Is New York City really lacking a champion, or are they all around us?

Throughout the pandemic we’ve seen a steady stream of stories about New Yorkers hightailing it out of the city. While a mass exodus has been greatly exaggerated, there is some truth to be found here — after all, unemployment is way up, and some residents have heartbreakingly left out of necessity. But those aren’t the stories making up most of the headlines — instead, we are led to believe that New Yorkers have simply had it with this city, and are fleeing to some sort of perceived comfort in the suburbs.

To those who are still here and determined to stick around, we asked: Why are you staying in New York City? Below, meet the New Yorkers who stayed.

Katharine Maller in front of a Sunnyside mural


Katharine Maller in Sunnyside

Scott Lynch / Gothamist

Katharine Maller, Sunnyside, Queens

It’s tough to find reasons to stay in the US at all (as if it were easy to leave, but you know what I mean.) This is a brutal country that is literally sacrificing lives for the economy, and my partner and I think about how much easier life could be in a country where there’s universal healthcare and a solid social safety net. My partner is also from Puerto Rico, and while things are extraordinarily difficult there right now, it’s hard to justify dealing in New York when we could be paying much less in a beautiful place, surrounded by family. If we weren’t both lucky enough to be employed, I don’t know if we’d be staying to be honest.

I am staying in New York out of pride and anger. My family goes back three generations in Queens. My mom’s grandparents settled in Glendale – my grandparents grew up three blocks apart from each other on Myrtle Avenue, raised their children there, and my grandma lived in the same building until she was 88 years old. Legally blind and dealing with other health conditions, her neighbors took care of her until she needed more intensive care. 

Home means different things to different people. Despite my roots, I’m the last of my family here. My siblings left for other states where it’s easier to do almost everything. I’m angry that the city has been made so unaffordable that I’m the last one here, the last connection to my family’s history in this city. I worry that if I leave, that connection will be lost forever. I’m rooted here through my grandparents and great grandparents, and honestly those are the only roots holding me to this country. What’s the point of moving to another city where I know no one and where the overall struggles of living in the US are the same?

I’m staying because I refuse to be driven out by the 1%. And people are starting to fight back. We’re in an unemployment crisis and facing an eviction crisis. The working class is fighting back against the people who have exploited us for so long. We’re also helping each other through mutual aid networks, tenants associations, and organizing. So while everything feels catastrophic right now, I’m also hopeful for the future of New York. I think the city can once again be a haven for immigrants and the working class. We can make a better city that draws on our rich history and builds a more equitable future. That fight is happening now, and I want to see it through. We have a world to win.

Marta Hokenstad, Morningside Heights, Manhattan

I am staying because this is my home. I feel I am part of a larger story unfolding, a story about a new era, with my city right in the thick of it. We’ve come this far together – through a dark and traumatic spring, then into a June bursting with energy and change. Now, in August, we are shuffling our way sweatily forward into a new kind of City life.  I don’t know what comes next — but the great dynamic wheel that is NYC is clearly in motion. I feel a passionate, almost bull-headed, loyalty to the city and a strong kinship with those taking this journey with me. It would feel like a betrayal to NYC and her people — her resilient, generous, creative, gorgeously diverse people — to quit now.  I also confess to simply being a little bit curious, I want to see how this story unfolds. “Sometimes when things fall apart, well, that’s the big opportunity to change.” – Pema Chödrön

Rendy Desamours in Flatbush, Brooklyn


Rendy Desamours in Flatbush, Brooklyn

Sai Mokhtari / Gothamist

Rendy Desamours, Flatbush, Brooklyn

I’m a New Yorker, born and raised. Leave for what? A virus that has reached manageable levels? A supposed rise in crime and homelessness that has always existed and I didn’t have the opportunity to ignore previously? Closed art institutions that are a feature of New York but not the focus of NY? New York is about the people and cultures that live here. That can’t be replaced anywhere else and it’s not going anywhere.

