Breaking: New York Times Discovers Roommates
The New York Times has uncovered the latest new trend and it’s called roommates, the random people you live with when you can’t afford the rent for an entire apartment. Yes! It’s a wild concept, and Pulitzers are deserved all around for this gripping expose.
New York Times
The Times reveals that New York City rent is very high — the median price of a one bedroom is $3500 a month. Landlords typically require that a tenant’s annual income is at least 40 times their monthly rent. (A third of New Yorkers spend 50 percent of their income on rent.) According to the US Census Bureau, the median New York City income is $50,825, which is not 40 times $3500 (that’s $140,000). If you’re a first-year lawyer at a major Manhattan firm, you can afford a cramped, rat-infested apartment that barely functions as shelter. Otherwise, you’ll have to share your bathroom with a stranger.
This passage is particularly adorable:
The profound shortage in rental units has forced the city’s residents to figure out their own ways to live affordably. And that — especially for those moving to the city for the first time — often means living with total strangers. This spring, the magazine visited the homes of renters who have moved to the city during the pandemic, checking in on the pleasures and compromises of living with brand-new roommates: the tight quarters and awkward interactions, but also the mutual assistance and instant camaraderie that arise when people are thrown together. Some sleep two to a room or in what’s supposed to be the living room; many still struggle to make ends meet, even as they share tiny spaces. But they are all making do in a famously challenging city.
New York’s vacancy rate has always been low. It was just 1.3 percent in February 2020 before the COVID-19 pandemic. Housing units have struggled to keep pace with the city’s growing adult population.
There was a brief period during the COVID-19 lockdowns when rental prices dropped to barely affordable levels. The Times wrote (absurdly) in April that one of the hallmarks of making it in New York included "a maitre d’ who knows you by name and living alone, at last, in your own apartment. For a window of time during the pandemic, when many fled the city and landlords offered rock-bottom rents to tempt those who stayed, some could finally afford to reach that shining hill of solo living.”
Yes, well-off New Yorkers bailed on all the maitre d’s who knew their names, but once the city started to open back up, they returned and soon landlords were doubling the rent on the people who kept their units filled. As the article actually published in the New York Times observed: "The halcyon days of blasting music, letting dishes pile up in the sink and walking from the bathroom to the kitchen without a towel are over.”
Remarkably, the housing situation in New York has somehow managed to get worse. The Times’s roommate article describes living situations that are nothing at all what you saw on “Friends."
Ivana and Kalina Popova are 22-year-old twins from Kansas who share a small Upper East Side apartment with Victoria, whom they met on TikTok. (I’m 48 years old so I don’t fully understand the last half of that sentence.) They each pay $1,300 a month and live in abject misery: “You should see our refrigerator,” [Victoria] says. “It’s absolutely the most devastating thing you’ll ever see in your life.”
There’s the seven people and three animals who live in "an entirely vegan townhouse" in Bedford-Stuyvesant, which almost seems normal compared to this: Alexandra Marzella, who’s lived with more than 90 people over the past decade, has five random roommates in in a six-bedroom Bushwick loft. They all share the space with Marzella's two-year-old daughter, Earth, who was born in the apartment’s bathtub in 2020.
Then there’s 37-year-old Stacey who shares a Bronx one-bedroom with 68-year-old Ingrid. They each pay $850. The younger woman apparently has the bedroom while the senior citizen is stuck in the living room with some jacklegged privacy curtain. (That was my situation 25 years ago but I had a cool Chinese screen.)
The narrow kitchen has a desk near the fridge, where Ingrid also works from home. Stacey hesitates to cook while Ingrid is working and is spending all her time in her bedroom. “It’s a little claustrophobic,” she says.
I say this as someone who once romanticized Manhattan more than Woody Allen, but dear God, why would anyone want to live in this city?
New York Mayor Eric Adams has so far failed to make good on his campaign promises to address the housing crisis. He said last month, “There’s no rush to doing this. We’ve got to get it right.” I think the 68-year-old working next to her tiny refrigerator might appreciate it if Adams picked up the pace.
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Stephen Robinson is a writer and social kibbitzer based in Portland, Oregon. He writes make believe for Cafe Nordo, an immersive theatre space in Seattle. Once, he wrote a novel called “Mahogany Slade,” which you should read or at least buy. He's also on the board of the Portland Playhouse theatre. His son describes him as a “play typer guy."