On a recent afternoon, Seaside Heights, one of several towns that dot the New Jersey shoreline, was bustling with construction activity, as new condos and single-family homes go up. Along the boardwalk, new restaurants are opening up ahead of the busy summer season. A new luxury pool and cabana club is being built. On Boulevard, one of the main thoroughfares, a number of lots are under development or in the planning stages that will feature condos and ground-level retail shops, said Mayor Anthony Vaz.
Ocean County, N.J., where Seaside Heights is located, is one of many counties across the U.S. that has benefited from a surge of migration during the Covid-19 pandemic, as people relocated from crowded urban locations to less densely populated regions, according to a Wall Street Journal analysis of U.S. Postal Service permanent change-of-address data through 2020. Ocean County had a net gain of 7,000 households in 2020, mainly from people relocating from New York City and northern New Jersey, a 40% increase from the prior year, according to the data.
The Jersey Shore has been known as a vacation destination that swells during the summer with tourists and people visiting their second homes. But now more people are taking advantage of remote work options and are making the region their full-time residence, said Gary Quinn, director of the Ocean County Board of Commissioners.
That population growth supercharged the county’s economic development, raising the tax base by $3.3 billion to $110 billion in 2020, its highest mark since Sandy wiped out swaths of the community in 2012, said Mr. Quinn.
“We’ve seen an increase gradually over the past several years, but this past year it really spiked and gave us a nice shot in the arm,” he said.
Tori DiTaranto, 37 years old, gave up her apartment in densely populated Jersey City, N.J., last summer to ride out the pandemic from her bungalow located just blocks from the ocean in this town. She has been living full time in what was her vacation home, about a two-hour drive from her Manhattan-based employer, where she can enjoy her backyard and tend to her vegetable garden.
“I’ve never been happier and more at peace,” said Ms. DiTaranto, who works in logistics shipping fine art. “I didn’t realize how that busy city life and the commute was affecting my health and well-being.”
Ms. DiTaranto said she would like to permanently stay in her Seaside Heights home, but that ultimately will depend on whether she needs to return to the office and how frequently she would have to be there. Many people who relocated during the pandemic are awaiting word from their companies on whether they will be required to return to the office.
Seaside Heights was among the communities that Sandy hit the hardest. The roller coaster from its famous boardwalk was swept into the ocean and became an iconic image of the disaster. The community slowly rebuilt, and many homeowners raised their homes to mitigate potential damage from future flooding. The boardwalk was also replaced, and business owners reopened their restaurants, arcades and souvenir shops.
a real-estate broker who sells properties along the Jersey Shore, said buyers were wary of purchasing homes close to the water in the years immediately following Sandy. The storm damaged or destroyed 346,000 homes in New Jersey, and 20,000 housing units were left completely uninhabitable, according to the state.
Now, Mr. Ventre said, the housing market is red-hot. “It’s like Sandy never even happened,” he said. “People completely forgot about it, and those values are through the roof.”
Real-estate developers are also facing stiff competition for property along the already well-developed Jersey Shore. Since there aren’t many empty lots, most developers are competing to buy existing structures to knock down and build new homes or to renovate existing ones, said
vice president of Kontos Construction, a local home builder. Plus, the influx of buyers coming from northern New Jersey and New York City is pushing prices up.
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Seaside Heights has been trying to recast itself in the past few years, the mayor said. The community no longer wants visitors to associate it with the stereotypical image it got tagged with following the reality show “Jersey Shore,” Mr. Vaz said. New ordinances were passed banning nightclubs and wet T-shirt contests. Now there is more family-friendly entertainment, he said.
Mr. Vaz said he is hoping the influx of new residents will fuel other business ventures.
“We got new people in town,” Mr. Vaz said. “I’m hoping they stay year round.”
—Paul Overberg contributed to this article.
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Source: WSJ – US News