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How to Get an Affordable Manhattan Apartment

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Recently I’ve been approached by some co-workers who asked me about how anyone can possibly afford to live in Manhattan these days unless they are either, a. a jillionaire, or b. a trust fund baby. Yes, it would seem that gone are the days when you could find a cheap rooming house on the Upper West Wide, like we see in movies from the 1950s and 1960s. But a lot has changed since then.

Today we have a different market. New York City, even in the height of this depression/recession, is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world. The second most popular destination is Disney World.

So here you are, wanting to live in the slickest city in the world. But how do you do it?

Below are some sure-fire suggestions to help you get to where you want and need to be.

1. Roommate websites. Online there are a bevy of roommate websites that will find you shares throughout the New York City area. Roomates.com is a good one. Here they ask you to create a profile and then give you the profiles of people in your age group. I’ve used them to rent rooms to people and found them to be quite good. Membership for a three-day period is very cheap.

2. 80/20. I’m surprized that more people don’t know about this. The 80/20 rule is this: in New York City every new luxury rental building must offer 20% of its apartments to moderate income people in order for the building to receive all of the Federal tax cuts and breaks that they need to survive. Now you ask, how do I get in on this deal? The answer is simple. When you spot a new luxury high rise building going up as a rental, you must take down the name and address of the contractor/etc. and then draft a letter stating that you would like to get in on the 80/20 deal. They will then send you a bunch of paperwork to fill out and also tell you the criteria. I went for a building on the upper East side. The rent was $600 a month for a one-bedroom apartment in this program. The lease is for 30 years. I could not earn more than about $30,000 per year (it varies per building).

Once you fill out the paperwork, you are then put into a lottery. There are only a certain number of apartments available. If you are lucky your name will be picked. In my case I was number 1,400. I was called in for an interview and put on the list. The next part is waiting. The first 30 apartments are rented. But, should the tenant die, or move, or otherwise leave the apartment, then it goes to the next name on the list. Because of the nature of life itself, the list gets shorter and shorter and shorter until eventually it come to your name. I unfortunately failed to send a letter every six months and so lost my place. I also earned more than the $30,000. So there are downfalls. But I have a few friends who are paying $673 per month for an apartment on the Upper East side that rents for $4,600 per month. So you see, it can be worth the effort. And of course you may not be 1,400. You may be number 1.

3. Infiltration. This is my favorite method of finding a cheap apartment in the city. This also takes a little time but it is great fun. First you determine where it is that you want to live. Then you infiltrate the neighborhood. By this I mean that you get involved in community activities in the place where you want to live. For example, if you want to live in Gramercy Park, you might attend Calvary St. George’s Church located on Gramercy Park. Or you might attend the temple. Now you may think, “What is he talking about. I live four hours from there!” Listen, if you go to church and then go to coffee hour afterwards, you are going to meet all kinds of people. I met a little old lady who owned a building and had an apartment in the basement—servants’ quarters, which she offered to me for $500 a month. She wanted to have a “young person” living in the building because she was old and scared. If I hadn’t already landed a sweet deal on East 19th Street, I’d probably be living there now! Real estate is expensive. But there are always deals to be had. Everybody knows somebody who’s getting on in years and may need someone to look in on them from time to time. One relative’s heartache can be your gain. Yes, it may mean some sacrifice on your part. But the reward of a swell pad in a tony neighborhood will more than outweigh any efforts. And this kind of networking can also help you in many other ways. So think about it. It’s a good thing.

4. Doormen. This is the last suggestion that works. Very often you can get an illegal sublet, or a legal one, from the doorman. Visit them often. Bring them coffee. Offer to pay them on the sly if they can direct you. I had a friend who landed a sweet deal on Carmine St. this way. He paid the super $1,000 and got a sublet for $500 a month.

Wear comfortable shoes and get ready! You will find a cheap apartment in Manhattan. I’ve given you the secret.

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  • Unknown

    I found the article extremely helpful and topical as many of us are looking for an affordable Manhattan apartment,thank you.