Brooklyn: Is It Actually Cheaper? (or better?)

There are Manhattanites and there are Brooklynites. Manhattan dwellers hate going to Brooklyn during the weekends (some claim to never go. Ever.) and Brooklynites are happy staying in their borough to brunch all the weekend long. Then there are those in-between: loyal to neither, happy to choose whichever is their cheaper option—even considering the Bronx or Queens as their new home.

Before rapid gentrification, Brooklyn was indeed an affordable place to live. In 1983, a 2-bedroom apartment in Historic Williamsburg would cost you just $330.00 a month compared to an East Village artists flat in the same year at $600.00 a month (that’s $791.80 and $1439.60 in 2015 dollars, respectfully.) In those early years, many parts of the borough experienced high crime rates and even higher poverty levels. In the last decade or so, Brooklyn has changed significantly due mostly to gentrification and the increasing cost of living in Manhattan, driving renters across the bridge in search of an apartment that won’t dip into their craft beer money.

According to the August 2016 real estate market reports from MNS, a large firm in the City, average rents in Brooklyn topped out at $2,816 while average rents in Manhattan were $4,033 according to another large brokerage. Both reports stated the highest increase in Brooklyn apartment rents occurred in the 1-bedroom market with MNS reporting an 11% increase (another brokerage company reported a 2.1% increase.) Additionally, MNS reported an average 1 bedroom in Brooklyn will cost you $2,714 while 1 beds in Manhattan will cost you a whopping $4,228.

So that’s it? Brooklyn is in fact cheaper than Manhattan?

On average, yes–but that doesn’t necessarily mean there are no expensive apartments in Brooklyn. If you’re looking for the best bang-for-your-buck space wise, Brooklyn does offer a better value with the average price per square foot at $47.00 while the same square foot will cost you $67 in Manhattan. Brooklyn has its fair share of very expensive luxury apartments, and most rentals in neighborhoods like Williamsburg and Park Slope will cost you just as much as parts of the UWS, UES, and even The Villages.

There is also an additional cost to living in Brooklyn (or any other borough for that matter) but it’s not necessarily a financial one. It’s a lifestyle one.

For most, a commute into Manhattan from Brooklyn will take around 35-40 minutes (that’s if the train is on schedule that day) and longer if you’ve decided to own a car and drive into the City. If you’re going in and out of Manhattan every day that time adds up—it means that if you’re leaving your office in Manhattan at 6PM, don’t be surprised if you don’t get into your apartment until 8PM. You might be paying cheaper rent, but are you living the lifestyle you really want?

We asked Ben, a 27-year-old living in Bushwick (an up-and-coming neighborhood in Brooklyn) and working in cinema technology, why he decided to move to Brooklyn over Manhattan:

“The rental prices, the Brooklyn vibe” He wrote. “We could have gone to Astoria [in Queens] but that’s sort of boring…lots of cool stuff going on in Brooklyn from galleries to music venues to weird little pop-up shops.”

Okay, but is there anything about Manhattan you wish you had in Brooklyn?

“Not really—I think that’s one of the appealing things about Brooklyn. It doesn’t quite feel like Manhattan, but Manhattan is still close.”

Ben and his partner, Shannon, moved from the Midwest 4 years ago and they’ve stayed in Brooklyn ever since. Their industries are almost exclusive to the City making moving to NYC essential. While they both love Brooklyn, Ben hinted that if they could find a “choice” apartment in the West Village, they might be persuaded to make the move across the river.

For a different perspective, we found a Manhattanite: 23 year old Samantha who moved from Astoria to Washington Heights. Samantha is an actress who moved to NYC to continue down the path to Broadway stardom. But why did she make the move from Queens to Manhattan?

“The commute was way too much. I was the last stop on the NQ line, and then I had about a 20-minute walk to my apartment from there.”

That’s not an uncommon experience in the outer boroughs where train stations are scarce. Remember, Manhattan is a fairly small island—train stations are built throughout, making commuting on the island pretty quick, and pretty easy.

“Plus, once I was there, I had to walk all the way back to the Main Street if I wanted even a gallon of milk. It was also very residential, and I didn’t feel like I was living in New York City. Now I’m in midtown in fifteen minutes and I’m actually paying $100 less per month than I paid in Queens.”

So, what makes Brooklyn so attractive? Is it really just a paradise for fixed-gear riding hipsters or is it a secret haven for those seeking 1970’s era rent-stabilization? Is Brooklyn really that much cheaper (and that much better) than Manhattan?

Well yes, and no.

Strictly considering price as the only deciding factor in your decision, then, yes—Brooklyn is better. Price per square foot, on average, is cheaper meaning you’ll get more apartment feet per your rent dollar.

If your ideal apartment has other important factors to you other than price, you’ll just have to do some exploring. Brooklyn is more residential, less crowded, and some say, quieter. Manhattan tends to be the ‘work hub’ so if you work in Manhattan and you want a short commute, living on the island will probably be a better bet.

Don’t expect Brooklyn to always be the cheaper option though—as more and more neighborhoods in New York City’s second most popular borough continue to be developed and gentrified, prices are continuing to soar. But for now—grease up your bike chain, plunge your cafetière, and enjoy some artisanal Gefilte fish all in your (contextually) spacious NYC apartment—it’s the Brooklyn way.