Many immigrant families are moving away from downtown Jersey City. The rents are becoming unbearable for them. As more and more of them leave, more and more young and single professionals are moving in. Downtown Jersey City is changing from a relatively poor neighborhood into a trendy upper-middle-class one.
In the past three years the area has been undergoing some dramatic changes, especially since the attacks of September 11, 2001. Many financial corporations, including Chase Manhattan Bank, Merrill Lynch and the investment firm Charles Schwab, have relocated to Jersey City or expanded their offices in Jersey City after the attacks.
Many high-rise buildings are popping up near the waterfront, and new restaurants and hotels are opening to accommodate the growing population. “Three years ago there was nothing here,” says John Mansilla, an office administrator who has been living in the neighborhood for the past seven years.
Mansilla is moving away. “After many years of renting,” he says, “I decided to purchase a property. But the prices around here are out of control so I had to look elsewhere.” According to Mansilla, rents and property values are skyrocketing. “A studio that went for $700 is now $1,200 and a house that went for $200K is now $400K,” he says.
Standing on his balcony on the 20th floor of an apartment building, Mansilla pointed out a huge sign hanging at the front of a building offering “luxury rentals.” He says, “There was nothing luxurious about this town when I moved here.” Abandoned buildings and rail tracks can still be spotted in certain areas as reminders of the way things used to look.
“When things started getting luxurious, most immigrants simply couldn’t afford to live in this building,” Mansilla explained. “So now instead of six or seven family members living in a one-bedroom apartment, you have a single woman lawyer or something.” In many ways, the story of the building is the story of the city. What used to be poor, dirty and cheap is now luxurious, clean and expensive.
In addition to the waterfront development, the city is promoting the restoration of the historic district in downtown Jersey City. The looks of buildings and storefronts is designed to give the district an “old town” feel while maintaining modern shops and restaurants. The downtown area also enjoys a newly renovated museum and public library.
Mansilla’s apartment is full of packed boxes in preparation for his move. “I wouldn’t leave if I could afford to buy property here,” he says, “I like this neighborhood.” As we turned back from the balcony into his living room, Mansilla said, “I practically lost my view.” Pointing his finger at buildings all around us he says, “I used to see the entire lower Manhattan skyline, but now all I see is the tip of the Empire State Building.
Still, to the south one can view the Liberty State Park marina, Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty. “At least they can’t build on the water,” Mansilla laughs, closing the balcony door behind him.
Yaniv Gafner is a journalism and media studies major at Rutgers-Newark.