So you’ve decided to move to New York. Let’s assume you’re a young woman, and for the sake of ease we’ll call you Lindsey. First of all, congratulations on moving to New York! You’re going to hate it and love it here, but it’s such a lovely dump it’s worth seeing. Of course there’s one little problem, you don’t have a place to live or anybody to live with. The good news is that’s nothing to worry about, it’s the least of your problems.
First of all you’re gonna need a roommate, everything in this city is super expensive and there are a million intangible costs; laundry, taxis, dating, hookers, etc. The bills will pile up fast, most landlords like a tenant to earn 50 times the monthly rent, and even if you think you can afford to live alone, you probably can’t. So that leaves the question of who to live with. I’d like to relate the story of my first apartment in NYC, which I think is illustrative of how people here view housing in a different way. I first moved here eight years ago with a young woman. We were deeply in love and had sublet an apartment in Spanish Harlem for three months. By the end of the second month we had broken up and both started dating other people (romantic, I know), but we still had to live together for the last month of our sublet. It sounds awkward, and it was. But that’s the nature of the beast here, the economic realities of housing are such that they actually define your relationships with other people. There are two relevant lessons in this story. The first one is about subletting.
Sublets are a great way to go. Basically someone leaves their apartment for a few months and wants you to cover the rent while they’re gone. These people are usually people going home for awhile, Bohemians leaving on a European backpacking trip, actors who’ve booked a show in Kansas, or actors/musicians doing some time in a sanitarium. These apartments are often furnished – for better or worse – and the commitments are usually for a short period of time. If you can find a sublet for a few months anywhere within 100 blocks of where you want to live, take it. No matter what, you need a starter apartment – a place you can live while you figure out where you actually want to live. Sublets are a dream come true when you first move here and need to get your arms around the city.
The big issue here is one of commitment. You don’t want to get roped into a yearlong lease in an apartment you’ve only seen once, in a neighborhood you don’t know. Sublets are one way around this, but they’re not always realistic, much more common is the “Roommate Wanted” apartment. This is a large apartment with 3 or 4 bedrooms usually in a recently gentrified area – northern Manhattan, whole swathes of Brooklyn and Queens – very much like my second apartment. I found this place on Craigslist and moved into a 4 bedroom Harlem pad rented by a German guy named Karl. My room was small but the kitchen and living room were huge and the rent was great. Karl had leased the place four years ago and had a steady stream of roommates moving in and out all the time, he managed the place and probably paid almost nothing. Like a sublet this type of apartment doesn’t come with a long term commitment, further if you like the place and you get along with Karl you can stay as long as you want.
Though living with three strangers is not exactly a dream come true, it is worth pointing out that tensions arise between roommates even under the best of circumstances, it is often easier to make compromises with someone you barely know than with your best friend. Actually, sharing an apartment can ruin an otherwise strong relationship, so I would argue that living with someone you’re not that close to is often preferable to risking a real friendship by moving in with you’re BFF. In short; it’s better to estrange a stranger.
After about a year, Karl and I had a falling out – see above – and I moved in with Veronica. This 3rd apartment illustrates two more NYC housing secrets. First, live in Inwood. Inwood is a beautiful neighborhood on the northern tip of Manhattan with beautiful old buildings and nice big apartments. The community is friendly, Fort Tryon Park is lovely, and I think they have a wine bar now. The other secret is to fall in love. Veronica and I had only been dating for 3 months when we moved in together. That may sound insane but in New York it’s common, this city has a large dating pool and economic necessity means that a couple will move in together a week after they meet if they both happen to need apartments. Two people can afford one hell of a one bedroom.
Veronica and I lived together for a year and a half before we broke up – see above – then for another few months after that. I’ve lived through six more apartments – and a few relationships – since then, it was a long and bumpy road but I’ve finally found a place to live. It’s near my school, it’s near my job, it’s in a beautiful neighborhood, and I can almost afford it. It can take years to find the apartment that fits your needs, but it’s worth it.
If I were you, Lindsey, I’d try to find an apartment on Craigslist – I think the murders mostly happen in the personals section – that doesn’t come with too much of a commitment. Spend a few months there while you figure out where you need to be, and who, if anybody, you want to live with. Finding a perfect roommate is a distinct possibility, as is falling in love, just make sure you don’t commit to either of them.