America has always been known as the Land of the Free, and nothing depicts this sense of freedom better than the classic, timeless Statue of Liberty, the country’s most famous landmark.
Standing chivalrously on Liberty Island in New York Harbor, law tablet in one hand, a torch signifying enlightenment on the other, the robed female figure with a crown on her head has always served as a welcome sign for more than a century for the millions of desolate souls who rode past her, a sense of relief engulfing them as they crept through the harbour.
Today, New York is the largest metropolitan area in the U.S., home to almost 21 million people who speak over 200 languages. The city itself, Big Apple, has always been a spectacle, what with its historic structures, famous skyscrapers and beautiful people from the world over.
Beyond the city’s magnificence and its standing as one of the most recognisable in the world, New York has been known for one thing in particular when it comes to life in the big city: the high cost of living. Housing. Food. Transport. Clothing. Taxes (income, property, sales). Entertainment. They are all higher than most other cities in the country.
The hard truth is, budgets are a must for NYC dwellers, and thrift a necessary requirement.
Understandably, New York doesn’t rank too favourably in best places to live lists, including the 2017 U.S. News & World Report which placed it at position 80 out of 100 best cities to live in America.
Let that not put you off though. There is a reason New Yorkers, surprisingly, have a long life expectancy. The Empire State is not short of decent places to call home.
1. Bay Ridge, Brooklyn
Bay Ridge is often regarded as one of the best neighbourhoods in the coveted borough of Brooklyn.
Homes cost a little under $1,000,000, but the going rate depends on the area, with the median price for properties listed in the neighbourhood sitting at $673,792, according to popular ranking site, Niche.com.
Bay Ridge has some great schools and plenty of choices to make a pick from, from elementary through high school. Crime and safety rank favourably, and the quiet and peaceful feel of the place makes for just the ideal environment for families.
The 60,500 residents of Bay Ridge enjoy good public transport which is extremely accessible, making it even easier to access the amenities close to the area.
2. Harlem, Manhattan
Harlem may be a surprise inclusion to many, and that’s because the neighbourhood has always received a bad rap as a place drenched in crime, economic stagnation and decaying infrastructure.
But that is the Harlem of old.
The area took a positive turn in the ‘90s when urban renewal efforts started in earnest. Crime dipped and new economic opportunities started springing up. Today, the neighbourhood of a little under 200,000 inhabitants is deemed one of the trendier places to live in New York.
The upturn can be seen in the surging house prices where an average home now goes for $1,015,300, up from $774,824 in 2011.
Harlem may not be better than many places in terms of housing and economics, but it has good public schools and generally an ideal environment for families. The nightlife is unlike any other, with trendy eateries, hip bars and stylish clubs aplenty.
3. Battery Park City, Lower Manhattan
Battery Park City is a planned community of roughly 16,000 that is set along the Hudson River. It is widely considered one of the best places to live in New York City – just close enough to the hustle and bustle of the big city, yet distant enough as to enjoy some peace and quiet at the waterfront.
Cost of living is reflective of the steep prices of NYC, with the going rate for an average home playing well above the $1 million mark, often ranging between $1,200,000 and $1,500,000. Same case with the rent prices, which average $2,969 a month.
But that is the price you get to pay for plenty of green parks that offer more than just relaxation. Kids can ride bikes without the obvious dangers that come with riding in a city. Busy parents can let off some steam by running on the esplanade. And pets can accompany their owners to the pet-friendly parks.
Crime here is virtually non-existent, and the neighbourhood promises fantastic views of, among others, the One World Trade (former World Trade Center), the Hudson, and Lady Liberty herself.
4. Country Club, Bronx
Country Club is a small suburb of 8,500 residents who are mostly a mix of middle class and affluent, with average income levels ranging around $77,000 per household.
One of its biggest draws is the affordable cost of living, and home prices have somehow managed to remain at roughly $500,000, with average rental prices sitting at $1,537.
This does not mean the quality of life has to take a hit.
