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Like every other Saturday morning, Mark Lopez is getting ready to open his bodega in Long Island City. But these days he is a troubled man. 

As he opens the lock and rolls up the steel curtain, he turns around and says, “I don’t know how long we can last with these prices.” He did not want to use his real name. 

Lopez’s rent has gone up 30 percent since March of 2020. “People need to go to the bodega. I’ve been here for over ten years and the rent was always manageable,” he adds.

This aligns with recent statistics showing that New York’s commercial buildings have retained 92 percent of their value, according to Mayor Eric Adams’ 2022 preliminary budget.

Gentrification is hardly a problem exclusive to Long Island City or New York for that matter, but the coveted Queens neighborhood has been suffering particularly. The sudden hikes  in rent prices, both in residential as well as commercial property has been “punishing” for many small business owners.

Lopez tells us that he never really had any problems keeping his store open for the first year and a half of the pandemic. 

“Since people started coming back, my rent went up more than I can really afford, and my landlord doesn’t care,” he says. 

Since the middle of 2021, when offices started return-to-office protocols and prospective tenants started to flood the market with demand, prices have been increasing steadily. At this point, average rental prices in Queens have increased 2.61 percent from the same period last year.

Around March 2020, when the pandemic reached New York there was no immediate reaction in the real estate market, but by the end of the summer, when it was clear that working from home was the new normal for the foreseeable future, a large number of tenants in the area, mostly those in white-collar jobs and also international students, fled home or to other parts of the country where they could get a better bang for their buck. In July of that year, then-Mayor DeBlasio signed a one-year eviction moratorium. 

Lopez says his landlord can easily get 45 percent more the moment he leaves. 

“But I don’t want to leave. I’ve been here for over ten years,” Lopez adds with a long sigh. 

Rob Mendez, an independent real estate agent who works in the Long Island and Astoria area says, “By Labor Day, those who could go home, or get more footage for the same amount of money, just up and left”. 

Then it wasn’t hard to find extremely attractive and convenient deals such as 50 percent off rent for the first three months, entirely free rent for the first two months, including no security deposits. “Bigger buildings were hitting vacancy rates of about 50 percent, and that really freaked people out,” Mendez added.

 Across the river in Manhattan, according to a StreetEasy report, almost 43 percent of advertised rentals offered at least one month free last year, while that number decreased to just over 13 percent this year. 

According to the Queens Rental Market Report, released by the real estate firm MNS in May, rent prices in Long Island City have soared with a 30.1 percent increase from the same period last year. Prices are, on average, over $3600 for a one-bedroom apartment and over $4900 for a two-bedroom. And commercial real estate follows this trend. Rent for commercial property has also increased over 30 percent on average from the same period last year. This isn’t the only neighborhood in Queens suffering these issues. Average rent prices in neighboring Astoria have also gone up over 15 percent in the last year, and even Jamaica has seen rent increases surpass the 21 percent mark

Many long-term residents “mourn” the loss of a community that has been there for a long time. Elaine Arthur is one of them. 

These days she is haunted by the fear that she would be “uprooted” from her beloved community. 

“I didn’t leave. Everyone went running for the hills, but I stayed and paid rent on time. I didn’t even ask my landlord to adjust my rent down. And now my rent is going up 20 percent,” she says. 

But as gentrification intensifies, she is worried that things would change too much, too soon and she might have to look elsewhere for a new home.