I am riding the crest of the latest Brooklyn trend as documented in the New York Times: getting priced out of Brooklyn.
A friend who moved to the borough at the same time I did, in early 2001, and her husband are trying to sell their tiny one bedroom apartment now that their daughter’s getting older. Where they’ll live next is unknown—they don’t want to leave Prospect Heights, but they can’t afford a bigger place. She’s resigned to renting small apartments in Brooklyn and not being able to save and tagging along on vacation with her parents every few years. It’s ridiculous considering how much the couple earns combined. She said all of her friends are leaving Brooklyn, especially the ones with two children. You know: kids like Denim and Bowie.
A Greenpoint landlord just upped the rent on a neighboring apartment of some acquaintances, from around $1700 to $3200. Maybe the new tenants thought they were getting a bargain for that nothing-special apartment in the half-brick-faced and half-vinyl sided building, because the landlord originally asked $3400. This couple said most of their friends who are getting priced out are migrating to two neighborhoods in Queens that they asked me not to name.
A Brooklyn long-timer I know takes to Facebook to mourn for the old Williamsburg, hitting the expected themes that it’s been taken over by bankers and babies and billionaires imported from foreign lands.
Any of this sounding familiar? A year ago, I wrote out my concerns on how one could possibly upgrade to a more reasonably adult lifestyle in Brooklyn without being a millionaire—we’re talking a respectable kitchen, more room, outdoor space, a washer and dryer. Creating super extra bonus challenges for me was renting with one large and one medium dog, and wanting a shorter commute to my job in Englewood Cliffs, NJ.
So I’m transitioning my Brooklyn 2.0 column into “Life After Brooklyn,” to report on my imperfect solution on a place commutable to Manhattan where you get more for your rent check. You’re not gonna like it. I don’t even fully like it. But I do like my very spacious apartment in Jersey City Heights.
I’d been looking for a solution for months, so when I found an apartment that fit all the criteria, we acted fast, even though it meant packing at Christmas and moving at New Years. The separation from Brooklyn was like ripping off a Band-Aid. I focused on the fact that we’d never afford to upgrade in the Brooklyn neighborhoods we liked without two “New York money” salaries, and even then would be a stretch. I focused on having had the closest thing possible to a bad meal at Mile End. I focused on leaving a shitty crumbling apartment for a great new space and my commute being cut in half. “Just pretend we’re moving to a weird part of Brooklyn,” I said to console my husband.
Jersey City’s Downtown area, a quick PATH ride to the Financial District or West Village, is not that different from brownstone Brooklyn, with tree-lined streets of townhouses, the Beard-nominated seasonal restaurant Thirty Acres, and some familiar businesses like Barcade, WORD bookstore (coming soon), BonChon and Two Boots. Unfortunately, the comparisons extend to the rents and home prices as well.
However the Heights, the city’s northernmost neighborhood on the ridge overlooking Hoboken to Manhattan, is a different story, with many pluses and minuses.
The only famous Heights resident I know about, Richie Havens (orignally of Bed-Stuy) just died. But there is more than one dude around here who might be mistaken for a professional wrestler. You are also likely to see: Mexican metalheads, extremely pregnant teenagers, and possibly a woman coming out of church with a lace mantilla head covering. And here is something people in Brooklyn at least claim to dream about: not a hipster in sight.
You are more likely to encounter kids walking around in pajama bottoms, or men dressed in track suits not worn for athletic purposes, than Fashion. There is nowhere to get better than gas-station-grade coffee. Judging by blasting headphones and booming car speakers, few locals share my musical taste.
Which is to say: if you and I are in the same boat or similar dinghies, you can probably afford it. Regarding that vital length of schlep to Manhattan, it is possible to get to Port Authority by bus in about 20 minutes.*
And many locals do commute daily to the city, streaming in the morning to the elevator that goes down to Hoboken and then continuing to Manhattan beyond. The streets clear of parked cars during business hours. In evenings there’s another stream of workers coming home. For those who work closer to or at home, the district was recently rezoned to allow for live/work spaces for artists and for more restaurants and small businesses.
