L train

Williamsburg’s rental market is hot, “L-pocalypse” or not. (Getty Images)

Only a year ago, renters were fleeing en masse from Williamsburg as the long-planned L train shutdown threatened to seriously disrupt the subway commute to and from Manhattan. Rents were down, inventory was up, deals were everywhere.

Then, on Jan. 3, 2019, Gov. Andrew Cuomo abruptly canceled the shutdown, opting for a “slowdown” to make tunnel repairs instead. Today, the housing market in this trendy neighborhood shows hardly any sign of the once-feared “L-pocalypse.” Rents have come roaring back and are now higher than ever, with November 2019 prices rising nearly 27% above the previous year.

One year after the long-feared shutdown plan was canceled, StreetEasy took a look at the recent highs and lows of the Williamsburg housing market.

L Train Shutdown Announced, Renters Flee

Rents in Williamsburg started to decline in July 2016, virtually as soon as subway officials announced the plan to shut down L train service between Brooklyn and Manhattan for 15 months starting in April 2019.

The largest price drop occurred in January 2017, when median asking rents fell to $3,000 — 8.3% lower than a year prior. But Williamsburg rents didn’t hit their lowest levels until December 2018, about five months before the planned shutdown was set to begin. This long-popular waterfront neighborhood, filled with nightlife and shopping and new development, saw its median asking rent sink to $2,899 — still very pricey, but relatively low for the area.

Then, of course, the plan changed. In January 2019, Gov. Cuomo announced that a group of experts had found a way to make post-Superstorm Sandy repairs to the Canarsie Tunnel without cutting off L train service altogether. The shutdown would become a “slowdown,” with full daytime L service for commuters, but more infrequent trains over nights and weekends.

L Train Shutdown Canceled, Renters Return

That was good enough for would-be Williamsburg renters, who returned in sufficient number that landlords started upping their prices rapidly in January. By November 2019, rents had reached a record high of $3,675 — 26.7% higher than they were last year, when the shutdown was still scheduled to happen.

Williamsburg and East Williamsburg 1-2BRs Under $3,500 on StreetEasy Article continues below

With the nights-and-weekends slowdown going on since late April — and a full L-pocalypse avoided — Williamsburg has officially reclaimed its spot as one of the most expensive rental markets in Brooklyn, just behind Dumbo and Brooklyn Heights.

We should note that asking rents are up across the city, and the borough of Brooklyn led the way with a 4% year-over-year increase to a median $2,600 this past fall. But Williamsburg’s huge jump is definitely an outlier.

Buyers and Sellers Shrugged Either Way

Interestingly, the shutdown turbulence in the rental market didn’t leak over into the sales side. The number of recorded home sales in Williamsburg remained flat from 2018 to 2019. Median asking prices in North Brooklyn (the neighborhood’s submarket) trended down all through last year, and the StreetEasy Price Index for Brooklyn was 1.6% below the previous year in November.

One way to see the change in Williamsburg over this past year is in the volume of StreetEasy searches, which rose dramatically after the shutdown plans changed. We saw 32% more single-neighborhood searches for Williamsburg in 2019 than in 2018, showing that interest grew substantially after the shutdown was canceled. Some of those searchers were doubtless prospective buyers.

Williamsburg 1-2BRs Under $1.5M on StreetEasy Article continues below

Today, rents in Williamsburg are higher than ever, but tenants are still snapping up units, and inventory has declined substantially. In November 2019, there were just 880 units listed for rent on StreetEasy, down 68% from a year prior.

The inventory crunch is one more indication of how popular this neighborhood remains, even with a temporarily hobbled subway connection to Manhattan. And it’s one of the major reasons Williamsburg landed at number one on our list of Neighborhoods to Watch in 2020.

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