New Yorkers Discover Jersey City

New Yorkers Discover Jersey City

With New York City rents reaching new highs, housing prices by comparison are still reasonable in Jersey City.

Manhattan looms large over Jersey City, influencing the choices of transplants like Celeste and Serge Madhere, bottom, who got more for their money than in Brooklyn, and Kevin and Alex Pemoulie, top, who opened the restaurant Thirty Acres in the Van Vorst Park area.
As property values soar even inBrooklyn neighborhoods once viewed as on the fringe, New Yorkers are looking across that other river that separates Manhattan from the rest of the world: the Hudson. And some of them are heading to Jersey City, which has a flintier personality than Hoboken, its preppy neighbor to the north. New Jersey’s second-largest city, it now has a branch of the popular Williamsburg arcade-bar Barcade; farm-to-table restaurants; and a new mayor who worked for Goldman Sachs, served in Iraq and rappelled down a skyscraper.
Jersey City has long attracted the Wall Street crowd to its splash of waterfront high-rises that promise cheaper rent and a speedy ride to Manhattan. But for years, the rest of the city was an afterthought with a reputation for high crime, failing schools and a lack of night life. But as the economy and housing market improve, other Jersey City neighborhoods are enjoying newfound attention, with boutique storefronts opening and New Yorkers steadily moving in.
The renovated Hamilton Park, surrounded by brownstones, has new landscaping, tennis courts, free Wi-Fi and a playground. Construction is under way for White Eagle Hall, a new arts site downtown. And the Journal Square PATH station plaza will soon be renovated as part of a new development with three high-rises and retail. In a sign that parents from “the city” have moved in, TriBeCa Pediatrics opened an office in Hamilton Park.
“Jersey City is good for 30- to 40-somethings who aren’t interested in hanging out in Williamsburg anymore,” said Kevin Pemoulie, the former chef of Momofuku Noodle Bar, who last year along with his wife, Alex, opened the restaurant Thirty Acres in the Van Vorst Park neighborhood. He, like many others who have moved to Jersey City, also liked the in-transition quality of the area.
With New York City rents reaching new highs, housing prices by comparison are still reasonable in Jersey City. The average rent here was $1,900 a month during the second quarter of the year, according to data provided by Trulia. In early July, the average listing price for a home downtown was $604,000 and in Hamilton Park was $426,000, according to data provided by Liberty Realty.
Richard LeFrak, chief executive of the LeFrak Organization, which began developing the Newport neighborhood in 1986 when it was rail yards and warehouses, is one who has noticed a change. “I would say, in the last three years, when you say you live in Jersey City,” he said, “people don’t look at you like there’s something wrong with you.” In the next decade, LeFrak plans to add condos, a hotel and an outdoor swim club to Newport.
A year and a half before the Pemoulies opened Thirty Acres, they moved to Jersey City from Williamsburg, shaving $600 a month off their rent. They pay $1,650 a month for a large two-bedroom apartment two blocks from the Grove Street PATH station, which has a renovated pedestrian plaza with shops and new residential developments nearby.
“Brooklyn is just ridiculous — it’s expensive,” Mr. Pemoulie said. “It’s frustrating to be there. All of my friends ended up moving out.”
Indeed, some parts of Brooklyn have even eclipsed Manhattan in rent prices. The average rent for a one-bedroom in Williamsburg in July was $3,155 a month, a price point rivaling those of many Manhattan neighborhoods, according to a market report by MNS. Even less-developed Brooklyn neighborhoods are commanding a premium: in Bushwick in July, the average rent for a one-bedroom was $1,900.
Still, for many New Yorkers, crossing the Hudson is a psychological hurdle, even if Jersey City now has a Two Boots Pizza and a coffee shop that serves Blue Bottle Coffee.
“The PATH train is like the train to Hogwarts,” said Kip Jacobson, 41, alluding to the “Harry Potter” series. Mr. Jacobson moved to the Van Vorst Park neighborhood from Williamsburg a year ago with his wife, Samantha, and their young son.
Jersey City’s new mayor, Steven Fulop, 36, intends to persuade budget-conscious and reluctant New Yorkers to give his city a chance. Mr. Fulop has been in office for less than two months and already has plans to start a marketing campaign called “Across the River” to entice New Yorkers.
“I’m looking to portray Jersey City as a cool place to be,” said Mr. Fulop (who a year ago completed the 140-mile triathlon known as the Ironman U.S. Championship).
Sitting in his sparse office a few weeks after his inauguration, he declared, “There’s a stigma associated with living in Jersey that we’ve got to correct.”
But Jersey City itself has more than just an image problem. Its public schools remain partly under state control, and certain areas have a serious crime problem; Mr. Fulop knows the two issues must be addressed before the city’s reputation can improve and more upwardly mobile families can be persuaded to remain. In his first month, he chose a veteran of the New York Police Department to be his new public safety director. Similarly, the city’s new school superintendent once worked for the New York City Department of Education.
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Photo courtesy of Nadav Neuhaus

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