The mean streets of New York City are looking a tad bit less mean these days, at least in some areas. That’s not because the riots have ended or the murder rate is going back down. (Neither of those things are true.) But a serious number of people are packing up and getting out while the getting is good. How do we know? According to a recent report from CNBC, the number of vacant apartments in the city has reached a level never seen since these records have been kept. Well over ten thousand apartments are sitting empty as renters and owners alike flee the city for safer (if not greener) pastures.

The number of empty apartments for rent in Manhattan soared to their highest level in recent history, topping 13,000, as residents fled the city and landlords struggled to find new tenants.

The number of apartments for rent, or listing inventory, more than doubled over last year and set a record for the 14 years since data started being collected, according to a report from Douglas Elliman and Miller Samuel. As the number of apartments listed for rent hit 13,117, the number of new leases signed fell by 23%.

July also saw the largest fall in rental rates in nearly a decade, dropping 10%. Landlords are now offering an average of 1.7 months of free rent to try to lure tenants, according to the report, which is also a recent high.

Before anyone jumps to the conclusion that the high number of vacancies is a result of the predicted pandemic recession eviction crisis, that’s not the case. There’s still a moratorium on evictions or rental rate increases in Gotham and that moratorium was recently extended yet again. These cases aren’t examples of people being kicked out of their homes. They are choosing to leave voluntarily.

Many of the people involved in this exodus are in a big hurry to do so. We know this from other reports revealing that some tenants are leaving their furniture behind. Some who remain behind are finding a bonanza of new furniture for their apartments sitting on the curb.

One upshot of all this is that rather than rising, rents are beginning to fall. Some landlords are so desperate to find new tenants that they’re offering up to two months of free rent just to get people to sign a lease. (In more normal times, you have to put up a couple of extra months worth of rent to get in the door.) So while the eviction crisis still looms somewhere over the horizon, for the moment there’s a glut of more affordable housing in the city.

Is this any surprise? Of course people are fleeing if they are able to. With nightly riots and rapidly rising crime rates, the city simply isn’t as safe or attractive as it used to be. As John recently noted, this applies to the commercial sector as well as residential areas. A number of retail chains that closed down because of the pandemic have now decided to close permanently and move their stores outside of the downtown area. You’re only going to put up with having your windows smashed and all of your merchandise looted so many times before you decide to call it a day.

People with longer memories are able to recognize what they’re seeing taking place in the Big Apple. Conditions are sliding toward what New York City looked like in the late 80s and early 90s. That wasn’t a pleasant time to be stuck in New York. There were plenty of years where the murder rate was measured in the thousands (plural) rather than the hundreds and the gangs controlled entire neighborhoods to the point where they were almost no-go zones for the cops. Nobody wants to see a return to those days, but New Yorkers clearly know that if it happened once it could happen again. And the suburbs are looking more and more attractive.