New York City may be a great place to live, but it’s one major drawback is the high cost of housing. Until readily available (and totally affordable) micro-apartments become a reality–or until the world decides that every job deserves banker-sized bonuses–we all have to figure out ways to live in this beautiful, thrilling city without spending spending, say, 75% of our salary on rent.
There’s the age-old solution of finding great, “cheap” neighborhoods before everyone else figures it out too, and then demand skyrockets, and then the developers come in, and suddenly everything’s as pricey as the communities you left years ago.
Residents of Williamsburg rental apartments know this dynamic well, to take just one example, as it took only about a decade for that neighborhood to go from being a modestly-priced, hipster/artist enclave into one of the most expensive places to live in all of New York City. Other neighborhoods already on their way there, though still with plenty of rental apartment bargains available: Bushwick, Crown Heights, East Harlem, Greenpoint.
Basement Apartments, often Illegal, Are a Reaction to the High Cost of Housing
Another strategy that seems to be exploding in popularity is the renting of illegal basement apartments, especially in Brooklyn, Queens, and the Bronx. In fact, as reported in the Real Deal a couple of weeks ago, the Queens-based Chhaya Community Development estimated that there are currently around 100,000 illegal basement rental apartments in the city, the residents of which are predominantly newly-arrived immigrants, but also include a growing number of young professionals who simply can’t find afford to live anywhere else.
With the NYC rental housing market so tight, there’s a movement afoot to change zoning laws in many areas so as to legalize these basement units, which are officially known as “accessory housing”. The likes of Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer are on board with idea, so it appears that regulations will change sooner rather than later for a lot of these spaces, though as CBRE chief executive Mary Ann Tighe notes, “legalizing [dwellings] alone will not materially increase the housing stock since these illegal units are already occupied.” Tighe suggests that converting buildings in manufacturing zones to residential use would be a more lasting remedy to help deal with the high cost of housing, and one that’s already gaining momentum in several parts of town, including the aforementioned Bushwick and Greenpoint (above).
Roommates are Another Way for New Yorkers to Deal with High Housing Costs
By far the most common way NYC rental apartment residents deal with the high cost of housing is, of course, by doubling, tripling, quadrupling up with roommates. Once predominantly the arrangement of new arrivals and recent graduates, living with roommates is an increasingly popular/necessary strategy for New Yorkers of all ages, and all walks of life.
In their recent, multi-part exploration of the booming roommate phenomenon, New York Magazine started things off with this amazing fact: the number of NYC apartments shared by two or more non-family members increased 40% between 2000 and 2010. That’s a lot of shacking up and, you have to think, as many bad experiences as good ones. Which is why I recommend the above-mentioned New York Magazine mini-section on roommates to all UrbanEdgers who are going that route, as it includes “case studies” of happy households, ideas for divvying up the rent fairly and conflict-free, a look at what to do if things go sour, and “the one question you should always ask a potential roommate”.
Finally, the New York Times had a lengthy piece last weekend on a slightly more unusual sort of roommate, the sibling. I can tell you from personal experience that this can be an awesome idea: in the 1980s I lived with my younger sister for three years in two different two-bedroom Manhattan rental apartments and it worked out great, financially and quality-of-life-wise. Definitely worth throwing into your mix of options.