When Your Home is in Danger of Losing You, Part 1
Today I’d like to share a story about my home in New York City. I love where I live. I’ve worked hard to customize it to my use on a very limited budget and I'm happy. There are a few unpleasant things related to the building, how poorly it has been maintained, the quality of some of the neighbors and the uncleanliness of the streets. But hey, that’s a typical rant in many part of New York City.
But last year, a new landlord bought our building and gave us a $1,500 monthly increase for our new lease. We received the letter and once we picked up our jaws, we tried to negotiate with the landlord on a more reasonable increase. To us, reasonable means $300. To them, reasonable means $700.
We’ve been stellar tenants: reporting dirty common areas, scraped graffiti from windows, chased drug dealers and vagrants out of the lobby and contributed to the community. We're good neighbors. We’ve endured a lot of neglect from the 3 other landlords who've owned our building. Our kids are in local schools and we can’t really afford to move right now. We said as much to the building management representative, a dapper young man who said he’d do his best to communicate that to the building owner. We're not sure what our next step is.
Since 1996, I’ve lived on the edge of sketchy New York City neighborhoods that have gentrified beneath my feet until I was eventually priced out.
Here’s a short list. Clap if you’ve lived there before too:
- South Park Slope, 1997
- Long Island City, 1998
- Central Harlem, 1999
- Ozone Park, 1999
- Bushwick, 2000-2004
- Prospect Heights, Brooklyn 2005-2008
- Jersey City, 2008-2009 (whoa, not the sixth borough, people, NOT the sixth borough)
- Washington Heights, 2010-present
You hear a lot in the media about the city becoming a place where only the ultra wealthy can live. I know that our time here is limited. As a scrappy, youngish, single New Yorker I could endure sloping floors and roaches (well, ok maybe not roaches) and long commutes. But with a family, I want the convenience of a good grocery and the train nearby and maybe a cafe that isn’t Dunkin’ Donuts. A park nearby would be awfully nice as well.
If The Washington Post is right about what it takes to be middle class in the city, then we are definitely lower, lower middle class and it is hard work scraping by. I mean, not in an Angela’s Ashes hard living way, but a no vacations, no retirement savings, no college savings, no savings savings, no lavish birthday parties, no money to visit family out of state, no summer camps, kind of way. I’m sure if Suze Orman came to look at our financial picture she would say “What the hell are you doing? Get out of here or find a job that pays more.”
This is an ongoing story, the story of a family struggling to stay in the city they love and still have a basic quality of life. I’m not sure how it will all turn out and my ability to tolerate certainty is being tested. I've moved 31 times in my life. I'd really like it if I didn't have to move again.