Wednesday, March 3, 2010

The High Cost of Low Rent

Back when I lived in New York, there were always neighbors whose rent I envied. On Broadway and 108th Street – my first post-college digs – a dynamic guy named Manny lived next door. He had an expansive corner unit that was easily half-again the size of the apartment my roommate and I shared. And because he’d been there for way more than a few years, Manny’s rent was dirt cheap – significantly lower, anyway, than what my roommate and I were forking over for an airshaft view.

Three apartments and about eight years later, I was living in Brooklyn, on the edge of Park Slope. My then-husband referred to our area as “Park Slop,” and he did have a point in designating it as such. But, we were close enough to the hub of trendiness. High-end retail venues and a variety of great restaurants were just two blocks up First Street, and beyond that were the types of brownstones that inspire one to play Lotto regularly.

When we moved to “the Slope,” we committed to a rent that would soon cross the $1,000 mark. I realize that seems incredibly low by today’s standards, but at the time, it was average, and insofar as my husband and I were the starving-artist types, average was a stretch.

As for the building’s average, that’s another issue. Within weeks, I was once again envying the next door neighbors.

Okay, I probably should clarify that. I didn’t actually envy Blanche and Maria. I envied their rent. Thanks to rent control, they paid about $175 a month. Of course, I should mention that this mother and daughter combo had a relatively small one-bedroom, whereas my husband and I had a fairly spacious two-bedroom. So, while my husband and I chose to share a bed, Blanche and Maria felt compelled to share a bed. Not an optimum situation for a two-generation family pair whose combined age exceeded 100 years. But still: a hundred and seventy-five dollars for a one-bedroom in Park Slope? Really?

Oh, how I used to envy those people who had been around for so long!

And, now… I have become that person.

I’ve lived in my Los Feliz/East Hollywood apartment for more than 15 years, and I still don’t pay as much rent as I paid in Park Slope. But the folks moving into my building? They’re paying more than that Brooklyn rent, even when you factor in the reductions my landlord has had to offer in the current economy.

Yes, I have finally become the neighbor I always envied.

But I’ve also learned that there’s a price.

When you’ve lived in a building as long as I’ve lived in this one, you find yourself saying good-bye to people who have become family. And it’s really hard to see them go.

There were glory years here, and they probably kicked in around 2001 or so. That’s when the sense of sibling-hood among four of us really solidified. It was a good feeling, going to bed at night, knowing that I shared my roof with loved ones.

But almost two years ago, Julie moved. She’s just 40 miles away, but she’s no longer under the roof…

And last weekend, Deb headed back to Colorado, where she will initially share a roof with her real siblings.

So now it’s just Tim and me. The upstairs/downstairs sibs. We were both here for several years before Julie and Deb arrived. Who knows how long either of us will stay?

I appreciate my cheap rent. I really do. Having watched the turnover around me, though, I get a little worried. I don’t want to become the old lady in the building.

But time is time.

The longer I stay, the older I get.

The longer I stay, the less likely it is that I will move.

… I tearfully bid good-bye to my younger surrogate siblings, and I wish them well as they start new journeys. I stay behind, possessing the rent I always envied.

Still, though, as I did in Park Slope, I look covetously at the real estate that is just a few blocks up the hill. I play Lotto, and I dream.

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