BY MICHAEL STAHL
Finding a place to rent in New York City is challenging to say the least. One might compare the task to running a marathon while wearing a pair of cement shoes. It’s laborious, tedious and frequently frustrating.
There are myriad factors to consider. To start off, a prospective renter has to think about where they want to live, what kind of place they want to move into, how much they are willing to spend on a new abode and, in some cases, who they can stand enough to live with. The anxiety behind all this deliberation is only heightened if the desperately seeking renter is fresh out of college and just embarking on their journey into professional life. Fortunately, the folks at StreetEasy.com, a website dedicated to providing listings and research about real estate’s rental and sales markets, posted an interactive map last month, allowing users to locate neighborhoods in the five boroughs that might yield favorable housing search results for those figuring out how they’re going to make it here on meager, entry-level salaries.
“We started with rental data from StreetEasy, looking at rents from every city neighborhood throughout all quarters of 2014,” Alan Lightfeldt, the site’s data scientist, said. “We also utilized census data, focusing on people who moved to New York between the ages of 22 and 25 years old and with at least a bachelor’s degree, presuming they were recent graduates.” Lightfeldt and company then utilized Department of Labor statistics to estimate the starting salaries for those new to the labor force, breaking it down by the 10 most popular major courses of study for those city transplants.
“We wanted to get a timely look at what it costs to live in various parts of the city and where rent prices are going,” Lightfeldt explained. “The overarching story here is that it is possible for recent grads to live affordably in New York. It just requires some creativity.”
According to StreetEasy, an average city dweller who recently earned a Bachelor’s degree in, say, the fine arts should expect to make a starting salary of approximately $36,000 per year. The green graduate can consult the StreetEasy map, provide their major, how much of their salary they’re willing to commit to rent costs – 30, 40, or 50 percent – and the number of people they won’t mind living with – 0, 1, or 2. Then, the map will automatically refresh itself and highlight the neighborhoods of New York that contained affordable available units over the course of 2014. The more apartments that fit the bill, the brighter the neighborhood appears on the map.
If that fine arts graduate hopes to live alone and can only devote 30 percent of their pay to rent, then they’re going to have slim pickings. They may have some luck in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, Bedford Park in the Bronx, and Far Rockaway, but those three neighborhoods had 36 affordable and available units combined in 2014, and no other units registered on the map anywhere else in the city.
“This study calls attention to those areas that have affordable options, but they require trade offs on the part of the renter,” Lightfeldt said, which is where the creativity comes into play.
Should the same fine arts grad alter their map search and be willing to cope with two roommates while handing over 50 percent of their pay to a landlord, the results become plentiful, with nearly 900 combined units lighting up the screen across only Long Island City and Astoria.
So, the general takeaway from the map is that if a young, educated person wants to live in the biggest city in America, a Manhattan commute and a roommate or two might have to be in the cards.
“You really can’t have it all, especially if you’re just graduating college,” Lightfeldt said.
Given all of this research, Queens emerges as a most grad-friendly borough. Long Island City and Astoria consistently sport some of the best results, regardless of the criteria. Business majors willing to have two roommates and spend 50 percent of their income on rent could have found 1,000 available units between the two neighborhoods. A psychology major willing to spend 40 percent of their income on an apartment and teams up with a close friend to locate a space also sees well over 1,000 such options in the area. Even a social sciences major who insists on living alone and devote a miniscule 30 percent of their pay to rent can find more places in Queens than anywhere else in the city, with 52 available units last year logged just in the Astoria area.
“People really should think outside of the Manhattan box,” Lightfeldt observes, adding that results are considerably more favorable if renters are willing to walk ten mere minutes to a train instead of living directly adjacent to one.
Ridgewood is another neighborhood that frequently pops up as users toy with the map’s criteria – which is just purely fun to play with, if nothing else. Ridgewood is a bit off the beaten path, but Lightfeldt points out that the neighborhood also has a young population already situated within its respective borders, making it even more attractive to the demographic the map serves.
Though a Manhattan commute will cost a Far Rockaway renter an average of at least 90 minutes per day, that neighborhood is also recent-grad friendly – and close to the beach. Glendale is another area such transplants should look into if they don’t mind a 35-minute commute to the city.
“The secret is to follow the trains,” Lightfeldt summarizes. “If you can’t afford a particular neighborhood, look into the next one over on the respective subway line and you might have better luck.”
Lightfeldt understands it is easy for renters to become jaded about the New York market, given rent increases over the past ten years. However, there are clear options for those just starting out and who can’t afford Manhattan, most especially in Queens.
To view the StreetEasy interactive map, visit the blog portion of the website at streeteasy.com/blog