The COVID-19 pandemic and other factors have at least temporarily slowed the influx of people to some Columbus neighborhoods, according to the findings of a recent Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland report.
Stephan Whitaker, policy economist with the Federal Reserve, conducted the study. He said he looked at specific, dense urban neighborhoods and gauged the flow of residents in and out in 2020 compared to previous years.
In Columbus, he found a decline in people moving to those neighborhoods accounted for about two-thirds of the net change, which was: 15 fewer people per 100,000 per month moving into these neighborhoods, and eight more moving out per 100,000 per month.
The toll of COVID-19 on metro areas, urban neighborhoods
That mirrors in general what is going on nationally with many metro areas, he said.
“The real widespread phenomena is the downshift of flows to urban neighborhoods,” Whitaker said.
But Whitaker believes that decline likely will be temporary, as offices and other workplaces eventually reopen, companies decide to hire again, and people make decisions on moving.
“It’s going to depend on what share of people shift to remote work,” he said.
Tawny Freeman, an office manager for Wood Companies, which manages rental properties in the Short North, Italian Village and Victorian Village, said she has not seen such turnover in the 20 years she has worked there.
Some tenants moved out after losing their jobs in the service industry due to COVID-19, she said. “They couldn’t pay rent and had to move in with their folks,” Freeman said.
In other cases, some people who were working from home discovered they needed more space or a different set-up in their apartments and needed to move elsewhere, she said.
Whitaker said compared to big metropolitan areas, commute times in places such as Columbus and Cleveland are relatively low, so that may be less of a reason why people choose to move to and stay in central city neighborhoods. However, people like living in those urban neighborhoods because of nearby amenities such as restaurants, bars and shops, he said.
“If amenities come back, if that was the main driver before, population trends should turn to what they were before,” Whitaker said.
More:New Downtown apartment complex opens amid coronavirus outbreak
Who is moving out of urban neighborhoods?
To determine the number of people moving in and out of neighborhoods, Whitaker used data from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York/Equifax Consumer Credit Panel, which is an anonymous random sample of 5% of American consumers with a credit file, a sample of more than 10 million adults.
About nine 9 of 10 adults have credit records. The populations the panel underrepresents includes low-income people who do not use traditional lenders and college-aged adults still relying on their parents for money.
Whitaker said he decided to do the study after seeing stories about an urban exodus during the pandemic that used other types of information, such as moving truck rentals and home prices, as reasons for the outflow.
Other reasons cited were protests over the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis in May, spikes in homicides and other violence, and people working from home during the pandemic making it unnecessary to be closer to Downtown areas.
More:Here’s what it’s been like living Downtown during the protests
He studied metro areas with more than 500,000 residents, and looked at neighborhoods of at least 7,000 residents per square mile, such as the Short North, parts of the Near East Side and South Side close to Downtown, and the Northeast Side, and neighborhoods of at least 2,000 residents per square mile if half of the homes were built before World War II
By those definitions, about 12% of the neighborhoods in Columbus and eight census tracts in some smaller cities in the metro area are defined as urban, he said.
Nationally, the average of monthly out-migration was 276,000 in March through September 2020. That is 10,000 more than the average of 266,000 during the same months during the years 2017 through 2019.
The bigger change, however, involved migration into those neighborhoods. That fell 18,000 people, from an average of 238,000 during 2017 to 2019 to 220,000 in 2020.
Nationally, Whitaker’s study showed the net flow out of urban neighborhoods averaged nearly 28,000 people per month in March through September during 2017 to 2019. That number about doubled — to 56,000 people per month — in 2020 after the pandemic took hold in March.
Big and expensive coastal metros such as New York, San Francisco and Seattle were affected the most, he said. In the New York metro, more than twice the number of people were leaving these neighborhoods as arriving in 2020 compared to previous years.
“What is certain is that hundreds of thousands of people who would have moved into an urban neighborhood in a typical year were unwilling or unable to do so in 2020,” Whitaker wrote in his report.
Jason Reece, an assistant professor of city and regional planning at Ohio State University’s Knowlton School of Architecture, looked at Whitaker’s findings. He agreed that any slowing of moves into central city neighborhoods might be just temporary.
“The area is still growing, maybe a blip on radar,” Reece said.
“Anecdotally, if you look at our housing market right now, houses are going so quickly,” he said.
“The market is still incredibly strong,” Reece said. He said his long-term concern is high prices for homes.
Michael Jones, president of the Columbus Board of Realtors, said Downtown — the 43215 ZIP code — saw one less home sale in 2020 than 2019.
“There’s a desire for a Downtown urban environment lifestyle,” Jones said. “I think we’re still seeing the same trends. We’re not seeing a slowdown in those areas.”
Edward “Ned” Hill, an economic development professor at Ohio State, called the data Whitaker used the best possible and his methodology almost bulletproof. He said considering that the area overall continues to grow, the inflow to some urban neighborhoods shrinking a bit “is a little shocking.”
But he considers any slowdown as a temporary blip as well, citing the rapid collapse of the jobs market after COVID hit and college students staying home as possible reasons for the trends Whitaker cited.