Lower Manhattan residents who fled Hurricane Irene as it threatened to inflict epic floods have largely settled back into their homes. But Julie Melillo is again preparing to evacuate her Wall Street apartment — this time for good.
Unnerved after being forced to take refuge at a friend’s place on the Upper East Side while the East River swelled and imperiled her block at Wall and Water streets, Melillo said “it doesn’t feel quite as safe anymore” in the Financial District.
As Irene exposed neighborhoods that are most vulnerable during natural disasters, New Yorkers have a fresh concern when deciding where to live: Am I safe here if this happens again?
Indeed, the areas most affected by Irene — from Battery Park City to Williamsburg and Long Island City — could be hit by a flood of people seeking permanent shelter elsewhere, at least in Irene’s immediate aftermath, real estate observers told amNewYork.
“The area that I thought was the safest in Manhattan became the highest risk area,” said Melillo, 29, whose building is in Zone A — the lowest-lying areas of the city that were put under an unprecedented mandatory evacuation order by the city. “I have a feeling that this could happen again, and I’d feel safer [living] on higher ground.”
Melillo is thinking about moving to Midtown East or the Upper East Side by mid-September.
“I will be a bit concerned from now on to live so close to water on low ground,” Melillo said. “I would definitely not consider living on the tip of Battery Park, despite the gorgeous views.”
Neither would a new client who came to Rutenberg Realty broker Jennifer Chiongbian, looking to buy an apartment.
“I was told: ‘No Battery Park,’” Chiongbian said, adding that the inconvenience of evacuation and hazards of flooding turned the client off to the neighborhood. She predicted that Hurricane Irene would influence people to stay away from riverside neighborhoods — but not for too long. “Americans have short-term memories and will later discount this rare event.”
Stuart Elliott, editor in chief of The Real Deal, a magazine and website covering New York real estate, didn’t discount the possibility of an Irene effect.
“I think [Irene] has to have a little bit of an impact. People might have second thoughts about moving there.”
The demographics of at-risk neighborhoods might shift, Elliott said, because families and the elderly may not want to be in an area where there’s a chance that they would have to pack up and evacuate at a moment’s notice. It could also scare off city planners nervous about creating new neighborhoods out of landfill.
But these concerns are likely to be short-lived “while it is so close in people’s rear-view mirror,” Elliott said. “Hurricanes hit New York City so infrequently. … In the long-term, I don’t think it will impact” the neighborhoods.
He pointed out that the rising towers of the World Trade Center — where Conde Nast is slated to take 1 million square feet of office space — will probably do more to attract tenants to the area than hurricane fears will do to repel them.
And why should Manhattan real estate suffer more from fears of natural disasters than other areas of the country that are regularly in the line of fire, but continue to thrive?
“Look at the Florida coast or even the Jersey shore,” said Gary Malin, president of realty firm Citi Habitats. “These areas are subject to flooding and hurricanes at least once a decade, and waterfront property remains at high demand, despite the risk. The same rules apply here.”
Lisa Hanock-Jasie, 55, lives only a block down from Melillo on Wall Street with her husband, but Hurricane Irene isn’t scaring them away from the neighborhood. She grew up in Indiana, where she battled tornadoes, basement flooding from heavy rains and hailstorms. Then she moved to Los Angeles, where she survived sweeping summer brush fires, several earthquakes and canyon flooding.
Since coming to Manhattan 18 years ago, “I’ve experienced blizzards, heat waves, nor’easters, a blackout, a terrorist attack, a wild coyote and a snake escape from the [Bronx Zoo],” she said. “If we moved, we’d have nothing to talk about.”