A slew of high-end, high-profile rental buildings are poised to open across Manhattan and Brooklyn this year, adding more than 8,000 units at a pace not seen in years, and in the process, redefining what rental housing in the city can be.
Many of these new rental buildings are large, tall and unusually shaped. Some are in untested residential areas, which might explain their devotion to lavishly entertaining their occupants by piling on the amenities both indoors and out.
Soon-to-be-completed examples include Via 57West, on an industrial edge of Manhattan’s West Side; 461 Dean Street, by the Barclays Center at the Vanderbilt Yards in Brooklyn; and 365 Bond Street, on the banks of the Gowanus Canal.
Prices, too, are lofty, with studios in some of the buildings renting for about $5,000 a month.
While any softness in the rental market — new leasing activity has slowed in recent months, and vacancies are up — could spell challenges going forward, most developers say they are undeterred.
“New York is safer and cleaner than it’s been in decades, and we fully expect people to keep moving here,” said Adam R. Rose, a president of Rose Associates, which is converting 70 Pine Street, an Art Deco office building in the financial district, into a 776-unit rental. “And the fact is, we need virtually unlimited housing at all levels,” he added.
Once, a driveway and porte-cochere might have been enough to provide a building with an air of prestige, but rentals today seem to be springing for brash top-to-bottom designs.
Like their condo kin, rentals are increasingly opting for architects with boldface names. Via 57West, a 709-unit rental at 625 West 57th Street, for example, was designed by the Bjarke Ingels Group. Mr. Ingels is the Danish designer whose résumé also includes Two World Trade Center.
Those expecting four walls and a roof at Via, which is to open in March, may be disappointed.
There is no roof at all, only sloping walls that taper to a point at the 42nd story, recalling a tilting tepee or a wizard’s hat, though the developer, the Durst Organization, prefers “tetrahedron.”
Because the metal-paneled rental is near the West Side Highway, a gateway to Manhattan, the city’s Planning Commission didn’t want some humdrum rectangle, according to Durst officials. But Mr. Ingels’ great pyramid also allowed Durst to preserve Hudson River views from the windows of the Helena, a rental that the company owns next door, according to a Durst spokesman.
The offbeat style produced unusual layouts. A 685-square-foot one-bedroom with tall windows that was a stop on a recent tour had an angled exterior wall, which might not be ideal for straight-backed furniture.
“We have apartments with a lot of character to them,” said Jonathan Drescher, a Durst senior vice president. And those apartments seem tailored to younger, unattached renters, as 85 percent are studios, starting at $2,770 a month, or one-bedrooms, starting at $3,880.
In contrast, the median price of a studio in Manhattan in December was $2,562 a month, while that of a one-bedroom was $3,375, according to a market report from Douglas Elliman Real Estate.
Via and other buildings are adding rental units to the market in a banner development year.
About 4,900 apartments in large and mostly market-rate buildings are expected to open their doors in Manhattan in 2016, according to data prepared for The New York Times by Cliff Finn, an executive vice president of Douglas Elliman Development Marketing, and George Wlodarczyk, a research director there. This is a significant increase, as the number has hovered below 3,000 a year since at least 2010. Eight of the 15 major buildings to open this year, according to Elliman, offer 300 apartments or more.
Similarly, Brooklyn will add about 3,300 apartments in major projects in 2016, Elliman said, the most since 2014, when about 3,000 units entered the market. But in previous years, going back to 2007, the number of new apartments that opened in the borough was much lower.
This housing surge comes at a time of some weakness in the market.
In December, the median rent in the Manhattan luxury market — that is, the top 10 percent of all transactions — nudged down to $8,500 a month from $8,537 a month in November. Similarly, the November median was down from October, when it was $8,750, according to Elliman data prepared by Jonathan J. Miller, the president of Miller Samuel, an appraisal firm.
In addition, the city has more empty apartments than usual.
Traditionally, in New York, the dividing line between a robust and not-so-great market is a 2 percent vacancy rate. Since June of last year, the rate has been higher, with November’s at 2.87 percent, the highest in nine years, Mr. Miller said. In December, the rate was 2.74 percent.
With empty apartments and dipping rents, the market is not ideally suited for thousands of new units, which could depress prices further. For renters, that could be a good thing.
Mr. Miller said concessions are already part of the picture. Both Via 57West and 70 Pine are offering two free months on a 14-month lease, which is more than the one month traditionally offered under similar conditions, Mr. Miller said.
“I think there is great confusion about demand for this product,” Mr. Miller added. “It’s not correct to say that demand is not there for this new product. It is more accurate to say that in many, if not most, cases, demand is not there at prices set a few years ago.”
Of course, developers won’t really know where things stand until their rental offices actually open.
But so far, many of the rentals scheduled to hit the market in the next few months come with high monthly price tags.
The new 11-story, 106-unit rental from the Related Companies at 456 Washington Street in TriBeCa, for instance, will have studios starting at $4,995 a month, while one-bedrooms will start at $5,295, though a Related spokeswoman pointed out that the building, which is to open in May, is in a prime location, and that its apartments are larger than most of the firm’s other properties. Studios are around 600 square feet, she said, while one-bedrooms range from 700 to 750 square feet.
Also in May, Related will unveil the Easton, a 230-unit rental on East 92nd Street, where one-bedrooms will start at $4,295 a month.
If rents seem steep, they need to be considered along with the costs of building apartment houses, which can be astronomical, according to Jed Walentas, a principal of Two Trees Management Company, which is developing 300 Ashland Place, a 379-unit tower across from the Brooklyn Academy of Music in Fort Greene, Brooklyn, to open at summer’s end.
