Washington Heights: Manhattan’s “Last Bastion of Affordability”

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When Gabriela Madera graduated from Fordham University in 2009, she couldn’t wait to leave the Washington Heights family nest for a place of her own in bustling Upper Manhattan that she always called home.

Instead, she listened to her parents’ advice to stay put until she could buy rather than rent. Ms Madera, 33, a research coordinator in a biomedical lab, saw her patience pay off in 2018, when she and her younger sister, Laura, bought a one-bedroom, one-bathroom co-op for 369,000. $ on the west side of Washington Heights.

“The neighborhood is very beautiful,” Ms. Madera said. “There is a lot of greenery. Living in the heights, she added, also means having great access to the metro and a sense of belonging to what is sometimes called the Little Dominican Republic.

With its large Dominican community and Latin-flavored shops, restaurants and outdoor markets – celebrated in the new film adaptation of Lin-Manuel Miranda and Quiara Alegría Hudes’ Broadway show “In the Heights” – Washington Heights allows Ms. Madera , whose parents were born in the Dominican Republic, to “have my Dominican roots”. At the same time, the wide range of restaurants means that it also has “the option of a classic American burger, or Indian cuisine, or Italian”.

In recent years, the neighborhood’s moderate rents and large apartments have broadened its appeal, sparking concern among some residents that gentrification will drive out middle and working-class households and family businesses.

“I see Washington Heights as the last bastion of affordability in Manhattan,” said Katherine Diaz, resident and policy consultant to city council candidate Angela Fernandez ahead of the June primaries.

“Washington Heights has one of the most rent-stabilized apartments in the city, so gentrification” – with its threat of market-rate rents – “is a huge concern,” said Ms. Diaz, who is also the First Vice President of Community Council 12, covering Washington Heights and Inwood to the north. (She pointed out that she was speaking for herself, not for the advice.)

A sign of increased interest in the neighborhood is the Radio Tower and Hotel, a 22-story mixed-use development on 181st Street and Amsterdam Avenue. The project, not yet finished, is conceived as a multicolored series of stacked blocks.

The pandemic, however, has wreaked havoc on the neighborhood housing market. Parts of the neighborhood have been “extremely affected,” said Louis Pulice, an agent for Brown Harris Stevens and a longtime Heights resident. “The apartments were just sitting there.”

At the end of spring, the pendulum seemed to turn back. Many current buyers “come from the neighborhood,” Pulice said. “They rented and now want to buy. “

Others who have sold their apartments are looking to return, he said: “They left for the suburbs and realized that the suburbs were not for them.

This was the case, before the pandemic, for Travis and Barbara Poelle, both aged 43, who moved from Washington Heights in 2015 to the suburbs of Minneapolis, which they found “lacking in diversity” and “lacking in culture. that you have in New York, “said Mr. Poelle, comedian. He and his wife, a literary agent, returned in 2019 with their daughters, now aged 6 and 9. They rent a three-bedroom, one-bathroom, 1,800 square foot apartment for $ 3,200.

As for the changes brought about by the pandemic? They don’t mind, said Poelle: Washington Heights “keeps reinventing itself.”

Although opinions differ, a commonly accepted boundary of Washington Heights stretches from 155th Street in the south to Inwood and Dyckman Street in the north, and from the Hudson River in the west to the Harlem River in the east. The hilly terrain of the region is connected by stairs known as “walking streets”.

Broadway divides the west and the east. The west side “probably has the greatest concentration of co-ops and a few condos,” said Greg Healy, the owner-broker of Sovereign Associates real estate agency.

Join Times theater reporter Michael Paulson in a conversation with Lin-Manuel Miranda, see a performance of Shakespeare in the Park, and more as we explore the signs of hope in a transformed city. For a year, the “Offstage” series followed the theater until it closed. We now take a look at its rebound.

In Hudson Heights, west of Broadway, stately apartment buildings, some with Art Deco elements, create a serene atmosphere. Castle Village, a five-building, 7.5-acre co-op overlooking the Hudson River, is particularly imposing. Nearby is Hudson View Gardens, a 1924 Revival-style co-op listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

To the east, “some buildings are more versatile, residential and commercial,” said Adrivel Ruiz, associate broker at Sovereign.

