Since the onset of COVID-19, it seems that life changes on a daily basis. One such shift has been a dynamic exodus from New York City and other heavily populated areas, with people actively seeking to move to communities that offer spaciousness, amenities and a seemingly COVID-safer lifestyle.
As noted in a recent issue of the Hartford Courant, the United States Post Office reported sharp increases in the number of New York City residents submitting mail-forwarding requests, with a great many of the new addresses in Connecticut. Connecticut Governor Ned Lamont said in a recent interview, “The phones of the real-estate brokers are ringing off the hook, particularly in Fairfield County.” The metropolitan areas around Stamford, Bridgeport and Norwalk tied for third place with Philadelphia as top destinations for New Yorkers moving out of the city. For the Orthodox Jewish community, Stamford has become an amazingly popular destination.
For some, the move from New York began as a temporary plan. Now, with COVID-19 a constant presence, more work-at-home situations available and many New York offices closing, people are looking to leave the city for permanent residences that provide outside yard space with more room between houses. People are even looking to plant vegetable gardens so they don’t have to rely on grocery-store shopping, where many items are not readily available. The shoreline is especially popular and, for those needing to commute to New York, the extra time involved does not appear to present a problem. New Yorkers are wondering why they need to remain in the city, living in cramped spaces, needing to take elevators to go outside and spending lots of money on rental apartments when life could be so much better if they would just head north.
Stephanie Rosenhaus, a licensed real estate salesperson with William Raveis Real Estate in Armonk, New York, recently expanded her practice by becoming licensed in Connecticut. More and more of her clients were requesting to see properties in the Connecticut area, looking for more suburban neighborhoods and even waterfront properties.
Rosenhaus explained that Stamford “offers a variety of housing options for people. It’s a city that caters to every lifestyle—a place that maintains a small-town feel with a city vibe.”
Michael Feldstein is the chairperson of the Committee to Advance Modern Orthodoxy in Stamford (CAMOS), a community-growth initiative that began about 10 years ago. Since it started, more than 150 observant families have moved to the community.
“I think there are many families now living in Manhattan, Riverdale, Queens and Brooklyn who are craving more open space, especially during this period of the coronavirus,” Feldstein said. “Also, the spike in COVID-19 cases in Brooklyn and Monsey might be contributing to the interest in relocating to Connecticut, as I think many folks feel it’s safer in Stamford—and the day schools in town have classes at the school as opposed to only online.”
While there’s a general interest in relocating to Stamford, Feldstein feels the specific interest of observant families who are relocating to there is based on the many amenities offered in the community, such as synagogues, an award-winning day school, a yeshiva high school, an eruv, a mikvah and several kosher restaurants.
Jodi Boxer of the Boxer Realty Group in Stamford has been selling many homes to people looking to be part of the Jewish community. With many shul options as well as a day school and kosher restaurants, she calls Stamford “the midwest of the tri-state area.” Boxer explained: “The community is warm and hospitable and non-judgmental. You don’t have to fit into a mold, like many Orthodox communities. Stamford is also more affordable, both in terms of prices and taxes.”
For many years, Boxer attended OU fairs promoting the Stamford Orthodox community. “Now it is a destination of choice,” she said. “Although the surge in people wanting to be part of Stamford’s Orthodox Jewish community began about five years ago, the current escalation is definitely COVID-19 related. Fortunately, there’s an assortment of housing (rentals, apartments and condos) in addition to the availability of one-family homes with a wide spread in prices.”
Lisa and Seth Linzer are the owners of L & S Realty in Stamford, and have been living in the area for the past 35 years. Lisa explained that the popularity is due to several factors, including the existence of many large corporations with ample work opportunities; Stamford’s proximity to Manhattan; its low crime rates, beautiful environment and beaches; and lower property taxes than New York and New Jersey.
“Word is getting out that Stamford is a ‘hot’ community for young Jewish families,” Lisa said. “Most of the people we have seen moving here for the synagogues and Jewish education are married couples between the ages of 28 and 36. Many are from Manhattan and Riverdale.”
Lisa explained that the market is tight and there is not a lot of available inventory. “Many homes are selling over the asking price due to multiple bidding parties. The COVID-19 exodus from New York is definitely responsible in part for this. But the demand is also being driven because mortgage rates are ridiculously low right now.”
The Stamford area has maintained low COVID-19 numbers. Feldstein attributes this to the local legislators who, in conjunction with Connecticut’s health professionals, have been diligent in monitoring the COVID-19 numbers and making sure that businesses and other amenities don’t open too quickly.
Feldstein said: “Since the outbreak in March, I have been indoors at synagogue and at supermarkets and other stores, and I have not witnessed one person not wearing a mask. Even when I am outside taking a walk, I see most folks wearing masks and keeping socially distant. The residents in Stamford are taking the virus seriously and are following the rules carefully. I think this has helped contribute to the relatively low COVID-19 numbers we are seeing in the area.”