for lost income.
“I think it’s relatively certain that we are going to see a turnaround in rents,” said Grant Long, an economist at Streeteasy. He added: “Any renter who signed a lease last week has to be feeling very good about himself right now.”
On Twitter, some of those who took advantage of the L train panic to ink favorable lease deals or renewals were patting themselves on the back.
We’ve been at the Lorimer stop for 5 years and managed to negotiate no increase in our rent for this year—effectively giving us a two year lease at a fixed price.
— Mike Campbell (@mikecampbell85) January 3, 2019
Rebecca Woodward, a 36-year-old media strategist, said she moved just last weekend to a rental building on Lorimer Street after signing a one-year lease on a three-bedroom apartment. The unit, which she shares with a roommate, costs $2,600 a month. It wound up being $300 less than initially advertised, she said. Moreover, in addition to paying the broker’s fee, the landlord gave her one month of free rent.
Woodward, who mostly works from home but does commute into Manhattan, said the news about the L train was a “mixed bag.”
Come next year when her lease is up, she expects to have to pay more.
For those looking to score a good rent deal now in the neighborhood, it might already be too late. Long said that while Williamsburg landlords, facing a competitive rental market, may continue to offer concessions, he expected to see higher rents as early as next week.
Joseph Lore, a longtime property owner in Williamsburg who said he had lowered rents to attract new tenants, seemed hesitant to test demand too early. “I’m going to wait and make sure,” he said, when asked if he would move to raise rents.
Yesterday, videographer Jenn Hsu went to Williamburg to gauge reactions as Cuomo's news broke:
While much has been made of the concerns over the L train woes and falling rents in Williamsburg, the neighborhood has over the last two decades undergone a development boom and rapid gentrification that has forced out lower-income residents.
According to a report from the NYU Furman Center, Williamsburg saw a 78.7% jump in average rents between 1990 and 2014.
Some Twitter users criticized the media’s focus on the neighborhood’s affluent newcomers.
There's a lot of inherent privilege here. I'm not saying it isn't an important question to be asking, but most rent drops I've heard of involve white people getting a month's free rent and a waived brokerage fee for units along the waterfront.
— Caroline O'Connor (@Curly_Casino) January 3, 2019
And as questions continue to swirl around the new plan's feasibility, at least one North Brooklyn resident questioned the decision to reverse a shutdown that had already taken up months of preparation from transit officials and which people had already trained themselves to expect.
As someone who lives on the Greenpoint/Williamsburg border, I dread the L Train shutdown. As someone who doesn't want to die in a deluge underneath the East River, I'm thinking maybe we prioritize safety.
— Big Al (@alancholesterol) January 3, 2019
The author of the tweet, Alan Yaspan, a 33-year-old digital communications professional who rents in a building on the border of Greenpoint and Williamsburg, said he initially felt relief at having avoided what would have been a huge inconvenience.
But he added: "I'm also very skeptical of Cuomo and how he's treated transit."