There are nice schools in the area, with parks and beaches for the whole family to unwind. The neighbourhood promises great parking space for car owners. But it comes with the downside of being a long way from Manhattan, for any family that may have to put up with work or school commutes.
5. Massapequa Park, Long Island
Massapequa Park is another area in New York that offers an excellent setting for families looking to settle in the state.
For one, homes are affordable in this hamlet of 17,000 residents found within the town of Oyster Bay in Nassau County. Zillow puts the median home value at $463,800, quite low according to New York standards.
Its schools rank highly on the GreatSchools ranking site (mostly earning a solid 9 out of 10).
With a trip into Midtown Manhattan via the Long Island Railroad taking less than an hour, this convenient location also allows residents to enjoy the best NYC has to offer in terms of economic and cultural opportunities.
6. Kenmore, Buffalo
Kenmore makes an entry into our list of best places to live in New York for two major reasons: cost of living is one of the lowest you will get anywhere in the Empire State, and public schools are some of the best around.
Median home prices average $111,200 (who said New York has to be expensive, right?) with rent prices also some way below the national average at $681 (versus $928). This is definitely welcome news for anyone looking to settle here, but not so much from a real estate investment perspective.
As with Massapequa Park, Kenmore is also technically a village, boasting a population of 15,271. The residents enjoy the great benefit of affordability and nice schools that perform exceptionally well at GreatSchools.
It may sound like some remote middle-of-nowhere place, but Kenmore actually does offer some great employment opportunities, especially in the region’s thriving science and technology fields. And plenty of recreational opportunities to boot (the Niagara River meanders through here).
7. Jackson Heights, Queens
Jackson Heights makes a case for itself as one of the best places to live in New York for families thanks to easy access to public transport, nice public schools and one of the most diverse populations in the city.
The area is located in the northwestern section of Queens, and houses here fetch at $444,196 on average. Steep for most states, yes, but the 112,800 residents of this neighbourhood deem that fairly attractive, as they do the median rent of $1,387 which is way below the $3,016 average for an apartment in Queens.
When you throw in additional perks such as friendly residents, schools and jobs that are just around the corner, and top-notch medical facilities, the average Joe really couldn’t wish for more.
8. Endwell, Broome County
Still sticking to the affordable cost of living theme, the fact that this hamlet of under 12,000 residents is preferred mostly by young families and retirees should provide a good clue as to what you can expect.
The area itself is beautiful, perched on a picturesque spot along the scenic Susquehanna River outside the city of Binghamton. It is a friendly neighbourhood, but this is to be expected of family men and retirees, with the area having one of the lowest crime rates in the state.
Median incomes average $54,446 per household, which is pretty much sufficient in an area where monthly rent of $699 is considered normal.
9. Tribeca, Manhattan
Tribeca is short for ‘triangle below Canal Street’, the name of an upscale residential neighbourhood in Lower Manhattan with a population of slightly less than 17,000.
It is extremely safe and widely regarded as one of the best places to raise a family in the state of New York. Initially, it used to be a thriving business area, but a trend of converting commercial warehouses and buildings into lavish lofts eventually gave way to residential properties.
Its central location offers easy access to every part of Lower Manhattan, but that comes with the drawback of forking out over $3,000 in monthly rent, with homes – condos rather – valued at an average $1.8 million, with some even fetching at a whopping $5,025,000!
Then again, with the likes of Jay-Z and Taylor Swift to call neighbours, that’s to be expected.
10. Kips Bay, Manhattan
You will find Kips Bay between 23rd and 34th streets south of Murray Hill, a laid-back neighbourhood of 35,000 residents that feels stunningly residential, the backdrop of the bustling streets of NYC notwithstanding.
Perhaps what is most surprising about Kips Bay is how property value has managed to remain affordable. Sure, you will find some properties listed at $3,000,000, but a median home value of $721,332 is as low as it will ever get.
Median household income stands at $101,165, and the pet-friendly neighbourhood has plenty to offer in terms of amenities and stuff to do, especially given its prime location.
