By Jade Jetjomlong
In the theatre of Baruch College on Feb. 2, 2015, New York City Mayor Bill DeBlasio began his second State of the City address with the story of his grandmother immigrating from Italy in the early 1900’s to New York, and like so many other immigrants, looking for opportunity. DeBlasio expressed the uniqueness of New York’s endless possibilities, leading up to his primary concern for 2015, that uniqueness being ”at risk because so many who live in New York struggle to afford to be here.”
With affordable housing as the top priority for NYC improvements, DeBlasio is aiming to build 80,000 units of affordable housing throughout the five boroughs of New York by 2024, in addition to raising the minimum wage from its current rate at $8.75 to over $13 by 2016. This would benefit not only New Yorkers with families but also New Yorkers in college. DeBlasio speaks of families, veterans, and artists needing affordable housing and higher wages, but what about students who can’t afford the limited dorming options?
“Most colleges don’t offer housing, especially City University of New York (CUNY) colleges. Students commute from other boroughs, I commute over an hour from the Bronx and I have friends who come from [New] Jersey and Pennsylvania to attend classes at least twice a week,” said John Jay Junior Saishalie Fabian, 21. “I’m a transfer from a private college in Jersey so when I came here I didn’t want to commute, so I dormed at the New Yorker for a semester. The commute was awesome, from anywhere in Manhattan it took at most 20 minutes to get back to my room.” The New Yorker is a hotel located at 34th Street Penn Station where Educational Housing Services (EHS) holds floors exclusively for certain colleges, according to the EHS homepage.
With it’s own membership of urban universities and community colleges, CUNY is home to 480,000 students at 24 campuses throughout the five boroughs, according to the CUNY homepage. This is not including private colleges and universities such as New York University, Pace, Columbia, and St. John’s.
Most private colleges offer student housing in private apartment buildings or exclusive floors dedicated to college students in hotels that are located near campus, but it is very limited housing and often extremely competitive and expensive. “It was about $10,000 for two semesters, so a full school year, the price is the reason I only stayed for one year” stated Fabian.
When asked if the dorms were worth the price she recalled “The room was small, my roommate and I didn’t click, and I paid all that money to have dumb rules enforced all the time. I was paying around $10,000 plus tuition and couldn’t have any friends over? No, not worth it at all.”
DeBlasio feels that “if we fail to be a city for everyone, we risk losing what makes New York … New York.” According to his statements, due to gentrification, New Yorkers are currently being pushed out of their affordable housing by landlords in an attempt to bring in higher income tenants. New Yorkers are then forced to move to other neighborhoods because it is the only housing they can afford. New York at that point would only be for outsiders and those with set careers and high incomes, not for those who are looking for opportunities in the City of Dreams, as DeBlasio confirms that “for generations, New York has been a city that unleashed human potential.”
“A lot of my clients are from other states. They’re from everywhere but New York and they move to neighborhoods in Brooklyn like Bedstuy and Bushwick, into buildings that were just built or renovated,” said 21 year old Real Estate Salesperson and former John Jay student, Alberto Vigilance. “These are people who want to be closer to the jobs in the city, the neighborhood most similar to Manhattan without Manhattan rent prices.” Vigilance focuses in Brooklyn and Manhattan apartment rentals, specializing in western neighborhoods of Brooklyn.
CUNY students do not get to experience the “going away to college” experience offered by out of state or SUNY colleges since it is extremely hard to find locations large enough to zone exclusively for students and it is expensive to live in many of the Manhattan and Brooklyn neighborhoods.
In order to shorten their commute or “go away to college”, students often move out of home and into their own apartments that are considerably closer to their campus. Most times students move to inconvenient locations, cheaper places farther away from simple public transportation or they move to expensive locations that require them to work full time jobs while being a student. If a student stays at home, their family might be at risk of getting evicted by a landlord to make room for higher income families.
According to Vigilance, most New Yorkers from Manhattan look to relocate to more affordable Williamsburg or Greenpoint, or they are Brooklyn natives relocating from Williamsburg to cheaper neighborhoods like Bushwick or Bedstuy because the rent becomes too much for their income. When it comes to students, Vigilance observed most want locations such as Stuy Town, near East Village in Manhattan, but most have to settle for Williamsburg in Brooklyn.
“Median rates for studios and one bedrooms in popular neighborhoods of Manhattan range north of $2,200 with the exception of Harlem. That means a person has to make at least $27,000 annually to pay rent alone, without any other expenses… If I get paid $8.75 an hour with 40 hours a week, I’m only making $14,000 annually. It’s not impossible but it’s uncomfortable to be a young person with a conventional job working full time and going to school while living in the city,” said Vigilance.
Kayla Strauss, a 22 year old CUNY BA graduate, recalls renting one room from an apartment in Washington Heights for eight months until she decided it was not worth it and sublet the room. “I was paying so much for a 4×4 that still wasn’t convenient for me. I’d rather stay in Staten Island than do all that extra work,” Strauss currently lives in Staten Island and started a savings account. “I hope the mayor tries to come up with a plan that includes affordable student housing as well, it’s hard and sucky to commute on the trains that never work when you already are working hard to get a degree that’s supposed to help you be able to afford staying in your home”.