Affordable New York?

Like many visitors to the Big Apple, for the most part in my thirty or so visits I had only been to Manhattan. Yes, there were exceptions. I had crossed the Brooklyn Bridge, ridden the Roosevelt Island Tramway, ridden the Staten Island Ferry (when the fare was still 25 cents) and changed trains in Jamaica, Queens.

This past weekend I went to New York without setting “foot” in Manhattan. Well, that’s not entirely true either. On the way in the GPS sent us through the Holland Tunnel and onto Canal Street in Chinatown. I had assumed we would cross Staten Island and on into Brooklyn. We also changed subway trains beneath Penn Station.

New York neighborhoods were for the most part new to me. I was introduced to Park Slope, Astoria, Jersey City (ok, so it’s not in the city), Roosevelt Island, Ridgewood and some other areas in Brooklyn.

I looked at apartments in many of these areas, and for the most part the rent ranges between $1600 and $2200. That may be a shock to some. The two properties I have here in Pittsburgh average rents of about $550. If you looked in more sought after neighborhoods in Pittsburgh, like Shadyside, or newer buildings like the Cork Factory or Heinz Lofts, it would be easy to find rents in the New York range. Of course rents in comparable buildings in New York would fetch more.

The question, however, and one that I’ve been asking myself a lot lately is whether it is affordable to live in New York. The short answer is yes. The longer answer is yes, but your apartment will be smaller and you’ll end up paying extra to store the stuff you can’t take with you until you finally conclude you don’t need it.

Ridgewood was one that is on the more affordable side of New York neighborhoods. Rents there range from just under $1,000 to $1500. It would appear to be safe as well and there’s little sign of decay in the buildings. The storefronts are all occupied and the streets are filled with people of almost every ethnicity and race imaginable.

Finding the neighborhood by mistake, in Dunkin Donuts I asked the woman at the counter where the subway was. She didn’t know, she’d just arrived in the country. The fact that I didn’t know caused her to ask if I had just arrived in the country. She then pointed to an apparent regular and long time resident who was more than happy to answer my questions. (that brings me to another misnomerthat New Yorkers are not friendly. I find them to be quite the opposite, they are just busy.)

Astoria is somewhat like Ridgewood, except more expensive and closer to Manhattan. Again the streets around 30th Ave. and 30th Street are filled with people from every country and walk of life. The Athens Caf&eactue; seemed to be the heart of it all, and the folks sunbathing in the outdoor area seemed like they had probably been there people watching, eating, smoking and chatting from the early morning. Across the street was one of the largest corner green grocers I have ever seen, and a small restaurant gave us two delicious falafel and drinks for the bargain price of $8.

Park Slope is a brownstone neighborhood around Prospect Park that seems to be approaching Manhattan levels of gentrification. It’s apparent that bloggers love to hate Park Slope and its people. If you can afford it, the neighborhood has lots of restaurants and coffee shops, a movie theater and one of the best urban parks in the country. Nearby Red Hook has an Ikea and Costco and soon Park Slope will have a Whole Foods. The rents for a one bedroom are mostly at or above the $2000 mark, but moving to the west side of the park or into South Park Slope can bring the price down.

The fourth area of significant exploration was Jersey City. An artist I was talking to at a show in Pittsburgh who had grown up in Manhattan commented when I asked about Jersey City that she didn’t do Jersey, but I had to see for myself. The unit I looked at was quite wonderful, far less expensive and larger than most of what I’d seen in Brooklyn or Astoria. The neighborhood was on the nicer side, but there wasn’t much in the way of retail around, especially by New York neighborhood standards. Walking to Journal Square to catch the PATH train took about twenty minutes and while there was more retail on the way, the entire trip into Manhattan took almost an hour. Still it is an affordable option to living in (or very near) New York. Looking at for sale units, they are also unexpectedly affordable.

In short, in New York housing is expensive, but food can be less expensive and you don’t need a car (although you have to account for the $80 monthly subway pass). New York is expensive if you expect to move there and live in the same size unit. But as the artist in Pittsburgh also commented, in New York you don’t need a big apartment because you live in the city, not in your apartment.

Eric Miller

About Eric Miller

Rick and I started this web magazine as The New Colonist back in 1999. I was in San Francisco, and he was in Los Angeles. We had a common interest in sustainability and city life. We're still at it. Today I am happy to have lived in both New York, San Francisco and Pittsburgh and to now reside in Dallas. Find more at ericmiller.me