The Changing Faces of Washington Heights A Look at an Evolving NYC Neighborhood

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Washington Heights sits on the narrow neck of land that juts up from Harlem toward the Bronx in upper Manhattan. Developed in stages from around the turn of the last century through World War II, the neighborhood has been referred to by many names.  In the 1930s, it was known as 'Frankfurt-on-the-Hudson,' home to such prominent people as Henry Kissinger and Dr. Ruth Westheimer. By the 1980s, it was known as 'Moscow-on-the-Hudson,' populated by thousands of newly-arrived immigrants from the collapsing Soviet Union. 

Today, the neighborhood has the largest Dominican community outside the Dominican Republic (It is memorialized by actor/playwright Lin-Manuel Miranda in the hit musical In the Heights).  The Dominican community in Washington Heights is so large and important to its home country that Heights residents who hold Dominican citizenship can vote in Dominican elections in the neighborhood.  

Washington Heights  is a varied and large community with many different faces, one of its most attractive features. But like every other old-fashioned, traditional neighborhood in the city in the last few decades, Washington Heights has been experiencing changes, especially in the context of demographics and real estate.  

Recent Trends

“Change in the neighborhood started around the mid-2000’s,” says Led Black, a lifelong Washington Heights resident and an upper Manhattan blogger. His website, The Uptown Collective, chronicles life in Washington Heights, Harlem, and Inwood. “Gentrification picked up steam around 2011-12. This year seems to be a tipping point. When I visit places in the neighborhood I’ve visited all my life, I see the change in the demographics.”

Nick Rafello, an associate broker with brokerage firm Corcoran, confirms Black’s time frame. He has lived and worked in the neighborhood for approximately 16 years. “The trend has been upward since the Great Recession. That lasted until about 2012. In 2013, things started to percolate, with a huge surge in 2015-16. The market was great. People were cashing in downtown and moving uptown to get more space. At the moment we are experiencing a small market correction, but that’s normal.

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