11/25/14 8:00am
This doesn't have to be your problem.

This doesn’t have to be your problem.

Yes, Thanksgiving week is the busiest, most hassle-filled travel time of the year. It’s just part of the holidays, like that cranberry jello salad your aunt always makes, or the tense mood that strikes the table whenever your cousin’s awful boyfriend opens his mouth. For New Yorkers, getting to the airport is either expensive, time consuming, or both, even in the best of traffic conditions. All three of our major airports, JFK, LaGuardia and Newark rank at the very bottom of Bloomberg Businessweek’s Airport Frustration Index, with LaGuardia receiving the lowest marks of any airport in the country in almost every category.

We can’t magically get you to your gate without delays or irritation, but we do have a few suggestions for saving time and money on the way to the airport, including a ridesharing app that could be your Uber replacement, and some public transportation tricks. (more…)

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03/21/14 10:00am

The author, in front of the Mitchell-Lama building she grew up in.

The author, in front of Lindsay Park, the Mitchell-Lama building where she was raised and where she lives today.

I was born in Williamsburg, Brooklyn in 1987. The day my mom took me home from the hospital, “(I’ve Had) The Time Of My Life” by Bill Medley and Jennifer Warnes was the #1 song on the Billboard charts and the Cosbys, who lived in a Brooklyn Heights brownstone, were America’s favorite family. My mom and I were headed back to her one-bedroom apartment in Lindsay Park, a Mitchell-Lama development in Williamsburg where I still live today.

Thanks to New York City’s Mitchell-Lama program, which protects moderate- and-middle income families, my mom’s housing costs have gone up minimally over the past two decades. I moved back home with her a little over a year ago, to a two-bedroom apartment in the same complex (she upgraded when my younger sister was born).

I am also on several waiting lists for my own Mitchell-Lama studio or one-bedroom, which I hope to move into before I’m 30. I personally don’t see another way to stay living in my borough as rents rise and gentrification changes local dynamics. I work as hard as the next person, but my industry, book publishing, isn’t so lucrative for the average employee. I’m a Brooklynite, just trying to live on my own in the neighborhood where I went to elementary and junior high school, rode my first bike, had my first kiss and threw my first snowball.

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03/04/14 9:42am

Image (1)When we talk about rising rents, we frequently leer at newer, wealthier residents in a neighborhood while lamenting the price of a cup of coffee and wagging the gentrification finger. But some landlords and management companies bear just as much responsibility for housing costs as newcomers with expensive tastes in caffeine–especially when those property owners are dodging rent-stabilization laws designed to protect renters and preserve affordable housing stock in the city.

Rent-regulation guidelines, however byzantine, protect tenants and preserve neighborhoods, but they’re all too often misunderstood, flouted or ignored. It’s worth brushing up on at least the most basic rent-stabilization concepts before signing a lease and putting down that security deposit–or in order to check whether or not you’ve been paying too much on your current lease.

About one million rental units in New York City are rent stabilized–yes, one million. A state and city program established in 1969—when rents were rising dramatically in pre-war buildings—rent stabilization is designed to keep tenants in their apartments by giving them lease-renewal options and protecting them from sharp rent increases. Owners of rent-stabilized units cannot raise the rent by more than a small percentage at the end of a lease (currently, the increases determined by the Rent Guidelines Board are 4 percent for a one-year lease and 7.75 percent for a two-year lease). Rent regulation laws also protect tenants from eviction, though landlords can take over an apartment for their own use or for their family, but they’re required to give current tenants at least three months’ notice. And, it’s important to note, owners are under no obligation to raise the rent when drawing up a new lease–the increases are the maximum allowed by law, not a requirement.

Right now, certain Brooklyn neighborhoods are feeling the rent-stabilization squeeze more than others.

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02/21/14 10:06am

Mercer Interior designed this Brooklyn storage solution. Photo: Emily Gilbert

Mercer Interior designed this Brooklyn storage solution. Photo: Emily Gilbert

Take heart, the first day of spring is less than one month away. Time to make a spring cleaning strategy, starting with your closet.

If yours is cluttered with jumbled stacks of sweaters, more hangers than can actually fit and that one box full of sentimental items you never use but can’t bear to part with, you’re not alone. We’ve consulted experts from the interior design and organization world to help us work through our closets issues.

Since New York closets are in a class of their own, (read: smaller and dearer than average) we’ve divided this guide up by specific closet challenge. Whatever your closet size, the main rules are the same: categorize, part with your junk and work with the space you have.