Sara Casey, Long Island City, Queens

I live in Long Island City, and I love it here. When things got tough, community leaders started putting together outdoor socially distanced live music and other offerings for the community. We have beautiful public space, and when I have to go back to work (eventually), I don’t want to commute. My husband and I both work long hours, and our time is more valuable than anything else. We love the variety of restaurants and that are now offering seating in parking lots and patios, and we still love walking out for anything we could want or need any time, day or night. However, I do think Cuomo has been a massive success and De Blasio has been a massive failure. He has really fallen short on meeting this moment, and I think if he has channeled his “inner Cuomo” we’d be in much better shape as a city. I ❤️NY.

Ben and Taylor in their garden in Bed-Stuy


Ben and Taylor in their garden in Bed-Stuy

Sai Mokhtari / Gothamist

Ben and Taylor, Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn

Initially we hadn’t even considered leaving home as an option! We love our home and being home. Over the last 4 years we have really poured ourselves into this place, usually if we are running away… this is where we run to! We also have around 300 plants inside and outside that would suffer in our absence. We wouldn’t dream of leaving our children. 

Andrea Skowronek, NYC

I love New York and I live in New York because, for the most part, this is not just a city where people randomly end up. This is a city where many people have chosen to live. We choose to live amongst each other even though we are all so different. We choose the dirt and the grime and the expense and the inconvenience because we know that New York is the real American Dream. The American Dream isn’t a vision of white utopia where everyone has a yard and « freedom » and barbecues on the weekends. The American Dream is people streaming in from all over the world for hundreds of years onto this one tiny island because they wanted to make a better life for themselves and their kids and their families back home. Covid didn’t scare me out of New York because my great grandfather busted his ass to get here at 14 without a dime in his pocket and just a few generations later every single person in the family has a college degree and a good job and health insurance and a home (…and most of them still have their New York accents!). If he could come here as a little kid alone, help build the Holland Tunnel, and build a life and a family, then I can suck it up and wear a mask on the train.

Skye Von and James Lomax in front of a mural in Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn


Skye Von and James Lomax in Bed-Stuy

Sai Mokhtari / Gothamist

Skye Von and James Lomax, Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn

Family made it easy for us to decide to stay here! Considering we have a 3-month-old baby and that most of our family and close friends are right here in NYC and its surrounding metropolitan area, making a huge change like leaving NYC right now would be a big shift. We even moved from East Williamsburg to Bed-Stuy in April to be within walking distance to James’s family who lives here. We sought family for support in our journey as new parents — and now with COVID-19, that all seems even more important. There’s a lot of uncertainty with the pandemic and the current political environment. Staying here would give us a sense of normalcy and familiarity in our lives. Also, we are New Yorkers! You can’t keep us down even during a pandemic. We don’t give up on our city. 

Colleen, Morris Park, the Bronx

I’m not leaving NYC. I was born here, raised here, as were my parents, as were one set of grandparents. I’m not going to be pushed out of NYC… I’m still working. So is my husband and he works for the MTA and is considered essential. I cannot leave my elderly parents. My mother is in a nursing home and needs round the clock care. The thought of having to find another place does nothing for my soul. My father needs special doctors and I’m not about to uproot him. I survived NYC during the ’70s, ’80s and early ’90s. I’m not going to run for the hills. Maybe if these outsiders didn’t move in and agree to pay thousands of dollars a month in rent, maybe if these outsiders didn’t push out those living here for decades, maybe if these outsiders didn’t feel the need to be a bunch of obnoxious assholes we wouldn’t be where we are right now. So fuck them. Let them leave. Let them run. This city isn’t for the weak. Never was.

Regina Sanyu on her steps in Bed-Stuy


Regina Sanyu in Bed-Stuy

Sai Mokhtari / Gothamist

Regina Sanyu, Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn

I moved from Boston in the summer of 2016 and I have spent the past four years working on the meaning of what home is. When the lockdown happened, there was no other place I wanted to be than home in New York City. I was happy to use this time to get to know my space as I quiet down with the world. My heart has always been for Brooklyn, ️[and] I got to enjoy the things I love about New York without the fast pace.

