Millennials Spark Apartment Boom

County real estate developers aim to combat Westchester’s youth drain.

What happened to all the young folks?

A confluence of demographic trends, lifestyle changes, and economic realities has squeezed the county’s population of young people in the critical career- and family-starting stage, causing many of them to leave Westchester for cheaper, hipper pastures. From 1990 to 2010, US Census data for Westchester shows a 21 percent decline in the 25- to 34-year-old age group. Some of this is attributable to the aging of the baby boomers, but nationally the decline was only 5 percent. Our Millennials are definitely leaving, and a key reason is that they have a tough time finding a place to live that isn’t their parents’ basements.

Martin Ginsburg, perhaps the county’s most successful multifamily residential developer, points out the cold, hard truth. “We just didn’t provide anything for Millennials in Westchester. There are a substantial number of them in New York City because it has an environment there that appeals to them. The same in Stamford.”

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Local Millennials seem to agree.

“Buying a house isn’t even a consideration right now,” says Robbie Scott, a 25-year-old research operations manager at a local equity research firm. “I’d like to [buy a house] in the next 10 to 15 years, but the trends in Westchester are working against me. A lot of people in my age group would rather pay rent than a mortgage. The cost of living here makes it difficult for younger people to save.” Scott recently moved into an apartment at One City Place in White Plains with his girlfriend, who works in Manhattan.

Aimee Hirsch, a Millennial copy editor who recently found an apartment in Ossining after an exhausting search, points out another big money problem for her age group: “My boyfriend and I both have student loans, so that doesn’t leave a lot of [financial] wiggle room. We just don’t have a lot of savings.” She adds, “If you have to have the first and last month’s rent, security deposit, and a broker’s fee on top, it’s almost impossible.”

Developers like Ginsburg have seized this opportunity to build thousands of new rental apartments with the Millennial market in mind. “Anybody who doesn’t take [Millennials] into account is missing an important part of the market,” he says. “I think they are 35 to 40 percent of the apartment market in Westchester.”

Ginsburg has three projects, totaling 584 total units, coming to fruition in the county this year: Harbor Square in Ossining, River Tides in Yonkers, and The Lofts in Hastings-on-Hudson. While rents across the developments start as low as $1,495 for a studio and range up to $5,400 for two bedrooms, he’s providing a wealth of amenities—concierge service, swimming pools, fitness centers, club rooms, yoga studios, spas—to match the lifestyles of his prospective Millennial (and other) tenants.

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While keeping Westchester’s Millennials here is one goal of these developers, attracting them from New York City is another opportunity. “In White Plains, we’re getting a lot of people from Brooklyn and Queens who are getting priced out of those markets,” says Houlihan Lawrence broker Gino Bello. “Their rents shot up to $4,000 to $5,000 per month, whereas here we hover around $2,500 to $3,500.” He adds that it’s not that big of a lifestyle adjustment, either. “White Plains gives them that urban feeling, where they have restaurants, shopping, and 24-hour city life.” Ultimately, he adds, “The number-one factor for all renters is being close to the train.”

Easy transportation from Westchester to Manhattan is a big draw for tenants of AvalonBay, one of the county’s largest landlords, with 1,529 apartments in five buildings in the county. The company is breaking ground on a sixth, Avalon Somers, this spring and has announced a seventh property at the Metro-North station in Harrison. The company has been successful attracting Millennials to Westchester, according to Matthew Whalen, the company’s senior vice president, who explains, “The majority of our Westchester residents come from within the county, though we do have a sizeable number that come from other places, including Connecticut, New Jersey, and New York City. Our renters are generally a mix of professionals, empty nesters, and people in transition. Over 55 percent of our Westchester residents are between the ages of 25 and 44.”

Other factors impact the Millennials’ choice of rental rather than purchased housing, according to developer David Mann, who has built five rental buildings in White Plains in recent years, all filling up almost immediately. He’s also building in Port Chester and Harrison. “In this employment market, they want to be nimble,” he points out. “If I save $50,000, am I going to put that into a home? What if I get a different job?” At La Gianna, his 56-unit building in White Plains, “We had 12 tenants either get new jobs, lose jobs, or get divorced in a single year!”

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