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In This Pocket of the City, No One Stays for Long

It seems like a perfectly nice apartment.

This small studio on the 38th floor has views of the New York Harbor and the Verrazano Bridge, a marble bathroom and granite counter tops. Light floods in through the windows, and a 24-hour doorman stands at the ready downstairs.

Yet, here it is, on the rental market for the fifth time in less than six years. And the most obvious reason appears to be its address, because the building, 20 West Street, is at the southern edge of Lower Manhattan, an area where residents do not tend to stay put in one apartment for very long.

“I’d have to say it’s pretty transient,” said Tim Kelleher, who has lived in an apartment in the financial district since 2007. “People come and go. I’m pretty friendly, but I really don’t know anybody in my building.”

The Census Bureau’s American Community Survey asks residents all over the country whether they live in the same house they did the year before. And according to an analysis of that mobility measure from 2007 to 2011, compiled by Social Explorer and the Queens College Department of Applied Research, of the top 20 ZIP codes in New York City, six of them were in Lower Manhattan, bundled in or around the financial district.

For those who do stick around to watch the people come and go, it is possible to get a little whiplash.

“Some stay a few months; some stay a year,” Alejandro Sadaba said of the many roommates who have joined him in his converted three-bedroom apartment on Maiden Lane. “I’ve been there since 2004, and I’ve had maybe two per year,” he continued, which means he is closing in on sharing his keys and his kitchen with 20 different people.

From 2007 to 2011, New Yorkers citywide moved slightly less than the national average, according to the Social Explorer analysis. (The data for 2011 is the most recent available.) During that period, an average of 11.4 percent of New Yorkers reported living in a different house than they did the year before, compared with 15.4 percent nationally.

Real estate experts and sociologists say the city owes much of that stability to its subsidized housing. New York City Housing Authority has some 630,000 residents — about 10,000 more than in the entire city of Seattle — and the average length of stay in public housing is 20 years. Large communities of recent immigrants, where children might live with their parents well into their 20s, and families sometimes pool resources to pay for a home, is also a likely factor in keeping many New Yorkers in one place.

Besides, moving is expensive, and it is also a monumental hassle in a city with lots of walk-ups and basically nowhere to park a big moving van.

So it has been the financial district’s many employed, childless young people – and an abundance of rental apartments and condominiums with flexible subleasing policies – that help line the streets with moving vans at the beginning of every month.

In 10005, for example, a ZIP code at the southeastern edge of Manhattan, the Social Explorer analysis found that 50 percent of residents were 25 to 34 years old; 73 percent had no children of their own; nearly 94 percent of those in the labor force were employed; and an average of 39.4 percent of them said they lived in a different apartment one year ago.

“This part of town reminds me of a sorority or a fraternity,” said Deniz Atalayer, 31, who has lived in an apartment in that ZIP code since she came to New York from Florida in 2010.

“Including my current roommate, I’ve had, one, two, three, four,” she continued. She is now in the market for roommate No. 5.

Ms. Atalayer’s apartment is a makeshift two-bedroom, carved up by previous tenants out of what was most likely a large studio. A temporary wall cuts across the living room to create one of the bedrooms, sequestering all of the apartment’s windows in the process. The other “bedroom” has no windows at all, and Ms. Atalayer, a postdoctoral fellow at Columbia University, occasionally wonders aloud if it was intended to be a large closet. This sort of arrangement, which makes a doorman building much more affordable, is not unusual in the area.

“You essentially live in a matchbox,” she said. “But it’s a luxury building in terms of the gym and things like that.”

In years past, apartments in the area were also more affordable simply because there were deals to be had, especially in 2009 when a month of free rent or a landlord paying a broker fee was fairly commonplace when signing a new lease. But the gap in price between a “luxury” building in the financial district and comparable buildings in other parts of Manhattan has narrowed considerably.

In the fourth quarter of 2007, the median rent for an apartment in the financial district was $3,116 per month, according to Jonathan Miller, president of the appraisal firm Miller Samuel. By the fourth quarter of 2012, it had risen to $3,450. During the same period, median rent in Manhattan overall fell to $3,189 from $3,200.

More than just prices have changed there in recent years, however. Residents in and around the financial district say the area is livelier than it used to be, with many more families, restaurants and bars taking root. Still, it lacks the bustle of most residential areas on the weekends, which is not a distinction everybody minds.

“It’s not super crowded, so the people you see at the gym are the same people you see at the corner store and the same people you see at the bar around the corner,” said Yaw Joseph Etse, 27, who lives in a four-bedroom apartment on Chambers Street that has seen three new roommates in as many years. “That makes it a little more homey.”

But even some downtown residents who have stayed put for a few years, like Ms. Atalayer, prepare for the inevitable.

“I store some,” Ms. Atalayer said, nodding her head toward a row of cardboard boxes nestled above her kitchen cabinets. “It’s in case I move out.”

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