Ex-New Yorkers reveal why they joined thousands of others leaving Big Apple last year

New Yorkers moving out
New Yorkers moving out

New Yorkers who joined in an exodus from the city last year say they were driven out by a palpable change that has overtaken the streets — with many blaming crime and soaring prices for it.

“I think everybody’s noticed a little bit of a shift in the city over the last year or so in terms of safety and cleanliness,” said Samantha Pillsbury, 31, who left the city for a stay in Los Angeles in February after nine years in the Big Apple.

“I’m a single woman, and it started to get less safe, which then affects your entire life,” she said.

Pillsbury — who plans to visit Europe and other cities before settling down somewhere — was just one of tens of thousands of people who fled New York City in recent months.

About 78,000 people left the city in 2023, according to new US Census data, marking a slowdown in the Big Apple’s population decline since the pandemic but still the third year in a row that the numbers have dropped.

“The short answer is that I stopped loving it as much,” Pillsbury acknowledged to The Post of Gotham. “In the last couple of years, the tide sort of turned for how I felt about the city.

Samantha Pillsbury, 31, says the ceaseless grind and growing crime sent her packing from New York City.
Samantha Pillsbury, 31, says the ceaseless grind and growing crime sent her packing from New York City.

“I really started to struggle with the sort of New York culture around work. This sort of like workaholic, work-obsessed culture,” she said, explaining that her online work as a content creator and marketing consultant in the field has allowed her to work from anywhere and get out of the hustle of the city.

A sense of menace from crime growing on the streets since the pandemic pushed her toward making up her mind to leave in the last year.

“I think those factors certainly nudge me along, maybe a little bit faster,” she said.

Pillsbury was far from alone among those feeling things have changed in the city they love.

Stephanie Heintz, 37, was a devoted New Yorker of 14 years but left over safety fears.
Stephanie Heintz, 37, was a devoted New Yorker of 14 years but left over safety fears.

Stephanie Heintz, 37, first moved to New York 14 years ago to join the fashion industry and found a community that looked out for its members even in the midst of sometimes chaos in the streets.

“I really did believe all the cliche sayings of that, if you can make it in New York, you can make it anywhere. I still believe that,” she said. “I believed that it was a city that never sleeps.

“And that allowed for, for me, for single women, to have a greater sense of safety on the street later at night. There were power numbers, there were more people out. And that just it gave me a certain freedom.”

But she said that feeling evaporated during the pandemic, with safety fears driving her first from her Hell’s Kitchen apartment to a doorman building in NoMad — and finally out of the city altogether.

“Those are all the things that I loved about New York initially, and then things really did change for me in the pandemic,” she said.

Heintz was living the life in New York City — till the pandemic. Courtesy Stephanie Heintz
Heintz was living the life in New York City — till the pandemic. Courtesy Stephanie Heintz

“It became an area where I was carrying pepper spray. I was physically attacked on the street a few times,” she said. “I felt myself changing, I felt my energy changing. I felt like I was not engaging at all. And if anything, I was jumpy.

“I had this ‘the world was my oyster’ kind of feeling. And then it suddenly flipped to where I was confined to this small tiny apartment. I could barely even walk my dog.”

Despite living a block away from the posh Ritz-Carlton hotel, Heintz said, she regularly saw people defecating or shooting up heroin steps from her door.

When she finally made up her mind to leave, she was spat on by a stranger as she walked to her office to resign.

Sophie Alvi, 30, quit her job as a lawyer and moved to Austin, Texas, for a slower pace back in September.
Sophie Alvi, 30, quit her job as a lawyer and moved to Austin, Texas, for a slower pace back in September.
Alvi in happier times in the Big Apple. sophmaryum/Instagram
Alvi in happier times in the Big Apple. sophmaryum/Instagram

Helping her along was the fact that she was slammed with a massive spike in rent since the pandemic, an increase she suddenly found herself struggling to afford despite having worked her way up to a vice president position in the fashion world.

She decided to pack up and head to Fort Lauderdale, Fla., in October.

“I thought during the pandemic everyone in Florida was crazy. But you know, moving to a place with sunshine and different taxes and the beach and smiling past your neighbors and engaging and saying ‘Hello,’ it’s been really nice,” she said.

Heintz joined more than 58,000 New York residents who moved to Florida last year, according to Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles obtained by The Post.

“I think everyone needs to live in a city like New York that will humble them like that,” Heintz said philosophically. “But 14 years ran its course for me. And those those big two elements of safety and money were the deciding factors.”

About half of New Yorkers plan to join the exodus from the city within five years, according to a poll from Citizens Budget Commission, with only 30% saying they’re happy in the city and blaming a significant decline since the pandemic.

New York City’s population dropped by 78,000 in 2023, the third year in a row the numbers have declined. Getty Images
New York City’s population dropped by 78,000 in 2023, the third year in a row the numbers have declined. Getty Images

Sophie Alvi, 30, quit her job as a Manhattan lawyer in September and headed to Austin, Texas, after she felt herself being stifled by the pace and mindset of New York.

“Looking back, I feel like the overall culture of Manhattan and New York City felt pretty cold,” Alvi said. “It wasn’t really somewhere where I wanted to continue the next chapter of my life, really.

“It’s too hectic, I feel like everyone’s there trying to make money, trying to chase something and not really just trying to live life.”

Once she decided she didn’t want to be a lawyer, she decided there was little reason to remain in the city, and now she pays a fraction of the cost in rent for a better apartment in Austin, where she is mulling starting a mindfulness brand.

“I can wake up and hear the birds chirping or just like, I hear a rooster from my apartment,” she said.

“I feel like Austin is somewhere there’s just a lot more space to just be yourself,” Alvi said. “It’s not too rigid. I’ve been trying to unlearn that very rigid, rigid way of thinking from Manhattan.”

Others described wanting see new places after spending so much time restricted by the pandemic lockdowns, and many said the remote work they’d settled into since left them with few reasons to put up with the difficulties of city living.

But everybody who The Post spoke with still had nostalgia for their old home — and encouragement for others looking to take their spots.

“There is a lot of doomsday talk about the city,” Pillsbury said “And while I do think there’s certainly been some problematic things going on in the city, it doesn’t change the fact that it is an amazing city to live in and has so much to offer people.”