Due to high taxes and other costs of living in New York, unless you are earning a minimum of $50,000 a year, you will benefit from shared housing to help you afford to live within an hour’s commute to work and in a safe neighborhood, two vital concerns. Budget at least $800 to $1,000 a month for shared apartment rental. Double that amount for a studio apartment rental if you live alone. A deposit (and possible realtor’s fee) equivalent to one or two months’ rent is standard, so you should have around $3,000 available for your first month. Choosing an apartment based solely on price is not the safest approach. Housing is in high demand in New York, and apartments can rent within hours of listing. Apartments advertised for lower prices are almost always in dangerous areas or have other problems. Select a safe location first, then find an apartment in livable condition.
Purchase of a small apartment generally starts at one million dollars inside Manhattan and half a million in neighboring borough locations, so renting is a better choice unless you plan to settle in New York. If you have money to purchase, keep an eye on the market. Apartments valued at two million have been going for half a million in Manhattan lately as the market has continued to fluctuate wildly since the beginning of the recession in 2007. Zillow.com is an excellent real estate resource for anyone with the resources to purchase.
If you are a non-smoker and keep music volume low, be sure potential roommates are like you. Be aware that renters splitting the cost of an apartment may care more about whether the room rent is paid than about who occupies the room (male, female, or more than one person) so if those factors matter to you (and they should, really), confirm in advance what the policy will be if a current roommate leaves. If you originally rented a room as a single person, you shouldn’t plan on hosting guests for more than a couple of days out of the year. One extra person can tip the acceptable rotation time for the bathroom in the typical multi-bedroom, one-bathroom apartment. In addition to infuriating your roommates, a regular guest may also violate the rental contract that restricts the number of people allowed to share the apartment. Check out my YMCA hint below as an option for guest housing, and if you anticipate frequent guests, rent your own private apartment.
Never rent a basement apartment, which is considered a fire hazard and is illegal anywhere in the state of New York. You can be evicted by local authorities on short notice and apartment owners can be fined thousands or tens of thousands of dollars. Craig’s List is full of ads for cheap basement apartments. You may save money renting one, but you may also one day find that your landlord has emptied your apartment without your consent to prepare for an inspection that is happening because a neighbor reported the basement rental to the police.
YMCA is New York’s best kept secret for temporary housing. Several New York YMCAs offer inexpensive rooms, and one of the best is the Greenpoint YMCA for between $38 to under $100 per night where you can stay 14 days in a row. With private bedrooms and separate men’s and women’s dorm-style bathrooms, the building is across the street from a police station and around the corner from a grocery store in the safe community of Greenpoint, Brooklyn. This is a great place to stay while you look for permanent lodging. Reserve your room ahead, as some dates are booked. Call (718) 389-3700 for the Greenpoint YMCA.
Craig's List is the most popular apartment-finding website in New York, and is also guaranteed to have ads posted by swindlers, so watch out. Deal in person, ask lots of questions and interview all roommates before exchanging a deposit. You can find sublets here, as well, lasting for a few months at a time.
Realtors - Most New Yorkers find their apartments on Craig’s List, through managed apartment complexes with staffed offices, or through the services of a realtor. If you decide to work with a realtor, ask for word-of-mouth recommendations for a good realtor that serves the area where you want to live. A realtor’s fee is usually equivalent to one month’s rent. Many landlords of smaller apartment complexes in New York work exclusively through realtors, so despite the fee, many people still use realtor services to find prime apartment options.
Redeemer Presbyterian Church allows its members to post classified ads for apartment rentals on its website and is a source for some of the safest available apartments in New York. Because this is the service of a Manhattan church, most postings on this site ask for potential renters who will “not bring the party home,” to put it in one poster’s words. These apartments also generally require all-male or all-female renters and no overnight guests, with exceptions for an occasional visiting family member, for example.
The Webster Apartments offer women’s low-cost dorm-style housing in Manhattan. The waiting list is months long, but if you can get in, this is a good option for single, female workers who cannot afford average rental prices. The private bedrooms are tiny, and the bathrooms have 3 showers each, shared among 15 girls. The price is based on your salary and includes two meals per day. No guests are allowed beyond the first-floor visiting room. The Webster is within walking distance of the garment district where most fashion jobs are located.
The Brandon is another women’s low-cost dorm-style housing in Manhattan. Apply well in advance. This location is a short subway ride to the garment district.
Though not publicized, Columbia University in Manhattan occasionally offers short-term dorm housing to non-Columbia students. This is a good option for interns who intend to stay for the summer. Special permission will be needed and will be based on availability, since Columbia dorms are generally reserved for students.
When evaluating the potential safety of a rental neighborhood, listen to warnings from locals. One caution you will often hear is to stay out of Jamaica, Queens, for safety reasons. When considering housing, safety sometimes appears to be on the side of people who blend into the ethnicity of a particular area and who live in family groups. This applies to places like Harlem, that contains an almost entirely black population, where a Jamaican, male co-worker of mine felt that he and his family were perfectly safe, but a blonde-haired, single female acquaintance had her apartment robbed three times and moved away to avoid further trauma. Flushing, Queens is called “Chinatown” and is loved by the Asians who live there, while some avoid the area due to occasional security incidents. Astoria, Queens, is a relatively safe area favored by Hispanics. Questionable pockets exist in all the boroughs, so check online news reports and call local police to gather updated safety information before renting.
Maximize safety by getting home as early as possible at night, locking your door at all times (even when taking out the trash), being aware of suspicious activity around you and holding bags close to you while in crowds. Stay out of deserted places when you are alone, especially after dark. If you find yourself on an empty street at night, walk in the middle of the street where extra space and visibility are your friends. Most of central Manhattan is considered to be quite safe due to heavy police presence, but crime happens everywhere in New York at times, just like in other big cities. Protect yourself with safe habits and a safe neighborhood for choice of housing.
Prime housing locations for workers who commute to New York City's fashion district are as follows:
Settling on Long Island is an alternative for people who do not mind a slightly longer commute to Manhattan and who enjoy the quietness and fresh air available outside of the New York City limits. Purchase of a small apartment starts between $70,000 and $100,000, much more affordable than the prices nearer New York City, and rentals are also less expensive. The Long Island communities of Floral Park, Stewart Manor and New Hyde Park are some of the closest to New York City and offer clean air and safety with local police departments serving the areas. Check both New York City and Long Island on Craig’s List to find postings for Long Island apartments. In favor of Long Island living, locating strategically within any of the three communities mentioned above will offer simultaneous walking distance to three Long Island Railway (LIRR) stations, a more pleasant commuting option than subway. The LIRR Penn Station destination is within walking distance of the garment district. The LIRR fare is higher than subway fare, but if you locate on Long Island outside of the New York City line, you will make up part of the difference by not paying New York City income tax. A car is needed for weekend errands on Long Island, while the subway and bus routes nearer Manhattan make a car unnecessary.
Long Island is ideal for families who value quality of life while keeping a long-term job in Manhattan. If you are only planning to work in New York for a few years and you have a job requiring overtime for fashion shows, you will probably want to skip Long Island and live as close to your job as possible for a faster commute. LIRR train time may only be 30 to 40 minutes each way, but the schedules are farther apart than subway and walking up to 4 miles as part of the commute may be necessary, making an average 3 hours of daily commuting time a possibility. In contrast, a location in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, would provide a daily commute of half that time with more flexibility for departure and arrival schedules.