Sunday, August 20, 2006

Big City of Dreams

I can remember very distinctly the flutter that used to develop in my stomach every single time the Ghettohound bus would emerge from the Linc.oln Tunnel and stumble into the west edge of midtown Manhattan.

No...matter fact, it was BEFORE you even got out of Jersey alive, when the bus pulled up to the tunnel, along that windy, downward roadway, and traffic seemed endless and you wished you could just walk out and sprint the rest of the way.

First thing you see is actually the smell of The City...burnt rubber, the nasty river, the constant commerce, crack, hotdog water, roasted nuts...toilets, just like the one in the Rosa Parks section of the bus. And the impossibly scattered skyscrapers and high rises. The BMW dealership. That big old church. Flashes of yellow..."driven" madly by English as a 2nd language folk. Apartments you can see into from street-level..and wonder how much them fools pay for rent.

I LOVE New York City...we've been together for such a long time that I can't even remember the last time I even looked at another city. Sure I've been with lots of others, but I always come back to NYC. He don't always show it, but he love me.

I know sometimes he black my eye, but that's because I ain't work hard enough, or I came home drunk every night last week, or I missed the M7 bus and had to walk the 3 blocks from the train station. (see, I deserve it, I'm effing lazy!)

But he always opens his doors to me...and not to just me but to my friends and family and mad people I'll pass on the streets without ever caring to know.

I love NY...but I gotta go. The flutter in my six-pack* is long gone. Now when I enter the city...the first thing I see is a way back out. *sigh*

Saw this NYT.imes article from last month and reading it was like I was on "This is Your Life." Brought up mad old shit...

...made me double over laughing...

...made me recall times I still insist on pretending never happened...

...brought on the temptation to google (or worse yet, that an official verb yet? If no, I'm declaring it so now.) people I used to starve with...

The article gave me those giddy, schoolgirl, antsy dancing feet...the kind that always accompanied my rush to pop an Al.toid, wet wipe my face, lotion my knuckles, bend my brim, and retrieve my bag from under my seat...

...trying to be the first one off that Ghettohound soon as it pulled into Port Auth.ority.

The article is a mirror. And it reminded me of why I decided to throw old boy the peace least temporarily.

So the article is's really's about how Harlem is turning into a college campus...figuratively... complete with dorms, RAs...literally.

It's longish (what's new)...but in the coming days as times permits...I'm gonna do my best CL Smooth impersonation, and tell my NY Story...inspired by excerpts from the article.

I leave, but I always return.
*gross misrepresentation for poetic license's sake... Aint no packs in my stomach. Nota one. And I got "inny".

Published: Jul 13, '06

Kelly Fra.nces Cook is an editorial assistant, Ivy League graduate, aspiring writer — the kind of new arrival who has long been important to the life of New York City. Young, educated and hailing from elsewhere, newcomers like Ms. Cook have historically stoked the city’s intellectual and creative fires. But, these days, how do they afford a place to live?

Ms. Cook, age 24 and from Ohio, at first could afford only a rented room in Dobbs Ferry, N.Y., for $650 a month. Then she embarked on the archetypal, hair-raising New Yo.rk City apartment search: feckless would-be roommates, outlandish financial demands, an offer of a room in a building with a bullet-pocked lobby.

Then she saw an ad on Craig.slist for space in a 60-unit building in Harl.em described as full of young professionals. The price was right; the woman on the phone was friendly. Back in Ohio, Ms. Cook’s mother had begun to think like a New Yorker: “Yeah, right, Kelly. She’s probably some mass murderer. I don’t trust her. She’s too nice.”

This month, Ms. Cook is moving in. The woman on the phone, Kar.en Fal.con (not a mass murderer), calls the building “a dorm for adults.” It is a community of the overeducated and underpaid.

There is nothing new about having roommates in New Yo.rk City. What Ms. Fal.con has invented is a full-service dorm, full of strangers she has brought together to share big apartments as a way to keep housing costs down. Her approach is a homegrown response to the soaring rents bedeviling desirable cities like New York, San Francisco and Los Angeles.

Ms. Fal.con, an informal agent for the building’s owner, says she has placed nearly 150 young people there and in two other buildings in the neighborhood in recent years. A gregarious Californian with rainbow-colored braids, she pieces together roommate groups like puzzles. Each tenant ends up paying $700 to $1,200 a month.

Ms. Falcon says she screens for a combination of good credit ratings and “sweetness,” looking for people who are respectful, considerate and easygoing (and perhaps have a co-signer).

