How Do People Afford To Live In NYC?

 

When I graduated high school my biggest desire was to live in the city.  I would google apartment buildings I wanted to live at, look up what it would take for me to live the high life in NYC.  After a little research, I realized that it was a little out of my reach even if I was to be a high flying lawyer or doctor after college.  It was A LOT upfront to live in the city or even to live on your own in the Tri-State area!

Well, I ended up not becoming a high flying lawyer or doctor but rather the lowly rental broker, which I later learned was like a cockroach in the world of real estate sales.  Literally the bottom totem in the hierarchy of professions you could have.  Those stories are for another day but with that experience I learned a lot about how on what it took to live in NYC.  I consider NYC to be the most expensive city to live in within the United States.  Very few cities in the world can truly rival the costs of living in prime Manhattan neighborhoods. Here are the ways I found that people are able to live in NYC:

  1. Rent Stabilized Apartments:
    • There is still a lot of rent stabilized and some rent controlled apartments. These apartments are significantly lower than market rate. There are people paying $2000 and under for 1 and 2 BR apts. those people NEVER LEAVE. They do the best they can with the finishes and condition of the apt, sometimes negotiating with the landlord for some basic upgrades but they NEVER LEAVE. They even treat their stabilized or controlled status as a sort of asset that can be passed down to other relatives who are occupants to the apt. So if you’re paying very low rent, this can definitely help you with cost of living.
    • I had a friend whose family had a rent stabilized apartment in midtown.  I was amazed by it.  It was a full service doorman building with amenities and laundry in building.  His family was paying almost nothing for a 3BR apartment. They had moved into the building when Times Square was still known for it’s seedy nature and risqué activities, before Broadway really made a culture out of it.  I was so enamored with the idea of living in a building like that and here he was so lucky to have his parents rent in a stabilized luxury building paying nearly nothing.
    • Getting a rent stabilized apartment is actually really hard.  NYC landlords will only stabilize their properties if there are major tax incentives for it.  Unfortunately, our local governments have been puling back on these incentives for new developments.  Although for the past two years, stabilized apartments have seen a rent freeze, there has also been the removal of certain programs (421A) that have incentivized landlords to build more rent stabilized units.  So chances are if you don’t already have a rent stabilized apartment, you never will.
  2. Roommates
    • Roommate culture is huge in NYC. Many people survive with roommates cutting the rent in half or more depending on how many roommates. There is such a thing as “Flexing” an apartment so to make an extra room out of the living room. A 600sqft 1BR can potentally be “Flexed” into a 600sqft 2BR with no living room A cheap 2300 1BR split between 2 is only $1150 a month each. To qualify for that portion of the rent you only need to make $46K which is really a starting salary for young professionals in NYC.
    • I’m actually not a huge fan of the whole roommate culture.  I feel like it overcrowds apartments, causes tenement conditions and can be a strain on neighborhood resources.  NYC neighborhoods are only so big and when you have 3 occupants for every 500sqft 1BR, thats going to cause more trash, issues with overcrowded schools, and a gentrification of neighborhoods.
    • Think about it, if previously a neighborhood was not able to command a rent of $3000 for a 1BR but suddenly you see an influx of roommates splitting a 1BR three ways to afford the rent this is going to push the overall rental prices up.  Seniors, long-time locals, and families are going to see their rents sky rocket in a market that is inflated with roommates.
  3. Higher Salaries
    • NYC salaries are huge compared to other parts of the country. And that’s mainly because they account for the higher cost of living. You can be starting at $55K and still struggling if your looking to live in prime NYC neighborhoods. People working on Wall Street with big five figure bonuses are really just making upper middle class. Especially families that choose to stay in the city. Include the cost of childcare and you can easily be living hand to mouth.
    • If you’re not in a rent stabilized apartment you’ll need to make at least 80K to afford a rinky-dinky studio in the upper east side with no amenities or laundry in building.  I mean, think about that.  When I started in real estate, I would rent hole in the wall apartments to analysts!  Not saying I’m proud of it, just saying I did it.  Because literally that was the maximum they could afford and qualify for.
  4. Rich Kids from other parts of the country:
    • They say NYC is the playground for the rich. For some reason all the young rich kids like to live in this city. They have parents who are able to co-sign on their apartments. Mind you, a requirement for a consigning on a apt that costs $2500 is $200K in income. The cost upfront for an apartment can easily exceed 10K. I’ve seen parents give their kids 3K monthly stipends! If only their parents could adopt me!

There’s a variety of factors that make it possible for people to afford city living. I would consider prime (south of 96th st) NYC to be difficult for most people to afford. The cost of living for basic things like groceries and dry cleaning tend to be higher in these neighborhoods.

Good thing there are other reasonable nearby neighborhoods in Brooklyn, Queens, Upper Manhattan, and New Jersey where you can still find reasonable rent but with a short commute.

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