I have been absent for nearly three weeks owing to a lot of activity in my life. I know that’s a poor excuse for a blogger, but what I beg you to realize is that I write an average of 10,000 words each week. While this may not seem like a tremendous amount of activity, that’s for my paid projects, and lately I’ve been feeling utterly drained. Whereas I had hoped to spend a couple weeks this month on upstate farms (not a vacation, per se, but at least a break from the city), it looks like all my “downtime” will be devoted to packing up and moving.
That’s right. I’m moving. Again.
My reality is so obscene that I hesitate mentioning it. I appreciate how so many people are struggling to survive (both in NYC and far beyond). Most of us are making pennies whereas a decade ago it was dollars. I’ve read about families foraging fields for dandelion greens, just to have something to eat. These are dark and difficult times (said a la Bill Nighy’s Rufus Scrimgeour).
Not to make light of anyone’s reality, but I am living through the looking glass, where rents for 2BR apartments start at $2,000 a month. I’m talking 500 square feet here, parsected into tiny spaces that represent rooms in a normal home. The closer you are to Manhattan, the higher the rents. There are literally people living in rat dens just to pay under this amount. Entire families live in studios (a nice studio in a good neighborhood will run approximately $1800). Of course, there are ways around this. I know a woman who lives in Far Rockaway, past JFK out in Queens, where she’s 1.5 hours away from her job (that’s 3 hours a day on a subway… when it’s running; you’re stranded when it isn’t—just ask the poor unfortuate souls who were trying to commute in last year’s post-Christmas blizzard—on a tin can without ventilation or a bathroom). She “only” pays $900 for a 2BR, a veritable bargain. These costs are why most single NYers have roommates well into old age. This has also given rise to the “New York marriage,” two people who are sharing a living space because they cannot afford to divorce, but they are dating outside of the sanctified relationship.
I have lived in Manhattan since moving to New York, and my rents have gone down (because of the economy and, later, moving to a pre-9/11 building; I try not to think about what’s in my walls, which were damaged from the collapse of the World Trade center). However, with the WTC coming online, landlords are scrambling to boost rent revenues. My most recent lease renewal had a 25 percent increase in my rent (that was the maximum they could have raised it, and they did so to the last penny). As I already struggle to pay my current rent, I knew this kind of increase (it would have cost me close to $20,000 over the next two years—yes, you read that right—so it really becomes a moot point whether or not to remain here) would push me further into debt, derail any plans I have for financial independence (from both my creditors and my ex), and pretty much push me into an emotional funk. Whatever stress I currently face would pale by comparison.
So, I have been anxiously seeking a new place to live. Again, NYC is like almost nowhere else in the world. If you live here, you understand my pain (and surely pity me or—at the very least—empathize). There is a bizarre history of finding living space in NYC. Once upon a time there were rent controlled apartments. Very few of these still exist today, and those who have them hold onto them as if their lives depended upon it (which they practically do, unless you want to live on that subway tin can). For the rest of us, signing a lease is a gamble; you roll the dice that you won’t be priced out of your home anytime soon (it will certainly happen eventually; I’m convinced in 20 years there will be no old people on the island of Manhattan because no one with a fixed income can afford to live here).
Which brings us to Brooklyn. Brooklyn is much more eclectic with regards to neighborhood offerings than is Manhattan. Yes, there is color in specific neighborhoods (Little Italy, down to about five blocks on Mulberry Street; Chinatown, which has taken over what once was Little Italy; Harlem to the north). However, for the most part, the gentrification of Manhattan is complete, and the rents reflect this. My choice was not simple, but it is practical: I am moving to a newly constructed apartment (I hope; it’s still being constructed!) where my rent will be over $1,000 less each month than it would have been had I renewed and remained where I am. I’m nervous and stressed, but I do think that in a couple of months, I will have settled in with my kids and instead of backtracking and struggling every month just to keep a roof over my head, I may actually have the ability to take a couple days off from work, read a book, update my blog, or—gasp!—take a mini-vacation. Even if it’s just to upstate to herd pigs.