On to Queens we go.
BROOKLYN, New York- “What the f’ck is up with Brooklyn being so segregated?” my wife roared.”There’s the Polish people over here and the black people over there and the rich white people here. I’m moving to the city because I want my kids to be around different types of people. If I wanted them to be around white people all the time I’d move to Portland, Maine.”
We just received the Welcome-to-Brooklyn treatment:
After looking all over the place we put in an application for an apartment in the north of Greenpoint. $2,500 per month — pretty much the bottom-end going rate for a two bedroom in an alright location (it’s only a $300 or so difference to live in a shitty location far from anywhere). So this place was pretty much what we were looking for and we paid the $150 application fee and the $500 deposit.
I also mentioned to the broker — who was the typical 22-year-old who does this work — that if we needed to we could make our application a little more appealing by paying a little more per month and a few months in advance. He told me that he wouldn’t mention this to the other agents showing the place or the other applicants, which of course meant that this was the first thing he was going to tell them …
And he did.
A day after we applied he sent my wife a text saying that someone offered $50 per month over us and agreed to pay three months in advance. He wanted to know if we’d like to outbid them. What the hell, what the hell. We went for it. Ten minutes later he got back to us saying that there was another applicant who went over us by $100 and offered to pay six months in advance.
He set up a bidding war.
Which, after talking to other people, appears to be a standard practice here.
The advertised rate for an apartment in trendy areas like Greenpoint and Williamsburg is, apparently, just to draw in applicants (who all pay to apply). The real estate agent will then establish an impromptu auction and pit all of the applicants against each other, trying to get each one to bid higher and offer more months up front than the others, with the winner getting the privilege of grossly overpaying for an address in one of New York City’s most gentrified and trendy areas.
This is all money in the bank for the real estate agent, as his / her fee is ten to fifteen percent of a year’s rent … and then they also get the accolades of the property owner on for sucking as much cash as possible out of the renter.
When renting in NYC, the real estate broker represents the apartment owner, not the renter.
We were looking in the Greenpoint and Williamsburg neighborhoods because of the relatively easy access to the Upper East Side of Manhattan, where my wife is going to be working and my kids going to school. A 40 minute one-way commute is a lot different than a 70 minute one-way commute. Also, the listed prices there were actually not that much higher than in Bed-Stuy or Bushwick and the living far better — although I imagine that you can actually get a place in the latter locations for the listed price.
Greenpoint and Williamsburg are collectively the hipster capital of the world. 10 or 15 years ago youngish creatives began moving into the area due to being priced out of Manhattan, and the place received global attention for being this artsy cultural epicenter. Then the rich wannabe hipsters followed, eventually displacing the real hipsters, who have moved deeper into Brooklyn or bailed out of the city altogether. What’s left behind is this monotonous, moneyied cultural sludge — a place of beet burgers that’s the same as you can find everywhere in the world where young people have too much cash to spend.
As is so often the case, what made these places unique and attractive to begin with no longer exists. At this point, I’m just chasing windmills here.
I was sitting in a Greenpoint bar drinking a beer while chatting on WhatsApp with a friend from Tahiti who owns a couple highly successful companies — a millionaire many times over. He mentioned that he just moved to Williamsburg and I almost fell out of my chair. “Wait, but you’re a rich guy! What are you doing moving to Williamsburg?!?”
Walking around Greenpoint and Williamsburg it is easy to sense the desperation. In order to live in the epicenter of cool you have to pay for it, and it’s always a seller’s market. The main topic of conversation seems to circle around finding a place to live, roommates, paying rent. People walk down the street yacking on their phones about it with faces mauled by stress. In most places of the world these same people would be well-off, living leisurely lives of luxury. Here, they are paupers living from paycheck to paycheck, helplessly watching their trust funds dwindle.
That’s the irony of the big city: rich people struggling to live.
For some reason, how much Greenpoint and Williamsburg suck didn’t sink in right away. My wife alluded to it a couple of times: “This isn’t our scene …” “This isn’t the right place for us…” she kept saying. But this sentiment didn’t hit home until I met Kevin.
I was sitting in Peter Pan Donuts one day … just like every day of my apartment hunt. I was tired, dejected, my hope faltering. This diner is one of the last remaining remnants of old NY Polish culture in Greenpoint — it’s a place where you can get a coffee for a buck and egg and cheese on a bagel for $2.50. The people who work there are really from Poland. It’s a traveler’s kind of place.
I ordered my coffee and started talking with the guy sitting next to me. He was fifty-something years old and worked as a news photographer. We talked about cameras and photography for a while. Then our conversation turned to my apartment search.
“I feel your pain,” he said. “I recently got kicked out of the apartment that I was at for the past 26 years and had to find a new place. It took me three months. I broke down crying in front of my wife a few times. What did I do to deserve this?”
I told him that I was trying to find a place in Greenpoint and he laughed.
“There are all these models and famous people moving here now who are trying to dress like me and you!” he exclaimed with a laugh. “It’s strange what’s happening.”
He told me about how apartments here are now going for $4,000, but how not long ago the place was all working class Poles — working class Poles who are now moving out in droves because they can no longer afford to live in “their” part of Brooklyn.
I looked out through the large windows and into the streets. Hordes of young tattooed white people — people who looked like me — were parading by one after another.
What am I doing ?
I’m a traveler, the last place I want to be is where everybody looks like me.
Kevin started talking about Queens — basically how it has become the real New York, a place full of everybody from everywhere — and I knew that I was shooting at the wrong target.
Why would I want to spend all of this money to live with a bunch of hipsters on a toxic oil spill site?
My wife had the same take: “F’ck Brooklyn. I’m moving to Queens to be with all the other working class people. F’ck those rich white people and those bro real estate agents. I’m going to Queens and I’m renting an apartment from a guy named Ceasar who’s at least my age. I’m not moving to Brooklyn and paying Manhattan prices.”
So to Queens we go.