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Rebuilding In Lower Manhattan: The Changing Profile Of NYC's Lower East Side

NEW YORK, Oct. 18, 2013 /PRNewswire/ -- Over the past fifteen years, our economy has been in constant flux:  9/11 and the aftermath, a stock market boom and subsequent crash, the recession followed by a slow but steady recovery.  Although amidst the unsteady market, Manhattan real estate has been a stronghold.  Foreign buyers and the wealthy continue to invest in Manhattan property, driving the average price per square foot up 76.2% in the past ten years.  As a result, middle-class and low-income families are finding it harder than ever to afford living in Manhattan due to staggering rent prices and record-low vacancies. 

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Lower Manhattan's growth over the last 10 years

Right now, Lower Manhattan is experiencing a new popularity beyond the iconic Wall Street and Financial District.  The most recent real estate data shows that new residential developments in Downtown Manhattan are garnering the highest prices in NYC, with an 81% increase in price in just one year.  Young families and lifelong Uptowners are now flocking to the TriBeCa and Battery Park City neighborhoods as developers are seizing the last few remaining plots of land in Manhattan to build extremely expensive luxury condominiums and apartment buildings.  Many businesses have moved their offices downtown, including publisher Conde Nast who signed a 25-year lease to become 1 World Trade Center's anchor tenant.  As more foreign investors purchase land uptown and in midtown while real estate prices continue to rise, the middle and lower-class residents of New York are pushed to the outer boroughs. 

The Lower East Side:  a new revitalization

The Lower East Side has been called one of the last true communities and neighborhoods left in Manhattan, but it has recently undergone a lot of changes.  Similarly to the rest of Lower Manhattan, the LES is becoming a haven for young families and wealthier residents.  In 2006, the old Jewish Daily Forward building was renovated and converted into condominiums –obtaining prices over $1 million each, previously unheard of in the neighborhood. This led to other luxury condos going up along Delancey Street and now the Bowery.  Real Estate firm MNS cited the LES as the neighborhood with the largest upswing in sales prices and one of the three neighborhoods that drove overall real estate growth in Manhattan.  These statistics are in stark contrast to the LES's identity as a low-income neighborhood, where it's not uncommon for families to have lived here for 3 generations or longer.  Unlike TriBeca or Battery Park City, nearly half of apartment rentals on the Lower East Side are rent-regulated.  In fact, New York City's first housing development project was established on the Lower East Side.  Adam Davidson for The New York Times describes "the Lower East Side make[s] up one of the most economically integrated parts of the city.  It is one of the last places where the fairly rich and the very poor live on the same blocks and shop in the same bodegas."  This distinction was seen most clearly in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy when LES residents were left without any necessities or supplies, many with nowhere else to go. 

Unlike the rest of Lower Manhattan, the LES is missing some key necessities of a flourishing community:  public schools, public spaces, a movie theatre and a full-sized supermarket.  The neighborhood's only full grocery store closed just after Hurricane Sandy due to the building being sold to a condominium developer.  Local politicians have worked relentlessly with the building's developer to ensure that a new grocery store will fill the empty retail space.  This is essential as grocery delivery services, like FreshDirect, do not deliver to the entire Lower East Side neighborhood and there are only more residents moving in. 

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