Teeny Tiny Closet
Tiny or small closets can be both a curse and a blessing. If you try to pack too much in there, you’ll never find what you need. On the flip side, it forces you to only store what you can. “There will be hard choices, but it’s about asking yourself what kind of end result you want,” according to Elizabeth Aurandt of Mercer Interior.

Aurandt, who is a member of the Designer Society of America and graduate of the Rhode Island School of Design, is all about being realistic and facing the “tear down” process. “With every closet I’ve done, we’ve always had to tear down and reduce things,” she says. “The more you can refine, the better the end result will be.”

Aurandt’s Tips:

  • Organize and group the items by what will be folded, half-hung or fully hung—this determines what kind of storage (mostly hangers versus mostly shelves versus a mix) you will need
  • Bins and boxes are your friends, and can vary in price points but bring the same, organized, end result
  • For seasonal things, if you can’t store them in boxes or a storage bed, don’t be afraid to have them out with your current items
  • Use all the vertical space you possibly can. If you’re sharing a tiny closet with someone who doesn’t own dresses or suits that require hanging, consider using that empty space for a shoe rack, bins or boxes

Bonus: Save space by folding items and storing them on their sides–think of it like a filing cabinet full of sweaters. This way, you’re not rummaging through things and ruining the space to get to your item. This technique can be used for baskets or drawers, and eliminates messy piles.


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09/09/13 1:00pm

vote_hereTuesday, Sept. 10 is primary day in New York City. Basically, we’re either going to pretty much elect a mayor, or vastly narrow the race tomorrow. Here’s how it works: to receive the party nomination a candidate needs to not only beat all the other candidates, but get 40% or more of the total votes. Since the Democratic race is so crowded this year, it’s likely that there will be a runoff between the top two candidates (though it’s not guaranteed–De Blasio has been polling above 40% this weekend, but voters are still up in the air in a much more meaningful way than say, in the Obama versus Romney race).

07/23/13 10:42am

This two-bedroom apartment on Guernsey Street rents for $2,850 a month before a broker's fee.

This two-bedroom apartment on Guernsey Street rents for $2850 a month, not including broker’s fee. Photo: Corcoran 

Housing costs are on the rise in Brooklyn. Whether you’re renting, buying, a long-time resident or new arrival one thing that’s clear is it costs more than ever to live in Brooklyn. Even, and perhaps especially, neighborhoods that used to be considered on the fringes–think Bed-Stuy, Crown Heights and Greenpoint–are seeing steep price increases. According to a report released by MNS Real Estate last week, the average price for a one-bedroom apartment in Brooklyn as of June 2013 is about $2400.

With summer sublets ending soon, and the urge to move to a better apartment or nicer neighborhood before prices get even higher very much on renters’ minds, we decided to take a look at one way to snag a rental–brokers.

What should you expect to get for paying a broker’s fee? We asked three brokers with properties in Greenpoint, North Brooklyn’s current real estate darling, to walk us through the ins and outs of paying someone to help you find a place to live, using Greenpoint as an example.


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11/19/12 10:38am

Going to the airport for the great Thanksgiving travel slog this week? We just got an email from weeels.org, a non-profit that works to make transit more efficient and user-friendly (and cheaper) that may interest you. They’re organizing cab-shares to LaGuardia and JFK for flights this week. Sign up for the free service here; a shared cab from Williamsburg to JFK is $20 per person, and there are lots of other neighborhood-airport combinations to choose from. The last time I took a cab to JFK from Williamsburg it was $35. So, not a bargain if you have two people, but a pretty good deal for solo travelers. Here’s what Weeels had to say: (more…)

05/24/12 10:10am

Appealing photos. like this one of one of the The Brooklyn Apartment(s), are half the amateur hotelier’s battle.

If you have a summer vacation planned, or travel dreams for later in the year, there’s a way to make your apartment earn its keep, even while you’re lounging on the beach, or hiking in the Rockies.

“Once it’s up and running, it’s easy money,” says Julian, who first joined the Airbnb community in February 2010 (and asked that his last name not be used). The income from managing several listings around Brooklyn, all of which are already booked for the summer, covers the rent on a two-bedroom Williamsburg apartment, and has helped fund his dream: restaurant-ownership. Beyond being available to exchange keys and tend to his guests, Airbnb allows Julian to spend his days as an entrepreneur and restauranteur.

Airbnb, which has been around since 2008, seems straightforward enough: Sign up for free, create a profile, list your apartment, and hope travelers will be enticed to pay to crash with you. But why would you want to open up your home to a stranger—and what would make them want to stay with you, when there are already more than 7,330 listings in Brooklyn alone (not to mention hundreds of legitimate hotels)?