But here is the *: The transit situation here is a special kind of fuckery wherein just when you think you’ll have an easy trip home it will take an hour, and when you’re anticipating an hour-long journey it may take 25 minutes. Something isn’t running for some reason, or the bus came early and left before you got to the stop, or you foolishly took a bus that goes through the Lincoln tunnel on a weekend (when fools insist on driving into the city instead of taking NJ Transit, making tunnel traffic a standstill) or sometimes the various schedules in print and elsewhere have no correlation to each other/reality. The transit here has forced my husband and I into a kind of Zen state of letting go: all you can know is that you will never know.
Further complicating matters, although you can use one non-monthly Metrocard for both PATH and the NYC subway, you need a separate ticket to ride the light rail (which is how I get to PATH from the Heights), and if taking the bus instead that requires another pass or exact change. A round trip to the city plus fare for a subway ride or two while there costs about the same as driving in ($13 Holland Tunnel toll). Do not even think about taking a cab back from Manhattan after a late night—the ride only takes a few minutes but for the cost you might as well rent a limo. So chalk up a big negative that we’ve been driving more, and a plus to usually finding a parking spot on our street.
More bad and good in the ’hood: There are grand Victorian houses, many with enviable front or wraparound porches, gardens and even trees, but they’re offset by an unfortunate abundance of vinyl-sided buildings. Our apartment, the first floor of an impeccably maintained 1920s brick house, would be considered a four bedroom in Brooklyn and would easily command double the rent or more. (Ed. Note: It’s under $1800–we knew you’d want to know.) Highlights include an updated kitchen with dishwasher and one original built-in mirrored cabinet left intact, parquet floors with mahogany inlay, loads of closet space, and a private half-basement with washer and dryer.
I can see a slice of Chelsea from my dining room table (I have a dining room!) and watched a fireworks display over the Hudson from the couch. The Heights has a park overlooking Manhattan with a farmer’s market and community garden, a park with an ice rink, and just across the Union City border, another park with a dog run and skyline view. Throughout the area are blooming cherry trees and conifers full of gossiping birds.
On the other hand, there’s no end to litter and dog shit on the sidewalks, despite valiant efforts of the neighborhood association that organizes biweekly cleanups.
Markets are limited to C-Town and Supremo, which offer a rainbow of unknown cola flavors from Colombia, Argentina and Chile, as well as Central or South American dairy products for home-cooking taco night. Central Ave has numerous fruit and veg stands and an old-school Italian bakery. Addressing any and all special-needs grocery concerns, there’s a ShopRite just down the elevator in Hoboken with prices cheap enough that it draws shoppers from Manhattan, plus Fresh Direct and other delivery services.
It seems likely this area will increase in value. If another 100-year storm hits in a year or two people will be running to the hills. The elevation of the Heights appeals to my secret inner prepper (as does my basement’s home-canned food stockpile/ upcoming root cellar). And if the proposed 7 train extension ever comes to fruition, granting easy Midtown access, home values will soar. There will be plenty of beautiful old brick homes waiting on this side. (I’m posting photos of the area winners and oddities on my Tumblr documenting this area, Hudson City, which was the original name of the Heights.) There will be better coffee and there will be a buzzed-about bar and restaurant called Hudson City.
It’s not that time yet. There are no buzzed about restaurants now. Will I be here then? No. Still don’t know what’s next, though.
I’m sad to not live in Brooklyn anymore, but as an experienced expat, I won’t shrivel up into suburban ennui just because I can’t live there. I don’t expect a desirable living setup to become affordable in Brooklyn, so I’m leaning toward the “move to a proper house with space and land” option where I can really go crazy with a garden and goat and chickens. Critical factors are not in place for my husband and I, namely and most alarmingly, jobs. In fact, after commuting for over two years from Brooklyn to New Jersey for my job as a writer at CNBC, we’d only been living in Jersey City three months with my happily halved commute when I got laid off. Isn’t life full of hilarious surprises?
Colleen Kane is looking for a job. On the bright side, this means more time for writing and all her various Internet whathaveyous. Find her on Twitter at @colleenkane and links to all her other happenings at www.ColleenKane.com.