The neighborhood is also home to a number of medical and academic institutions, including Columbia University Irving Medical Center and branches of Yeshiva University and Boricua College. “Lots of doctors, nurses and other medical staff rent and buy in the neighborhood,” Pulice said. “We also rent apartments to many Yeshiva students. “

Among the area’s many green spaces is Bennett Park, on the highest point in Manhattan, 265 feet above sea level. (During the Revolutionary War, the Continental Army built Fort Washington on This site.)

Another attraction is the 67-acre Fort Tryon Park, which includes the Met Cloisters, which is part of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. With its lawns, gardens and views of the Hudson River, the park is “the jewel of the neighborhood,” said Pulice.

The median price of the 182 properties sold in 2020 was $ 536,345, down 1.7% from the 2019 median of $ 545,826 for 279 units sold, Pulice said.

This year, however, sales volume and inventory are on the rise, according to data provided by Brown Harris Stevens: from January to May 2021, 117 homes sold, up from 79 during the same period in 2020, and there were 181 new market listings during this period, compared to 83 during this period of 2020. The median selling price this year, through May, was $ 529,000; in 2020 it was $ 599,000.

“This is not a normal market,” said Ms. Ruiz, of Sovereign Associates. “With the pandemic, the market has changed – it has become a buyer’s market; it has become a tenant market.

But with the apparent ebb of the pandemic, demand and prices are starting to rebound: “The deal you were going to get last year is not what you are going to get now,” she said.

As of mid-June, there were 196 properties for sale on Realtor.com, from a two-bedroom at 526 West 158th Street, a co-op with HDFC income restrictions, listed for $ 120,000, to a seven-bedroom, seven – Bath townhouse at 422 West 160th Street, divided into four condominium units, listed for $ 3.6 million.

StreetEasy showed 488 available rentals, from a 350-square-foot studio at 100 Cabrini Boulevard, listed $ 1,347 per month, to a five-bedroom, two-bath unit at 452 Fort Washington Avenue, for $ 4,900 per month. .

With a population of nearly 153,000, according to census data, and enclaves like Hudson Heights to the west and Fort George to the northeast, Washington Heights has several distinct vibes.

Along West 181st Street, shoppers shop for Russian specialties at the Moscow on the Hudson grocery store. On the east side of the street, the beat is Latin, with vibrant music played by passing cars and outdoor vendors selling fruit and piraguas.the Puerto Rican dessert made with crushed ice, as well as costume clothing and jewelry.

This shopping thoroughfare, Ms. Diaz said, is “the heart of Washington Heights,” adding that the streets from East 157th to East 193rd have “the natural bustle of a community.”

A historic aspect of the heights is preserved at Sylvan Terrace, lined with 19th-century row houses. The cobblestone street was originally the carriage path for the Morris-Jumel Mansion, Manhattan’s oldest residence, now a museum.

But not all of Washington Heights art is in a museum. Due to relatively affordable rents and easy access to transportation, “there are a lot of musicians and performers living in the area,” said Mr. Poelle, the actor. “There are usually plenty of opportunities to hear live jazz combos in the local park or a horn quartet.”

Washington Heights is part of Community School District 6, whose 39 schools also encompass Hamilton Heights and Inwood.

Washington Heights schools include PS / IS 187 Hudson Cliffs, on Cabrini Boulevard, which has 739 students in kindergarten through eighth grade. According to the 2018-19 Schools Quality Snapshot, 70 percent of students there met state standards in the English-language arts, compared to 47 percent city-wide; 66 percent met state math standards, compared to 46 percent citywide.

Nearby subway lines include lines A and C on the Eighth Avenue line and train 1 on the Broadway-Seventh Avenue line.

The M3 bus in Washington Heights begins at Fort George Avenue, making frequent stops as it heads south. (The northbound bus stop on Avenue Saint-Nicolas and 181st Street is closed until December due to construction.)

One of the last neighborhoods in Manhattan to be developed, Washington Heights was largely rural in the 19th century. As country houses gave way to urban development in the early 20th century, the Heights experienced successive waves of immigration, with an influx of Irish, German, Greek, Puerto Rican, Cuban and Dominican residents.

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