The building, clad in aluminum-composite panels, was designed by TEN Arquitectos, Enrique Norten’s firm. From above, the building resembles a flattened football with its pointed ends trimmed, creating slightly curving walls. It was built under the 421-a program, which gives developers breaks on their property taxes if they construct and maintain affordable housing in a so-called 80-20 building — 80 percent market-rate rents and 20 percent below-market or affordable rents.
Developers say that in a city where land is so pricey, it can be almost impossible to build without the program, especially rentals, for which revenue trickles in over time.
The controversial benefit, which critics say enriches developers at the expense of the public and has outlived its usefulness, expired in January, and its impending end helped fuel the current rental-building boom, some developers say.
Other builders, though, say the rental surge is more the result of the post-recession recovery, and began when these projects were conceived a few years ago.
At 300 Ashland Place, 421-a has made a big difference. The $170 million project will realize savings of up to $2 million a year in property taxes for 25 years, or about $50 million, according to Two Trees officials, in exchange for the building’s 76 below-market-rate apartments.
As Mr. Walentas scanned the horizon from his rising tower, which provides views of low-slung sections of Brooklyn that were mostly unattainable before the rental boom, he said he wasn’t worried about competition. “The more people build, the better it’s going to be for everybody,” he said, adding that the rising buildings help strengthen neighborhoods.
One new rental in the current crop, 461 Dean Street in Brooklyn, will be split almost evenly between apartments with below-market rents and market-rate apartments.
The 363-unit project from Forest City Ratner Companies, which is made of prefabricated modules, will have 181 apartments with lower rents. About 40 percent of the affordable units, or 72, will be for people making 100 percent to 160 percent of the area’s median income, or up to $138,080 for a family of four. That family could end up paying $2,800 a month for a two-bedroom, said Susi Yu, an executive vice president of Forest City.
“This is actually a segment of the market that really has been overlooked,” Ms. Yu said, referring to the income bracket of that same family of four.
Forest City has not yet determined what a market-rate two-bedroom would cost in the building. In December, the median price of a two-bedroom in Brooklyn was $3,350 a month, Elliman said.
To score one of the coveted reduced-rent units at 461 Dean, renters must enter a lottery, which will be organized by Forest City and the city’s Housing Development Corporation.
When the lottery is announced, which is expected “imminently,” according to a project spokeswoman, applicants will have 60 days to register at the New York City Housing Connect web page, or by paper application. To get the word out about the application process, Forest City will contact labor unions, community boards and churches.
Each applicant will receive a number. If that number is drawn, he or she must submit tax returns, landlord references and bank statements to verify eligibility. Priority will be given to people with visual impairments and other disabilities, and secondarily, to those who live within the boundaries of Brooklyn Community Boards 2, 3, 6 and 8. Municipal workers also will have an advantage.
As has been the case for several years, buildings in less-residential neighborhoods are packed with extras designed to give their occupants something to do in otherwise quiet areas. But the amount of space dedicated to these amenities has mushroomed.
At Via by the West Side Highway, for instance, the 30,000 square feet of indoor amenity space will include a 75-foot swimming pool, a half basketball court and a leather-walled room designated for poker. A terraced courtyard planted with pitch pines, river birches and honey locusts will offer another 22,000 square feet of communal space. Four retail spaces will line the building’s base.
Another 75-foot swimming pool will turn up at Eos, a glassy 375-unit Durst project at 100 West 31st Street in NoMad to open this year. Sidewalk windows peer down at the pool, so passers-by can admire people doing the backstroke below.
Meanwhile in Brooklyn, at 365 Bond Street, a 430-unit, 80-20 building from the Lightstone Group next to the Gowanus Canal, a Superfund site, residents will avail themselves of 40,000 square feet of amenity space. Among the offerings are a yoga room, a children’s playroom and a rooftop lounge with barbecue grills.
building, which broke ground in 2014, opens in March. Interest in the affordable component has been intense, with more than 56,000 applications received for the 86 below-market units. Applications closed last month.
Market-rate studios there will start in the “low $2,000s,” a spokesman said, adding that “we don’t have concessions finalized yet.”
The building will be by a dock from which kayaks can be launched for paddling the Gowanus, which is scheduled to be cleaned starting this year, said Mitchell C. Hochberg, Lightstone’s president.
“I think Gowanus is one of the most exciting places in the city, like Williamsburg 10 years ago,” Mr. Hochberg said.
But in a shift, even developers in more central areas are acknowledging a new cultural reality: that young renters, who may work and live under the same roof, and have all their groceries delivered, might not set foot outside that much.
At amenity-loaded 70 Pine, “the whole idea is that you don’t ever have to leave the building,” Mr. Rose said.
Rents for studios on the lower floors of the 1932 building, which are now being marketed, start at $3,100 a month, and 21 leases were signed between December and the end of January. The next batch of studios, on higher floors, will inch up to $3,200 a month, Mr. Rose said.
The building has about 19,000 square feet of amenities, spread across two below-grade levels, including a two-lane bowling alley and a 20-seat screening room in an old bank vault, whose door will be welded into the open position.
Seventy Pine’s fitness center will be run by La Palestra, a company whose services extend to arranging out-of-building exercise at places like Mount Kilimanjaro. There will be about 31,500 square feet of retail space, including a branch of the upscale grocer Urban Market. And the top four levels of the building, which has a window-lined observation deck, will house a yet-to-be named restaurant from the team behind the Spotted Pig in the West Village.
The list of amenities dazzles even Mr. Rose. “I’ve been in this business for 30 years, and we’ve never done this much in one place before,” he said.