She mixes genders; all-female groups bring too much high drama, all-male groups make too much of a mess. She has matched Ph.D.’s with Ph.D.’s. If the combination is a disaster, she will arrange for a swap. Anyone can leave before the lease is up as long as Ms. Falcon can find a replacement.

She says the tenants she has placed in the three buildings have included chefs, actors, writers, people in publishing, a woman in public relations, a production manager, an accountant, a paralegal, a program officer for a foundation. There have also been plenty of graduate students and students from abroad.

“Our neighborhood is one of the last neighborhoods left in New York where you have these big old Bea.ux-Arts buildings, built for wealthy families,” Ms. Fal.con said, referring to the stretch of Harlem from 145th to 155th Streets near the Hudson River. She said groups of adults, each contributing, pay rents that families cannot or choose not to pay.

New Yo.rk City has long been a magnet for the young, well educated and ambitious. According to a report published by the Census Bur.eau in 2003, nearly 132,500 young, single, college-educated people poured into the New York metropolitan area between 1995 and 2000, more than into any other metropolitan area in the United States.

“Sometimes we underestimate how important that is in generating the city’s creativity,” said Frank Braconi, chief economist for the city comptroller’s office. “To the degree that housing costs become a barrier to that group, it can in the long run sap us of that creative potential that we would otherwise have.”

Brad La.nder, director of the Pratt Center for Comm.unity Development, a nonprofit group, said young professionals get less attention than other financially struggling groups because they are more mobile and have options. Though they, too, are wrestling with the city’s shortage of lower-cost housing, they are seen as harbingers of gentrification.

Mr. Lan.der said a well-known strategy among landlords of buildings with rents regulated by the city is to seek out tenants who they imagine will not stay long, because they can often increase the rent when a tenant leaves. “Students as well as professionals,” he said. “Plenty of landlords find this group an attractive set of folks to rent to, believing they’ll be out in a couple of years.”

Mari.eke Bianchi, 23, a junior account executive at a public relations firm in the Flatiron district, moved to New York from St. Louis last year after graduating from college. She started out on a friend’s couch, then sublet for six weeks in Hell’s Kitchen, where she had to move a giant exercise bike to get into bed.

“I can’t believe it, a grown woman in a trundle bed,” she said with humorous disgust.

Ms. Bian.chi, earning $25,000 a year at the time, found one of Ms. Fal.con’s ads. Now she lives in a large room in a four-bedroom duplex apartment in a brownstone in Har.lem. Her roommates are a bartender, a woman in information technology, an art historian, two dogs and two cats. Her rent is $900 a month.

Adult dorm living is not without its complexities.

Ms. Bian.chi feels she should check first before inviting friends into the backyard, since they have to pass through another roommate’s space. And when one of her roommates brings anyone home for the night, Ms. Bian.chi invariably knows. “It’s that level of intimacy from Day 1,” she said.

Like Ms. Bian.chi, others ponder their next move.

Wil Fe.nn, a 29-year-old program officer for a foundation, has been trying since college to save money to buy a home. He lived in Westchester County for six years, in order to pay less rent. Then, last year, he became bored and decided to move into Manhattan. He, too, happened upon one of Ms. Falcon’s ads.

Now Mr. Fen.n pays $850 a month for a large room in a four-bedroom apartment in what he describes as a beautiful building with exposed brick walls, mosaic tiles in the lobby and a garden on the roof. His roommates include a New York City teaching fellow, a chef and a German student studying in the United States on a Fulbright scholarship.

Ms. Fal.con first placed Mr. Fe.nn in a two-bedroom apartment with a woman who he said worked for a large bond firm. One night, Mr. Fe.nn said, she had a fit after he left his mail on top of the microwave oven. It was downhill from there. So, at his request, Ms. Fa.lcon moved him down to the four-bedroom apartment on the second floor.

“Everyone talks about free-market solutions,” he said, speaking of the city’s shortage of lower-priced housing. “But the solution now is the rich get richer and for everyone else it’s the equivalent of being a sharecropper in the city. I’ve been working five or six years now, trying to save up and buy something. Every time I get closer, the goal moves farther away.”

Asked how adult-dorm life differed from college-dorm life, Mr. Fe.nn said: “You’re not really at the same place where you were psychologically. Now, for me, I’m kind of wondering: When does this end? When do I get to be able to buy a place and settle down?”


nikki said...

oh NO.

this reminds me of how the sweet auburn area of atlanta is going through its 'changes' too. urban gentrification is a bitch...a 'young urban white professional with money to burn and black folk to bounce out of their historical neighborhoods' bitch.

i've been looking to move to ny for the same reason you talking about leaving. lol

Chanel A. Lee said...

