The Price 20-Somethings Pay to Live in the City
ABE CAVIN QUEZADA, a 22-year-old aspiring music producer, lives with two roommates in a three-bedroom apartment in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn. Mr. Cavin Quezada, who works as an unpaid intern at Electric Lady Studios in Greenwich Village, has kind words for his building, a renovated tenement near Marcus Garvey Boulevard, and for his apartment, for which he pays $500 a month and has a 10-by-6-foot bedroom. But as for the neighborhood, he is less enthusiastic.
“Before this I was living in a loft in Bushwick,” said Mr. Cavin Quezada, who grew up outside Washington. “This apartment is nicer, and has more amenities, but the neighborhood is noticeably fishier. In Bushwick, I never really felt threatened. Now, the sounds around are more aggressive. I’ll see 20 guys ride by on motorcycles, or hear gunshots outside my window.
“And one day,” he said, “in the middle of a Sunday afternoon, I saw a guy on a motorcycle with a handgun. It was not a reassuring sight.”
Mr. Cavin Quezada often works until 2 a.m. or later, and the first few nights after moving here, he considered asking one of his roommates to meet him at the subway after work and walk him back to the apartment.
Does his mother, who’s paying his rent, worry about him? “I don’t think I’ve given her enough details for her to worry,” Mr. Cavin Quezada said.
New York City was home to nearly 1.28 million people in their 20s last year, up from 1.21 million in 1980. In many respects, Mr. Cavin Quezada’s situation mirrors the way large numbers in that age group are living, three years after the Great Recession began.
To be sure, earlier generations had their share of hard-luck housing stories. But statistical evidence suggests that today’s new arrivals have a tougher struggle to live well, or even adequately, compared with their counterparts of just a decade ago. Battered by the one-two punch of persistent unemployment and the city’s high housing costs, they are squeezing into ever smaller spaces and living in neighborhoods once considered dicey and remote.
They are doubling, tripling, quadrupling and even quintupling up. According to the New York City Planning Department, 46 percent of New Yorkers in their 20s who moved to the city from out of state between 2006 and 2008 lived with people to whom they were not related, up from 36 percent in 2000.
Moving back in with parents is fast becoming the new normal. Those who do fly the family nest are paying an ever larger percentage of their often meager income for rent. Between 2006 and 2008, according to the Planning Department, the portion of New Yorkers in their 20s who moved to the city from other states and who paid at least 35 percent of their income for rent was 42 percent, up from 39 percent in 2000.
Even young people in high-paying fields like finance have to make sacrifices. There’s the investment banker who can afford only a 450-square-foot studio, and the financial analyst who lives in a third-floor walk-up studio illegally divided into two rooms.
In the words of Allison Gumbel, a 28-year-old photographer who lives in a third-floor walk-up in Clinton Hill, Brooklyn: “There’s always a compromise. And when I say compromise, I don’t just mean that you don’t have nice floors or good light.”
Still young adults swarm to the city, especially those eager to pursue careers in finance, the arts, media and other fields for which New York has long served as the nation’s heart. They come to find work, to find one another and to hang out in neighborhoods like Williamsburg and the Lower East Side that have become almost geographic extensions of college dorm life. Here are some tales from the front lines.
Stefan Rurak, 26, a furniture maker, has lived for two years in a former furniture store in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. His roommate has the front room; Mr. Rurak has the 9-by-12-foot windowless space in the rear, for which he pays $325 a month. The arrangement isn’t legal, but it allows Mr. Rurak, an Oberlin graduate who moved to New York five years ago, to pursue work he loves.
“I really lucked out,” he said. “Without a doubt, I couldn’t be doing what I’m doing now without this space.”
“Like every artist,” he added, “I came to New York after college. I never planned on staying this long, but I did various things. I worked in construction, I worked as an art handler. Opportunities came up.
“It’s not that I like New York so much. But things happen here that wouldn’t happen in other places.”
And he has only good things to say about his neighborhood. “It’s not like Williamsburg, at least not yet,” he said. “You don’t see all those college kids in tight pants. It’s not quote unquote hot.”