Affordable Apartments: Philly Vs. New York

I recently tripped over an article about a tumblr blog that a homeless man is keeping about the dismal options for rentals in New York called He finds the listings on Craigslist and shares the descriptions and photos. I remember looking for a place of my own when I graduated from college. One of the places on the blog, located in the West Village, actually looks very familiar but the $1900/month rent is a far cry from the $475 they were charging for the place I looked at in 1997; a single room with sink, and a dark, mold-infested, shared bathroom down the hall.

I’ve always been very appreciative of my real estate luck as I enjoyed almost 10 years in Cobble Hill Brooklyn, in a nice rent stabilized, landmark building that I had dreamed about living in as a little girl, complete with windows and a courtyard. I know it could have been worse… much worse.

Seven years ago, we asked ourselves if it was worth it. One day, the answer was not really, and we moved to Philadelphia. Sure, we’re still broke but:

  • we own our house, or will when we’re 60
  • we own a car, although we don’t need one
  • we can walk to work, I walk home every day
  • we’re one block from the Pumpkin’s school
  • we’re right in the middle of a city and have easy access to all the nice city things like ethnic food and museums
  • we’re two hours from New York so it’s practically a suburb

I love Brooklyn. I miss Brooklyn. I understand why people sacrifice to live in New York. Sometimes I think we should have stayed. But, would I live in a car just to live in New York? No. So, I’m going to do a little comparative exercise here.

No kidding! An entire house for rent in the desirable neighborhood of Queen Village for less than a single room in the Village.
No kidding! An entire house for rent in the desirable neighborhood of Queen Village for less than a single room in the Village.

First up on The Worst Room, a lovely place in Bed-Sty in Brooklyn for $600. Must like cats. Interesting. Let’s say, based on proximity to Manhattan, that this would equate to a nice place in University City here in Philly.

Anyway, in Philly I found, a first floor, cozy bright and sunny studio with ornate decorative fireplace, high ceilings, and large windows. It has a good size bathroom, two closets, kitchen, front porch, and a rear yard. Washer & dryer in the large basement with separate entrance in the rear of the building for $620. Chances are, this is a parlor level apartment in a Victorian row house because University City is full of those. Nice, and you are closer to the center of town than you are in Bed-Sty to Manhattan.

Next on The Worst Room, let’s look at an interesting place in the West Village, Manhattan for $1900.00 that features a loft bed setup with workstation. Here, the equivalent neighborhood is Queen Village, which is a short walk from everything historic and a slightly longer walk to the business center of the city. Queen Village has nightlife, although it stops at 2 a.m., and restaurants, weird shops, etc; not unlike how the Village was 10 – 15 years ago.

I found a lovely house on Craigslist (the entire thing – see photo) for $1700 in Queen Village. For less than the place above, you’ll live on a quiet block with great neighbors and a community garden. Newly renovated, the apartment comes with stainless steel appliances, granite counter tops, hardwood floors, and central air. And with two bedrooms, you can entertain house guests.

Just for fun, I kept on going. If you wanted to live in the Soho equivalent neighborhood you could try this lovely place in Olde City, which is the neighborhood where the Betsy Ross house is. This two-bedroom is listed for $1795 and includes hardwood floors, a fireplace, spiral stairs, and a private roof desk. Olde City is like living around South Street Seaport, if it was mixed together with Soho and only a few blocks big. Olde City is a easy walk to the Midtown-equivalent business area.

This could be your view.
This could be your view.

So, is this better than living in a car? Maybe. It depends. New York has a sort of mystical hold on people. I understand that, I really do. But, every year more and more New Yorkers migrate down here. Estimates put the number around 4,000 a year. Chances are, you will find, as we have, that many of your neighbors are from New York and are quite happy here because Philly’s pretty darn cool in its own right.


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