Did you ever start listening to the radio as soon as you hit the Turnpike, trying to get BLS' or Hot 97's signal? Just wondering...

Great blog.
I'm a New Yorker down to the bone....and I'm outta here. I've actually been applying all over the country for writing jobs because there are NONE to be found here. I'm paying 600/mo to share an apartment in Park Slope with a man twice my age and his cats. It's a dope pad and I like my roomie a lot, but I could get my own apt anywhere else, in a neighborhood where I don't have to strap up to leave the house. All of my friends are college-educated and beyond, ambitious and struggling beyond belief because the cost of living and the competition for jobs are both into the stratosphere right now. And to add insult to injury, I've gotten serious looks from every company I've applied to...outside of NYC. I love this city. I've lived here my whole life. But it's time to go.

CNEL said...

Here's to new beginnings, and the next stop on your journey called life, I saw throwing up my cup of water. Damn this being 20, I needed to be 21, like last Tuesday before I went to Indy LoL.

Jonzee said...

Don't know what happened but my comment dissappeared...oh well.

I've been in and around NYC for most of my life from 6-17 and then damn near ran away from home at 18 (foolishily taking on that tuition bill at NYU) to get back to the city. I then left for 4 years, and now I am back again. When I leave this time it is for good. DC has spoiled me and my summer in Cleveland is spoiling me even more. The excitement of NYC city life is now more like stress. I need to know that one day I won't be paying somebody else's mortgage, nor subject to apartments with the level of charm only a NYC resident could love, nor rent that could be the car note on a couple of baby benz'.

I love it but damn--I gotta go.

So...Wise...Sista said...

Nikki....NY has been very good to me...he dont usually beat me on Mondays. lol I'm sure you'll find it refreshing and dope...esp coming from ATL.

Chanel...Yooooo, THAT will NEVER get old...marking how far you are from the city by when you can pick up Hot 97! Did that shit last week. lol I think I know you...might just be from your byline.

Oh.mi.gosh, the cost of living has become downright unjustifiable. Makes no sense to be paying more for rent than my parents pay for a mortgage. Ironically, my new crib is actually not much less than my Harlem rent, nor is the space THAT much bigger, but I do believe I'll make up for it with reasonable restaurants, happy hours, jobs, etc. But I feel you, at some point you have to say peace...and hey, maybe you go make moves elsewhere, then come back and own brooklyn. lol

Cnelly...when exactly do you turn 21? Lets find you a decent fake.

Jonzee...That's exactly what happened to me..a summer spent elsewhere, then a few trips to other cities and I was finally convinced that there was actually life beyond the nj turnpike. I am so feeling you. Good luck on getting the hell out! lol

Mr.Slish said...

Reeeediculus...950.00 for a room..You can get a One bedroom in a decent neighborhood in the bronx for that kind of money and you don't have to share it with anyone. Too bad everyone who comes to nyc from out of state is too afraid to live in the bx..Its one of the cheapest Boroughs to live in..Nyc best kept secret..

T. Cas said...

I can't even fathom paying NY prices. Do y'all have higher incomes or something? It's crazy to pay $850 for a room.

BluJewel said...

I love NYC; always have and always will. Though I've never lived there, I've lived very close. (Hackensack & Teaneck). My sis used to live in Weehawken. Anyhoo, the prices to live in North Jersey are as crazy as the prices to live in NYC. For what folk pay up there in rent for a decent place, is what I pay in a mortgage in for my house in South Jersey. Madness!

Just like you, I'll always have love for NYC no matter what (even though I can't afford to live there).

CNEL said...

Wise I got to 7-8-07. I know it's downright depressing. Ppl generally think from my demeanor and my drive that I'm older.

Chanel A. Lee said...

I've just been reading through the blog and found you went to too! Newhouse grad school is no joke.

As for living here, most of my peeps are itching to leave, but most of them are magazine journalists, and doing that outside of NYC is just about impossible. My BF is from Atlanta and he can't wait to go back. Dude is actually listening to D4L and the Franchise Boyz because it reminds him of home (so he says). I'm seriously considering a job out there...we'll see. One thing that tripped me out about ATL, on earth do you get an apt in a high-rise with multiple pools and a gym for 700/mo???!!! I don't think you can get an apt in Brownsville for that much! lol

Slish...thanks for bigging up the Bronx!

LaurenAshleigh said...

Growing up down in Atl, I could not for the life of me understand why anyone wanted to live in New York. It was croweded, dirty, expensive and dangerous.

