As the summer approaches and the market catches its post-recession bearings, no area in Manhattan has heated up as quickly as Harlem. The media has paid close attention as new condos along Central Park North and towers rising over Frederick Douglass Boulevard have led the way in the neighborhood's real estate renaissance. While residents have benefitted from new restaurants and amenities brought in by these projects, new measures are being sought by community leaders to make sure that an area with a rich heritage stays that way.
In an effort to preserve the history of the brownstone-dominated area, a report released last week from Community Board 10 has outlined a plan to establish or expand nine historic districts across Harlem. While it still needs to be approved by the Landmarks Preservation Commission, some of the main intentions for the proposal lie in the fear of having glass condos arise between rows of classic townhomes. The plans may help maintain Harlem's historic charm, but new data on market trends indicate that prices could push longtime residents out either way.
A recent report from StreetEasy.com's VP of Research Sofia Song has shown that while prices across Manhattan have remained relatively flat since last year's first quarter, Central Harlem has seen a 6.6 percent increase in median closing price -- the highest of any neighborhood in the city. Even more telling is the shrinking inventory in the area, as the supply of available apartments is down 17.7 percent from 2011.
One of the big shifts has also been in the buyers. "When federally backed lending programs started supporting home ownership for end-users, homeowners started replacing investors as the top purchasers in 2008," explains Robb Pair, the president of local brokerage Harlem Lofts. "The downturn caused some stress for many, but it was the best thing for Harlem."
Despite these trends and rising prices, luxury buyers and renters are still coming to the area for better value and amenities than they can receive anywhere else on the island. On the sales side, conversion projects such as One Museum Mile, which houses condos above the Museum for African Art at 1280 Fifth Ave., have seen success -- even selling some of their pricier units, such as the $3.1 million penthouse that sold this past month. Down the street, The Related Companies have started marketing 1214 Fifth Ave., Mount Sinai's newest tower, which features 30 floors of rentals and the amenities of a luxury condo, including a pool, fitness center and a screening room.
If the rapid growth of Harlem highrises is limited as a result of new zoning restrictions, the neighborhood will need to rely on multifamily conversions to condos to keep buyers coming in. But if interest rates stay low and rents around the city continue to rise, the "renaissance" could continue for years to come.