Well, there are advantages, for both you and your potential guests. As Julian proves, it’s possible to make big bucks. Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky says making upwards of $21K is not uncommon for hosts in NYC. The site also provides more affordable accommodations and a more local perspective for travelers to the Big Apple.

Many Airbnb hoteliers start out a bit wary and then settle into a routine with guests. “I had some reservations about it at first,” says Corey Lugg, who’s rented her spare bedroom in Prospect Heights for about $79 a night since her roommate moved out a year ago. “But considering I was meeting potential roommates on Craigslist before I started doing this, I figured this way, at least if I get a total weirdo in the apartment, they’ll probably be gone in a week and then it’s on to the next set of guests.”

If you travel often, want to make a little extra cash, or just haven’t found the perfect, permanent, roommate with whom to share your space, Airbnbjust might be for you. It probably also helps if you’re open-minded, enjoy meeting new people, aren’t overly attached to every item in your apartment, and don’t squirm at the thought of a stranger sleeping in your spare room—or in your bed while you’re away. Here are a few guidelines for making the most of putting your apartment to work.

Follow Best Practices
Airbnb offers tons of advice about how to get started using the site; one tutorial explains that a great title, well-lit photos, and accurate, informative descriptions of the place and neighborhood are keys to success. The site also offers free, professional photography services—you can sign up to have a pro come snap photos of your space to create a more attractive listing—images will receive an “Airbnb.com Verified Photo” stamp, which helps add credibility to your place.

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04/10/12 9:45am

Here's where you'll be spending some serious time.

Given that New York City’s criminal court system has the busiest docket of any jurisdiction in America, as long as you’re not one of those people still registered to vote back in Idaho, or heck, even Nassau County despite having lived in New York City for a decade, odds are that your number is going to come up for jury duty at some point. Here are some tips and memories to get you through, or out of your civic duty, which as your summons guffaws at you, “is as important as paying taxes.”

If your summons says “trial,” also known as a “petit” jury, then you may be able to squirm out of service. Here’s how trial jury duty works: You report to the Supreme Court Building at 360 Adams Street and gather in a large waiting room. You watch a fuzzy Night Court-era video titled The Sword and Shield, then a judge, who may or may not have a lazy eye and unamused countenance, will come out and direct traffic. He will listen to your story about needing to get out of jury duty at this point, but unless a family member is in the hospital and you have photos to prove it, it won’t do any good. Over the course of the day groups of potential jurors are called into small rooms for voir dire, wherein the basic facts of a case are presented and then the lawyers from both sides ask you and 15 to 20 other potential jurors questions, designed to weed out jurors who may be less than impartial.

It didn’t work for Liz Lemon, but you can try playing it crazy to get out of jury duty.

We’re not advocating this sort of behavior, but there are a number of ways to shirk your duty, or simply postpone duty. (more…)

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08/16/11 10:01am

Brooklyn is a vibrant, diverse borough, filled to the brim with creative types. You know them: philosophy majors from the New School, printmakers from Pratt, theater grads from Tisch. And behind that colorful, creative veneer, there likely also lurks hundreds of thousands of dollars in student loan debt.

The traditional way of dealing with a mountain of debt is (in theory, at least) relatively straightforward: get a job, hunker down and work your butt off until the mountain gradually smooths into a hill. But hours of life locked away in a cubicle under fluorescent, corporate lights can sound like death to souls who have spent so much time, energy and money in pursuit of a lifestyle that is the exact opposite of all that. Or, can limit the risks a young entrepreneur who wants to open a business can reasonably take.

So what’s a free spirit to do? There are ways around soul-killing work that will also keep you on the financial straight and narrow, and we’re  to help you find them in this series, Making Payments.

For our first installment of tales of creative student debt solutions, we’re heading upstate to Niagara Falls, New York. (You can also head to the BB blog and check out Cash and Kimchi, our second installation, in which we send you across the ocean to make a dent in your debt.)

Despite being within walking distance of New York State’s most popular tourist attraction, the city of Niagara Falls has long known little but decline. The post-industrial city saw its population tumble from 100,000 in the 1960s to just over 50,000 in 2011, according to the U.S. Census, and a steady stream of college graduates and young professionals are leaving town for greener economic pastures.

Seth Piccarillo, the city’s new director of community development, is out to reverse this plunging course. Around the same time that he started working for the city in April, tasked with housing and economic development, an article in the New York Times caught his eye. It said that student loan debt is now topping $1 trillion for the first time, and that nearly 8 million students take out loans each year. At the same time, Niagara Falls needed more college grads.

He had an idea. Why not marry the two?

On June 12, Piccarillo announced his plan: starting this fall, the city will begin recruiting young professionals to come to Niagara Falls and in return, the city will help them pay down their student loan debt.

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