By Jessica Easthope
As Mass lets out of St. Matthew’s Church in Crown Heights, Father Frank Black can’t help but notice how much his community has changed.
“They lost their job, the bodega closed down, they couldn’t find anyone who needed home health care,” Father Black said. “It’s like this flurry of activity and trying to maintain some normalcy in the midst of a crazy time.”
Over the last year, more than 30 families from his parish have left and moved away from their home and neighborhood. It’s an exodus that Fr. Black says has been slow going, up until the pandemic.
“A lot of people can’t afford it anymore,” he said. “For middle class people in a neighborhood like this, and let’s face it, we have no millionaires and it’s a really, really challenging time. COVID was just the icing on the cake.”
According to a report by real estate firm CBRE, New York City lost 2.4 percent of its population, or about 200,000 people in 2020. Most of the zip codes with the highest move-out rates are wealthy Manhattan neighborhoods like the Upper East and West Sides and Tribeca – but also among them is Crown Heights.
The area’s three zip codes, including St. Matthew’s zip code, 11213, lost 5,796 residents in 2020. That’s 3,037 more than 2019.
It’s a change Fr. Black says he can see when he looks out onto the pews. But it’s not usually Fr. Black who hears about it first, it’s the church secretary Sharon Andrews – she hears a new story every week.
“She said she has no family here, she doesn’t have a job anymore, she lost her job because of the pandemic so she’s going to move to Georgia because she has family there who can help her,” Sharon said of one parishioner who recently left the church.
The exodus will have an eventual impact on the neighborhood, but it’s already having an impact on the church. Father Black says pre-pandemic the church was getting close to $20,000 a week in collections. Now it’s getting less than half of that.
“Even though people have given online and we put a mail slot in so they can come and deposit the envelopes, but the collections have dropped drastically,” he said.
CBRE predicts the rising popularity of the COVID-19 vaccine could put the city back on an upswing, but until then, St. Matthew’s and its parishioners are trying to survive where they are.