This is no doubt one of the most reasonable deals you will get in Manhattan.
11. Murray Hill, Manhattan
Murray Hill traces its roots back to the mid-19th century times, a period when it was regarded as the most ‘uptown’ neighbourhood in New York City.
More recently in the 1990s, however, the area of 27,500 residents witnessed a demographics change from an older population to young professionals looking to raise a family.
As its southern neighbour, Kips Bay, Murray Hill has some prices that are hard to beat in a notoriously expensive city. Median home value stands at $763,554, although some condos will fetch upwards of $2,000,000.
The area has more than enough amenities for its small population, including the 2.8-acre St. Vartan Park, with the likes of Gymboree Play and Music center and Kidville providing plenty of children activities.
12. Windsor Terrace, Brooklyn
Windsor Terrace is a quaint and serene neighbourhood of 17,500 residents characterised by beautiful historic multi-family homes. It has a suburban aura about it while also offering the convenience of living in the city.
Median household income in this neighbourhood is almost double the national average, standing at $95,170. That’s overly sufficient to cater to the low living costs enjoyed around this part of New York where home value averages $751,140.
There are plenty of good schools in Windsor Terrace, and while they cannot match the standards of some places on this list, the area really shines when it comes to crime and safety, diversity, nightlife, and desirability for families.
There are a myriad delis in the area, but it could use a couple more grocery stores.
13. Prospect Heights, Brooklyn
When most people think of Brooklyn, the image that springs to mind is a neighbourhood of brownstones and brick townhouses dotting the streets; a small business here, a café there, and of course, the mandatory bar.
That’s what you get at Prospect Heights, a neighbourhood of 22,000 that exudes that classic Brooklyn charm.
As in all areas in New York City, though, it comes with a higher price tag, with the median asking rent for one-bedroom apartments playing above the $2,500 mark.
However, this comes with the guarantee of a low crime rate, proximity to a million-and-one family amenities, great restaurant and night scene, and the beauty to be found in mixing with different ethnicities.
14. Lancaster, Buffalo
Lancaster is a small town of roughly 10,300 that punches well above its weight.
It is here that you will find some of the best public schools in New York, with the town scoring an impressive 9/10 on the ever reliable GreatSchools rankings.
If you are looking to move around the Buffalo area, consider an apartment in Lancaster. The median home value here stands at a tantalisingly $121,400, making it one of the most affordable areas in the sprawling state. As well, rent goes for a paltry $674.
The low prices may be suggestive of the proverbial neighbours with a couch on the porch, an unkempt lawn and junk cars in the yard. But prices can be misleading in New York.
Its highly rated schools aside, the quiet suburban town has a quaint and easy feel about it, with all the essentials you would need just a stone’s throw away.
Shopping and restaurants are conveniently located. It is a safe area low in crime. And there is plenty for the family to engage in – sledding and ice skating at Como Park and Elma Meadows, some more skating at Canalside and a slew of other sports and town events to partake in.
But perhaps what’s most striking about Lancaster is its incredibly friendly people who have managed to weave a close-knit community that goes out of its way to support its own.
15. Astoria, Queens
With more and more people continuing to show a growing affinity for Brooklyn, the borough of Queens has emerged as one of the most attractive spots for the savvy New Yorker.
Apartments are affordable in Queens, and the place, one of the most diverse urban spaces in the world, is still easily accessible to the city.
Few areas capture this marriage of cost and diversity better than Astoria, a small neighbourhood of 97,000 people located across the East River from upper Manhattan.
The incredible cultural diversity of Astoria is evident from the businesses that have sprung up in the area – Korean eateries, Greek tavernas, Pakistani stores, everyone is here.
With a $619,471 average, homes can be considered affordable, with rental prices averaging $1,439. It is an area designed especially for families, with all the amenities you could ever wish for. Literally.
Astoria is beautiful, accentuated by vast swaths of verdant green. It is convenient in terms of accessibility. And it is extremely safe.
It is one of the most livable places in New York. Easy.