Monday, August 21, 2006

Hell: Coming to a Neighborhood Near You

Every two or three weeks, some soul with a spiritual side feels obliged to remind me that I have spent over four decades on this planet charting the fast track to Hell. This weekend the prognosticators have been proved correct: my boyfriend and I looking for a new apartment in New York City.

We live in a relatively new building (c. 1985), so it's unprotected by rent control laws, and my "landlord" (some faceless corporate behemoth with offices on Lexington Avenue) has decided a 75% increase over the last thirteen years was not quite enough for my 1-bedroom apartment in midtown Manhattan. The latest notice was for another 24% (to put it in raw terms, that's $640/month), and they plan to convert my 600 square feet of purgatory to a 3-bedroom hell for the lucky kids who go to NYU Medical Center down the street.

I suppose the business strategy is working in the short term: three youngsters and three stereos just moved into the mirror-image apartment next door, and there are three kids living in the studio apartment across from us. My formally respectable building has become a college dorm, and the halls are alive with the sound of music.

My situation is hardly unique. The New York Sun published an article this past Thursday noting that
The cost of one-bedroom apartment rentals in Manhattan's doorman buildings is surging, with starting prices for these apartments hovering around $3,000 a month -- about $500 more than they were just three years ago, city brokers say.
An article in the same paper a week earlier contained this quote:
"With vacancies hovering around 0%, demand for rental housing going through the roof, and rents being increased by over 25% in the last five months, owning a residential rental apartment building in Manhattan is a better investment than owning treasury bills," [the managing partner and co-founder of Stonehenge Partners] said.
Thus is life amidst a virtual monopoly; people's lives become "investments" and the places they live are compared to commodities like treasury bills (or, for that matter, pork futures). So while New York landlords aggressively convert even the nicest buildings to over-occupied tenement sties, those (like me) unwilling to live three pairs of lungs per 600 square feet are heading out, displacing those who are even less fortunate in Queens and Brooklyn and the Bronx. Soon the bubble will burst as expected, housing stock will be once again unliveable, and we'll be back again to the New York City of the early 1970s, with an aging Kurt Russell reprising his original role.

And yet, in spite of it all, I love this city and my job and the people and the diversity and the excitement, and I can't bring myself to move anywhere else.

So, in the more immediate future, there were be light posting for the next month or two while I scramble, looking in greener (and quieter) pastures just on the other side of the East River, and then sorting thirteen years' worth of detritus into piles labeled Must-Take, Must-Give-Away, and Why-Did-I-Ever-Keep-This. I've always been meaning to search for a place with more space, and now a have a devil prodding me with a pitchfork.