New York City, just like I pictured it. Skyscrapers, everything! —Stevie Wonder
You can find everything in New York City—except maybe a cheap apartment. But with a lot of work and a little luck, it is not impossible to get a reasonable one.
When Public Enemy’s Chuck D. rapped “don’t believe the hype,” he could have been talking about Williamsburg, the immensely popular Brooklyn neighborhood just 10 minutes away on the L train. A decade ago, a sea of artist types flooded the area, sweeping away the former residents—mostly Hispanic, Orthodox Jewish, and Polish families. The corner bodega was replaced by a club or a boutique, and voilà—rents quadrupled. Williamsburg is now a fun place to live, but with two-bedrooms averaging two grand, there’s no way a student can afford it.
Finding a ‘Hood
Before you crawl back to your parents, discover the next Willie Bs. Try Borough Park—it’s got a Hasid community, too! Only 25 minutes from the city, you can still find a studio here for $800. Borough Park also borders Sunset Park, Brooklyn, which is home to the city’s second largest Chinatown, as well as a growing Mexican community. Bay Ridge is not much further, and boasts an excellent mix of ethnic groups, with Italian, Arabic, and Asian communities, as well as great cheap restaurants like Del Corso’s and Lento’s (Italian), Bangkok (Thai), and 86 Noodles (Chinese). A 40-minute R train ride into midtown is easily offset by rents of $950 for a one-bedroom—which can be shared by two roomies since most of the buildings are pre-war monsters with extra-large rooms.
If you’re willing to travel, that’s not the only deal. A recent Village Voice classified ad offered a three-and-a-half-room apartment, utilities included, for $950 in Red Hook, about 20 minutes out on the F train. An extra bonus: Nightlife is budding, with recently opened bars and clubs like Red Hook Blue and Lillies.
Long Island City in Queens, where studio apartments rent for $800 a month, is already getting its groove on. With MOMA temporarily calling Queens home, the nearby P.S.1 Arts Center, clubs like Krash, and the ever popular plethora of strip joints, like Goldfingers, Wiggles, and Cityscapes, Queens is practically hipsterville—or at least hootersville. Don’t neglect Astoria, Queens, made famous by TV’s Archie and Edith Bunker. The home to the largest Greek community in the city, Astoria has many Greek restaurants and bars, like the Keystone Diner and the Plaka Restaurant. Rent is cheap ($850 for a one-bedroom), but the subway ride is long—nearly 35 minutes to get to lower Manhattan.
Staten Island—famed for landfills and the mob—offers St. George, only a 10-minute walk to the (free) ferry, which will get you to the city in 15 minutes. It runs every quarter-hour, but getting around without a car in Staten Island can prove difficult.
In Manhattan proper, it is not impossible to find a one-bedroom for $1000 in Inwood or Hell’s Kitchen. The question is, what are you willing to sacrifice? Smaller space? Longer train rides? No Thai-Italian fusion bistros?
Getting a Crib
You can apartment hunt from the comfort of your chair using Web sites like www.easyrent.com, apartment-apartments.com, partridgerealty.net, and unfurnished.new-york-apartment.com. Many of these sites charge a fee, but they give an idea of what’s out there. Jobs, apartments, and future roommates are all up for grabs on the Craigslist bulletin board (newyork.craigslist.org).
If you want to search the old-fashioned way—on foot—pick up small local newspapers like Bay Ridge, Brooklyn’s Home Reporter or The Queens Gazette: They usually have the best prices.
Look for ads by landlords or management companies, as they usually don’t charge fees. When scanning the papers, beware of unbelievably cheap apartments (i.e., “Prime studio for $600”) that usually share multiple ads in diverse places advertised by the same person or phone numbers. This is most likely a scam to “sell” you a list of rentals.
Real estate brokers should be your last resort. Brokers charge a percentage of the year’s rent—up to 20 percent in Manhattan (as manhattanapts.com does). Finally, you’ll need two months’ rent (first and security).
The best way to find a place is also the simplest: network. Tell anyone who will listen that you’re looking, tell friends and friends of friends, leave posters in stores, e-mail everyone, ask around, knock on some doors. More people luck into places by being in the right place at the right time. And remember, if it sounds too good to be true, it is! After all, this is New York.