Joey Stamp, Bedford Park, the Bronx

I moved to New York in 2012 from Waterloo, Iowa. I was fresh out of college with two bags and no money, and found a tiny apartment in Sunnyside, Queens. 

I fell in love with the city instantly—the struggle, the pace, the people, the culture, the noise, everything. From the weird bars in Brooklyn, to the glaring lights in midtown, to the vibrant people of queens, to the historic neighborhoods of the Bronx. So much about this city was different from where I grew up, except the heart of the people. Here, and back home, people cared for each other. That’s how I knew it was a city I wanted to live in, because it reminded me of home. I hoped that if I worked hard enough, eventually I might call a little piece of this city home.

Fast forward to 2015, I met my lovely wife (a native New Yorker), we got married in 2019 in the Bronx, and this year we just purchased a home together in the picturesque neighborhood of Bedford Park near the Botanical Gardens. 

I’m not ready to give up on this city. For 8 years I invested my blood, sweat, and tears in this city, and it has always provided opportunities for me to prosper. 

This city has bounced back from every challenge it has faced, and always comes away stronger and more united. I have no doubt it will bounce back from this one. To the people that are abandoning the city: Did they cherish the things that made New York, New York? The culture, the edge, the pace, the lights, the people— did they cherish this uniqueness? 

Right now this city is a patient in the hospital, and it needs time to heal and recover. You don’t give up on a friend that gets sick, you help them. Now is not the time to abandon the city, now is the time to heal the city. Fix it, clean it up, and make it whole again.

Michelle Young and family in Crown Heights


Michelle Young and family in Crown Heights

Sai Mokhtari / Gothamist

Michelle Young, Crown Heights, Brooklyn

My husband, toddler daughter and I just came back to Brooklyn from a long vacation in France and before that a month on Long Island with my parents where I grew up. Seeing the NYC skyline again sparked a crazy sense of joy. We’re doubling down here in Brooklyn even though we could stay in France in these crazy Covid times (my husband is French). Having made it out of the country, I can confirm that the world thinks Americans are batshit crazy, and for the first time in my life, I wholeheartedly agreed. But some of that crazy is also what makes living here, especially in NYC, exciting, unpredictable and inspiring. When it’s harnessed for good, nobody does it better than us. I have faith that New York City is going to come back from this – history shows that it will. Our business, running Untapped New York, is rooted here. In January we bought a fixer upper townhouse in Crown Heights that we’ll start renovating soon hopefully, and we sold our last apartment in the middle of the pandemic. To sum it up: We recently saw a kilt-wearing bagpiper in front of a bar in Brooklyn and we were like, YES! this is the weird that we get to live in and we wouldn’t trade it for anything. 

Chelsea Purcella, Washington Heights, Manhattan

I’ve lived here for nearly ten years. I moved here when I was 21, fresh out of college, to pursue a career in Fashion Design. I’ve been unemployed numerous times in my tenure but these circumstances are obviously very different.

If I had any savings, I might consider leaving the city; I’ve thought about it often but it’s just not possible to live out my Santa-Fe-pottery-throwing-hippie dreams. Sometimes living an “easier” life in suburbia sounds appealing but NYC and its social services has almost always had my back. I know from experience that it’s damn near impossible to get evicted here and it’s a safety net I’ve had to rely on more than once, including now. 

With the fashion industry crumbling (the last company I worked for filed for Chapter 11 and is closing all of their stores), I’m hoping to switch industries where I could more easily find work outside of NYC but that comes with its own challenges, namely, I don’t have a drivers license. It seems best to stay put for now because my apartment is rent-stabilized. I finally found another roommate so half of the rent, utilities and internet is no longer my sole responsibility like it was in May and June during the mass exodus. NYS unemployment covers my portion but there’s not much wiggle room after the rest of my bills are paid. I was able to get on Medicare in July with only a month and a half lapse in coverage. Since the weekly federal stimulus stopped, I have applied for SNAP but I’m waiting to hear back. It would be a big help and a weight off my shoulders. 

