To the average Yale student, New Haven may be just another small college town. But to some Connecticut residents, New Haven’s downtown has established itself as a “hip spot” that increasingly draws the state’s young people with fine dining and unique boutiques.
This revitalized downtown has caught the attention of young professionals who want to live in a city with an affordable but high quality of life, according to some city officials. But as more professionals have moved into the city, many original residents have been priced out of living in New Haven, aldermen said.
Director of Marketing for University Properties Shana Schneider said New Haven has several associations of young professionals that have hundreds of members on their lists. Many of these young professionals have a “reverse commute” — working in Madison, Farmington, Stamford and Hartford, but living in New Haven, she said.
Town Green Special Services District Director Scott Healy said the young professional population is the biggest demographic that is moving into New Haven.
“People are willing to pay the premium for all the amenities, even though they have to commute for their jobs, just because the downtown New Haven area is so appealing for the urban young professional,” Healy said.
Schneider said young professionals are attracted to living in New Haven because it offers amenities of both cities and suburbs. Like larger cities, New Haven has a wide variety of restaurants and shops within walking distance of downtown apartments. But at the same time, its low cost of living enables young professionals to purchase a fairly sizable home, Schneider said.
Healy said the idea that New Haven is an attractive place for young professionals to live may be surprising to some Yale students because they automatically assume that the rumors they have heard about the city are true.
“Students should question the city’s reputation that they took as gospel before they got here,” he said. “Sometimes a city is what you make of it.”
Healy said the presence of six colleges in New Haven has its perks, and New Haven is unique in having the only Ivy League institution with four schools of art — music, art, architecture and drama — that create many opportunities in the city.
“There is a lot of youthful exuberance from being a college town,” Healy said. “There is a very creative downtown economy.”
But though there are many young professionals living in New Haven, there are very few working in the city, Ward 23 Alderman Yusuf Shah said. Because few well-paying jobs — other than those in the service sector or biotech — are available in the Elm City, most young professionals have to leave the city to work, he said.
“You go where the jobs are,” Shah said. “If there were jobs here then I think people would stay here and work here, but I don’t feel like there are as many jobs that would be suitable and have the pay in New Haven.”
Shah said recent rent increases have made it difficult for many of New Haven’s original residents to live here. Though Shah said New Haven’s high rent costs are not a direct result of increased demand on housing from young professionals, he said high rents were altering the demographic of the city.
“The affordability in New Haven is dwindling,” Shah said. “As a whole there is a mass exodus of people out of New Haven, just on the simple fact that rents are so high. Particularly if you are talking about the indigent people on a fixed income, it is very difficult to make ends meet just on housing.”
Although rents are going up in the city as a whole, Ward 11 Alderman Robert Lee said there are parts of New Haven outside downtown that are still seen as undesirable. To alleviate this problem, Lee said, the city needs to focus on more than just revitalizing downtown but also on restrengthening New Haven’s less affluent parts.
“Some people may go to Manhattan and the Village, but they don’t go to certain pocket parts such as Brooklyn and Queens,” Lee said. “Some people come to New Haven just to see downtown and Yale. Some people may not want to come to the inner city of New Haven, but there needs to be more economic development … so that people know New Haven is more than downtown.”
Ward 21 Alderman Katrina Jones said she hopes that more businesses will be more willing to invest in the areas neighboring downtown, now that economic development has strengthened the downtown New Haven area.
“A nucleus by itself is just a nucleus; downtown is just downtown,” Jones said. “You have to have neighboring communities because outsiders coming in just isn’t going to sustain the whole city, it is just going to sustain downtown. The community also has to have life.”