Why I'm Letting My Brooklyn Apartment Go
As I locked my bike up to construction scaffolding on Fulton Street in Brooklyn last week, I took in all of the changes on that particular stretch of the borough. Brooklyn Academy of Music, or BAM, a performing arts center that dominates this area, has erected new, modern buildings; an Apple Store has risen up; contemporary, amenity-packed apartment buildings and high-end food courts are becoming the norm. I was there to do a free trial of a co-working space in an airy restaurant on the ground floor of a luxury apartment building. Also on the ground floor was—what else?—a high-end food court, which includes a third wave coffee purveyor, a flamingo-themed bar, a Bolivian restaurant, and an Asian dumpling spot.
As demonstrated by these new residences, arts spaces, food, and stores, lot of energy is being poured into building in Brooklyn, at the same time it is harder to be middle or working class here. Subway service has gotten worse, while housing has gotten drastically more expensive. Everyone expects their rent to go up and feels lucky when it only rises by $25 or $50. The reasons I love Brooklyn are still strong—Prospect Park, the Park Slope Food Coop, the neighborhoods, the beaches, the people—but like so many desirable cities, it feels like civic culture is losing to consumer culture and the 1 percent.
I’ve lived in my current apartment for seven years. When I found it on Craigslist, I knew it was something I had to jump on: a rent-stabilized two-bedroom for $1,900 located three blocks from the park in Prospect Heights, a centrally located neighborhood with a mix of brownstones and walk-ups. The unit had nice natural light, a separate kitchen, and was newly renovated. The first year, I lived with my ex-boyfriend and another roommate. For several more years after my boyfriend and I broke up, it was my roommate and I. And for the last three years it has been just me.
Many people have asked me if I’m going to sub-lease this apartment while I’m in France, and some are a bit surprised when I say no. It’s a great location, it’s well below-market, and housing in Brooklyn is not getting cheaper. But since I left my full-time job and started as a freelance writer and editor earlier this year, I find it hard to justify the rent I’m paying, plus the high cost of health insurance. Even though I have savings, I do not like that, were I to have several bad months, I easily would be spending more than I was taking in. And at least for the foreseeable future, I want to stick with freelancing.
So I have decided I’m letting the apartment go when I move to France in September to teach English. I have no idea what will happen after I’m done teaching, but I have accepted that I may not come back to Brooklyn because of cost-of-living. Or, if I do, that I may find somewhere significantly farther out than where I live currently, or with roommates. It is a weird place to be when many of your friends are starting to buy, or living in nicer apartments, but if I were trying to keep up with the Joneses, I’d be unhappy with how much I had to work. I’m not going to draw much sympathy as a New Yorker by saying I want to work manageable hours. But I would rather at this point live somewhere I can afford without needing to work more hours than I want.
When I think about the affordability situation in Brooklyn on a global level, I don’t think it’s fair that people are getting pushed out because of their income, especially people who have lived in the borough awhile, who are contributing to their neighborhoods and communities through their work or volunteering or just being good citizens. I think it’s extremely messed up that the people who have certain jobs that happen to pay a lot can move in and price out so many others in the borough. It doesn’t help that these jobs are often in industries that often do not benefit society, or actually contribute to things getting worse for others. I don’t want to make this about these individuals, but it does show a really skewed sense of priorities as a society that a teacher has a harder time affording to live in Brooklyn than a banker.
On a personal level though, I am okay stepping off the New York City cost-of-living treadmill. I am ready to let go of the idea I once had that Brooklyn was the only place I could live in the United States. It will be hard to leave knowing I may not go back—and I’m sure even harder once I go to France, but it is something I'll try to live with given my choices and priorities.