So here I stay. I have no idea what is going to happen but it’s okay for now. I’ve already let the anxiety of it all eat me alive a few times in the last five months but I’ve plateaued. It’s a good practice in staying present, taking each day as it comes and accepting it for what it is.

Sharon Azar in Prospect Heights


Sharon Azar in Prospect Heights

Sai Mokhtari / Gothamist

Sharon Azar, Prospect Heights, Brooklyn

The reason I would never want to leave New York is its vibrancy and access to art, music, dance, and the wonder of just meeting so many people with their dogs and children on the street. 

Bret Cahn, NYC

New York has been good to me for almost 20 years, so I never really considered leaving because things are difficult temporarily. There is really no place in America I would rather be. The horribly disproportionate effects of Covid show that this city is far from perfect and we have a lot of work to do. However, what is happening in a lot of the country is very alarming. Without making this political, New York is where I feel accepted and where I feel safe.

Many of the reasons I live in New York aren’t available to me now, like museums, concerts, etc., but one thing this pandemic has reminded me is that what makes New York special aren’t all the things you can do; it’s the people. I know that sounds trite. When a lot of people I know were leaving New York in April, I wanted my family to stay. New York has been through a lot but the people here know how to handle a crisis and we always bounce back. I really believed then that New Yorkers would rise to the occasion and do our part to get this virus under control because New Yorkers look out for each other and know how to make minor sacrifices. And this is what this is all about, isn’t it? Making minor sacrifices like wearing a mask is our civic duty.

Whether this pandemic is over in two months or two years, I’m confident we’ll continue to do the work to protect each other and this city will bounce back. It always does.

James S, Upper West Side, Manhattan

I’m a New Yorker. It’s my home and I, like any good New Yorker, wear that like a badge of honor. If the city is going to offer us the opportunities to learn, grow, change, and find things we couldn’t anywhere else then we owe it to the city to stick it out and try to make it better while we do. I grew up in the suburbs of Long Island and no virus will ever convince me the suburbs can offer these same opportunities from a fenced in backyard. 

The times that New York has been counted out are now well documented but still somehow ignored. The resilience and enduring spirit of New York borders on inevitability. A do-nothing Mayor is not stronger than 8 million people (maybe now closer to 7M) who are as creative and singularly focused as New Yorkers.

New York abhors a missed opportunity and the business owners, techies, students, parents, and (eventually) electeds will find ways to overcome this in ways we never thought possible. The diversity and proximity, of both people and thought, is integral to the creation and continued success of the city. It will take hold and we’ll make it and then openly judge all the people who fled and are begging to come back.

Andrew Littlefield in front of his home in Crown Heights


Andrew Littlefield in Crown Heights

Sai Mokhtari / Gothamist

Andrew Littlefield, Crown Heights, Brooklyn

While I’m concerned with the impact on the local job market, and completely understand people leaving to find work elsewhere, I’m struck with how much of the « leaving New York » conversation focuses on consumption:

« The bars are closed! » « I live here because of the restaurants, and I can’t do that anymore! » « No more theater or museums! »

While I love all these things about New York, and eagerly await their return, I would argue that if that’s your ONLY reason for living in NYC, you’re not here for the right reasons (or at the very least, you were bound to leave in the near future regardless). 

Cities are about more than consuming, they’re about contributing to the community, and I’ve seen that community thrive more than ever during this time. I’ve seen neighbors helping neighbors, kids playing in the street, impromptu outdoor dance parties, and more. It was just weeks ago that we saw thousands upon thousands of DAILY marches with New Yorkers of all stripes standing up for each other and demanding justice.

That sure doesn’t seem like a city in decline to me.

Gil, Prospect Heights, Brooklyn

All this Corona shit here is better than all this Corona shit there.

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