Acceleration, not Revolution

Mostly Covid-a9 is just pushing harder on existing migration patterns

In How the Pandemic Did, and Didn’t, Change Where Americans Move, Jed Kolko, Emily Badger and Quoctrung Bui unsnarl what we know about Covid migration patterns.

Mostly, it’s just a continuation of migration patterns from the beforetime.

The larger pattern among metros following the diagonal line above has been the stability of pre-pandemic trends. Sun Belt metros have continued to draw new residents, while those in upstate New York and the Midwest have not. Any pandemic migration windfall has flowed more to rapidly growing Boise, Idaho, than to Cleveland or Buffalo.

CBRE, a commercial real estate services firm, has similarly analyzed Postal Service data for its clients, companies and commercial real estate investors eager to know where the next Austin is — and if the pandemic has changed the answer.

“In many ways, the fundamentals in the data show that Austin is the next Austin,” said Eric Willett, the research director at CBRE. That illustrates, he said, “how dramatically durable these long-term trends are, even in the face of a once-in-a-lifetime pandemic.”

Data on job growth mirrors this pattern: Most of the places with the biggest job gains (or smallest losses) during the pandemic were booming before the pandemic, too.

The census will start to release data later this spring that will tell a more definitive story about population and migration shifts during the pandemic, although with a time lag. In the meantime, Postal Service data gives us some of our best insight, spanning the whole country, down to the ZIP code level.


Upstate NY metros -- like Buffalo and Albany -- have not seen massive in-migration, no, but note that Hudson and Kingston NY are 1 and 2 on the chart.

In general, the ZIP codes where more people moved out during the pandemic were denser neighborhoods in metropolitan areas where a higher share of people work in jobs that could be done from home.


“Consistently, in all of those, New York and San Francisco stand out,” said Stephan Whitaker, an economist with the Cleveland Fed who conducted the research. “It really is a remarkably higher level of out-migration appearing in those two areas. It ends up pushing up their net out-migration as well.”

Those metros, along with other typically strong labor markets like Washington, Seattle, Denver and San Diego, also had declining net migration in 2020 because their usual influx of new residents dwindled during the pandemic. In the Cleveland Fed analysis, that decline in new arrivals was more consequential in many of these cities than the increase in people leaving. And it’s likely that those in-flows will pick back up as the pandemic eases — as new hires and young adults who didn’t leave Cleveland or St. Louis for New York or Boston in 2020 do so this coming year.

We will have to see the long term patterns of out-and in-migration. Other factors -- like the decloine in the energy secotr in Texas and North Dakota -- are not Covid related.

Again, the authors support the rationale for the spike in in-migration in cities like Kingston and Hudson NY:

Even if the pandemic didn’t upend migration patterns, some pandemic-era shifts could endure. And local labor markets around cities like New York and San Francisco could stretch to include more peripheral towns — satellite communities from which a daily commute wouldn’t make sense, but a once-a-week drive might.

The amount of office space in Manhattan on the market has risen in recent months to 101 million square feet, roughly 37 percent higher than a year ago and more than all the combined downtown office space in Los Angeles, Atlanta and Dallas. 

| Matthew Haag, Remote Work Is Here to Stay. Manhattan May Never Be the Same.

The current thinking about all the empty commercial real estate in urban centers like New York and San Francisco is that they might be repurposed. In What Will Happen to All the Empty Office Buildings and Hotels?, CJ Hughes writes about the office and hotel conversions in NYC:

From corporate high-rises in the financial district to boutique lodgings near Central Park to mid-market accommodations in Midtown, real estate players are redeveloping or canvassing dozens of sites, according to those involved.

So far, most of the attention has been trained on Manhattan, home to the city’s largest business and tourism districts, and where the pandemic has dealt the harshest blows. But hotels in Brooklyn, where prices for buildings are generally lower, are also getting a look.

The conversions seem to fall into three categories: offices to housing, hotels to housing, and hotels turning into offices, though not for long stays but short-term sessions.


“It’s definitely all happening, for sure,” said Eric Anton, an agent with the firm Marcus and Millichap who specializes in selling buildings. Of the seven hotels in New York he currently represents, three will likely become senior housing, one will become market-rate apartments, and the balance will stay hotels.

“But a lot of the conversations revolve around whether the conversions can happen efficiently,” Mr. Anton said.

Could be a very different Manhattan in a few years, if retirees move into the former headquarters of multinationals, redeveloped into senior housing.

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For those missing the smells of the office, R/GA has created (not just mocked up) a line of candles called Eau D’Office with officey scents like Breakfast Leftovers in Edit Suite 1, or Thursday Happy Hour on a High Table.

Quote of the Moment

A rich and varied life beyond work is only possible if work is organized in a way that is fair, rational, and resistant to whatever forces might emerge to subjugate human beings once again.

| Aaron Benanav, How to Make a Pencil