And then I lived there.

It was only a short time but it completely changed my perspective. Granted, I'd still rather live in Atlanta and have a sprawling 5 bedroom house sitting on a couple acres of land for what people will pay for a studio in the city, but every once in awhile I remember living there and, despite my attempts to be logical, I understand it.

So...Wise...Sista said...'re right...but I was never compelled to even consider it when people I know who are from the BX won't even live there! I hear there is lots of development happening up there (yeah, and not just at Yankee stadium)...but y'all natives are too damn territorial. Every one of the (MAYBE 7) times I've chilled up there in the past 7 years I always get the collective evil, 'WTF you doing here?' Uhnuh too out'awdah fi true!

TCas...Lots of people here, of all ages make boatloads. And I suppose that's part of the any given time you can be a block away from a high-paying job. lol But a lot of it is sacrifice...bec there are SO many great things that come along with the city that you just cannot get anywhere else. And that's no illusion. But for me, the things I want and need have understandably, so has my need and desire for the city...for now. ;)

Hey Blu! Ahhh the cost of living. The great vice of the City. It's so ridiculous that it's actually past the point of the point where we just pay $2 for a 1-way train/bus ride without even frowning in protest (unless you're me. Am I the only NYer who plots out my whole week to see if I will take enough train rides to warrant a 7-day unlimited metrocard...and then get pissed if I misjudge? lol) Most young professionals I know can't even afford the they end up in all kinds of precarious living situations. And look at you sitting on a mint in south Jersey! But it's cuz we get so pompous. We run thru Jersey and turn up our noses where there isn't a fly resto-club-lounge on every block. lol

CNelly...damn, you just had a bday. If I missed it, Happy Belated BDay! ;)
So you won't be going to happy hour at Gordon's with me. :(

Chanel...a fellow Orange. Sorry to hear that. lol Were you one of those people who loved it there? If so, we can still be cool. lol

I can actually credit my initial curiosity about other cities after a client found a house in Alpharetta online, went down there and bought it the next week. A big house. In a ritzy hood. For less than most Brooklyn co-ops. I have very little affection for ATL...but I'd buy a house in that bitch in a second! You should def consider it. You already got a man, so need to worry about the ratio of straight women/men. lol And I hear the journo opportunities are abundant out there, if not competitive. But what's more competitive than the City? Do it!! :)

LA...I find that most people who say they don't get the City or hate it are simply scared of it. It's def not for everybody...but there is something inside of NYers that makes us just get it. This will sound corny, but the pace seems not so much fast, but just a rhythm. And I think you either feel the rhythm or you don't. Right now, to me it feels like a song I love and have memorized...just one I've grown tired of hearing. You feel it!

ScarlettRae said...

I am experiencing the same emotions after moving to Washington, D.C. from upstate NY. I honestly don't like NYC, but I can see, especially through your writing, what the allure might be.


The Very Reverend Ace Clemmons, Jr. said...

I admit, I Effing love NYC. Its not for the feint of heart. Its just not easy to live here. Unless your making about 500,000 a year. Yea then its a breeze..

But for everyone else it sharpens your edges for survival- constant adrenaline rush that you dont know you got til you leave for a bit. The question is how much metal do you have to be worn down before you go round? thats when you go...

When i reach that point it'll be New Orleans for me- or out of the country. Depends whats happening in Washington DC..

Chanel A. Lee said...

Wise, you should be very happy to know that I did not enjoy my experience at SU. Too damn cold. I loved my professors and my peeps, but when it snows AFTER spring break, it's a wrap. I actually heard a rumor that it snowed on graduation day once...any truth to that? It was only a year though, I survived.

And what is this I keep hearing about the lack of straight men in ATL? You're the 3rd or 4th person I've heard mention this. I know it's a (relatively) gay-friendly city, but is it really like that?

YAZMAR said...

Hayyyyyyyyyyy as a look at ya pic....Inside the chinky eye-Method Man!! Hay first time here wont be my last...keep bloggin- very interesting--dorm life prolly sucks

jameil1922 said...

oh hell no. see? this is exactly why i didn't seriously consider the 33k offer in NYC. i said i guess i'll have to wait until i can afford not to have 8 roommates and still eat beans.

So...Wise...Sista said...

Jameil...33k? You could live off dat...esp since you'd be closer to the BF!

ProfessorB said...

I don't want no part of that dorm life. None at all. Not for $850.

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  • So...Wise??

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    I'm older than I look, and stupider than you think. But I'm quite proud of my sharp eye for The Ridiculous, and by Ridiculous, of course I mean Me.