Renting as a Competitive Sport: Warming Up

15 Feb

View of the High Line in NYC’s Chelsea neighborhood during the summer of 2009.

Recently, my husband and I received the renewal for our lease, which is up in May. Of   course, this event had to coincide with this — the media’s nerve-shattering proclamation that rents in New York City are not only back on the rise since 2008’s economic downturn but that apartments are suddenly so in demand that they are setting off full-blown bidding wars among prospective tenants. For this reason, it should be no surprise to us that our rent is slated to go up a significant amount this year.

Chelsea, our New York neighborhood, has been at the forefront of the market in recent years. I have lived in this area for somewhere  around a decade, and I have seen it change quite a bit over that time period. When I first moved into my pre-war “one-bedroom convertible to two-bedroom” apartment with my then-and-now-former roommate, the neighborhood still contained a noticeable amount of grit and a lack of open green space. As much as developments like the High Line and Billy’s Bakery have made it a more desirable place to live…well, they’ve made it a more desirable place to live — the result being that more and more people have clamored to move here. This increase in demand is making it a more expensive place in which to rent, shop, enjoy, and–most importantly–survive.

And, as anyone who lives in this quickly evolving city likely knows, this phenomenon is spreading throughout the boroughs and into areas that have been neglected for decades. Finding an affordable place to live in a safe area with tolerable commute on a middle class salary is increasingly tough, and rent-stabilized apartments are quickly becoming a thing of the past. If you had told me five years ago that Crown Heights would become a blossoming hot spot, I would have more than raised an eyebrow. Now, its Franklin Avenue is peppered with gourmet grocery stores, modern design shops, and trendy eateries. New businesses seem to be popping up every day, and for better or for worse, it is definitely on the track to gentrification.  With that said, venture a few blocks in any direction and things become a little dicier. The area’s crime rate, while improved, still makes me a bit uneasy.

So, with that in mind, where do we go? Armed with crime statistics from the NYPD’s website about every neighborhood in the city, my husband and I are setting out on a full reconnaissance mission to explore the city’s “fringe” neighborhoods and determine whether or not there is a place with a more reasonable price tag where we might be equally happy. Our goal is to explore areas that have allegedly been improving and to map out the actual borders of where these spots go from nice enough to nasty. Along the way, I also hope to hear any thoughts that you have regarding these various neighborhoods.

By the time we need to decide whether to bite the bullet and pay a higher rent in Chelsea or to move on to another area, I hope we will have learned everything we can: much of which I intend to share with you in the coming weeks. If we decide to move, we will then need to get everything ready for the process of finding an apartment and beating others to the punch in the application process. But, like any smart athlete, we are going to warm up and survey the field before putting on our running shoes. There is no sense in winning the race if the prize isn’t really what you wanted. To Be Continued….

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