New Yorkers Find Philadelphia Freedom

021208 lab web New Yorkers Find Philadelphia FreedomAt least 1,000 New Yorkers annually have settled in Philadelphia since 2002. The sobering number comes from the Philadelphia controller’s office, which gleaned it from IRS and census information.

Since 2001, 8,334 New Yorkers have moved to Philadelphia and stayed. Most—3,957—moved from Brooklyn. After Brooklyn, most émigrés hailed from Queens (2,160); and the Bronx, Manhattan and Staten Island, respectively.

What makes Philly so attractive? The Rocky statue atop the art museum steps? That’s been moved. No: It likely comes down to real estate.

Although exact numbers are difficult to find, Philadelphia home prices, generally, are absurdly low compared to almost any area in New York. The median Philadelphia home price by the end of 2007 was $137,500, according to a report from Prudential Fox & Roach, a residential brokerage there.

In Manhattan by the end of 2007, the median apartment price was $850,000, according to research firm Radar Logic; in Queens, it was $460,000. In brownstone Brooklyn, the median co-op price was $450,000, according to brokerage the Corcoran Group, and the median condo price was $665,000. Also, monthly rents over the past couple of years have ascended to records in several neighborhoods, especially in Manhattan and western Brooklyn.

But New York City has nearly always been more expensive than the rest of the country. Perhaps the driving force of this decade’s mild exodus to Philadelphia isn’t the housing costs per se, but the convergence of two fairly new realities: unprecedented increases in housing costs and the desirability of urban living.

In Staten Island—perhaps the most affordable of the five boroughs—the median single-family home sales price increased 101 percent from 2000 to 2006, according to the state’s Association of Realtors.

Such a rise is emblematic of an era in New York when housing blasted into the stratosphere, essentially shutting out many residents and prospective residents from homeownership, perhaps forever—or, at least, for long enough to drive them to other locales for ownership (and for escape from expensive New York rents).

At the same time as housing costs here spiked, urban living came into vogue nationally. No longer were major cities like New York to be fled for suburbia at the first opportunity. People wanted to live in downtowns; and developers responded to the demand. They built literally thousands of condos in the downtowns of cities like San Diego, Charlotte and, yes, Philadelphia. Spurred by a 10-year development tax abatement, the Center City neighborhood there added over 8,200 housing units from 1997 through 2005, and kept adding; and Center City’s homes generally cost more than those in the rest of Philadelphia.

Philadelphia’s geography—it’s the closest major city to New York, a couple hours away as the crow flies—placed it in a unique position to capitalize on the convergence of this urban-living popularity and the increasing difficulty of such living in New York City.

Cheesesteak, anyone?