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I never had a reason to go to Staten Island. Maybe I’d take the occasional out-of-town guest on the ferry to see the Statue of Liberty up close, or pass through once a year on the way to visiting family in New Jersey. One time in college, my boyfriend took me there to meet his parents during a school break. But here I am, a native Long Islander who has lived in Brooklyn and Queens for the last eight years, suddenly considering the prospect of moving there.
My boyfriend and I had never even set foot in the borough together until a few years ago. We had befriended another couple who lived there, and suddenly we had a reason to trek from Brooklyn all the way to that “other” borough. We explored some neighborhoods; we visited the parks and beaches that dot the island and the local establishments to bowl or play pool. We saw movies at the cheap local cinema. Gradually, we found ourselves getting over the stigma that many New Yorkers associate with the area: It’s too isolated from Manhattan, it’s practically New Jersey, it’s too suburban, there’s nothing to do there. I think many non-residents see it as an unnecessary part of the city, or they don’t even consider it at all. I had the same bias.
Then came March 2015, when my boyfriend and I found ourselves being forced out of our apartment in Cobble Hill; the owner wanted to renovate and increase the rent. The neighborhood had been gentrifying for years, and rents continued to skyrocket. We were devastated. We had lived there for five years and gotten used to its conveniences: My commute to work was a ten-minute walk, and we only had to go a couple of blocks in any direction to get whatever we needed. Trader Joe’s was right around the corner. There was a dry cleaner and laundromat downstairs. All kinds of restaurants and bars were just steps away. And of course there was our beloved Prospect Park, where my boyfriend and I would ride bikes whenever the weather was nice.
While we were wringing our hands over the impending move, our friends on Staten Island suggested we pool our resources to get a much larger place together—perhaps even a house with a yard. They weren’t interested in another borough, and I had never even entertained the idea of moving to Staten Island. At first we demurred, but our friends were very persuasive, talking about how we could get a place with a washer and dryer, have barbecues outside in the summer, and save money on rent. They even appealed to my inner book worm by suggesting I would get a lot of reading done during the longer commute.
We agreed to give it a chance and at least see what was out there. We were impressed by what we found in our price range, around $2,000/month: Most of the listings were duplex townhouses and semi-attached houses with wooden floors, large kitchens, and basements. We considered five places before we found one we all really liked—a relatively new, split-level townhouse with three bedrooms, two-and-a-half bathrooms, central air, a backyard, garage, and driveway. And the kicker? The price tag: For all that, I’d be paying almost the same amount I’d been coughing up for my 600-square-foot, two-bedroom in Brooklyn.
We put in an application right away, but unfortunately, we didn’t get the house. Other complications arose that made it difficult for the four of us to continue looking together as roommates. My boyfriend and I resumed our search anew, this time focusing on finding a one-bedroom in Brooklyn or Queens.
But after just one month of house-hunting in Staten Island, the idea of paying half my salary to live in a tiny apartment in Brooklyn or Queens had grown unappealing. Expensive areas in Brooklyn, like Fort Greene and Park Slope, have been out of the question for me, and now even old standbys in Queens like Sunnyside and Astoria are increasingly catching up price-wise.
With our lease ending soon, so we acted fast and moved into an old rent-stabilized apartment on the 2/5 line in Crown Heights, which was in the process of being renovated when we saw it. Shortly after moving in, though, it became clear that the landlord had seriously cut corners rather than actually revamp the space: the only truly new things were the oven and refrigerator, and even that broke a few months after we moved in. Everything else had been replaced with something already used; at one point the toilet flushed incessantly for three days. We began to realize that our landlord was in fact a slumlord, and we were right in the belly of the gentrification beast.
We broke our lease six months after moving in, and temporarily stayed at my parents’ house on Long Island while we figured out our next move. That was when we reconsidered Staten Island. Our friends were now ready to move, too, and the obstacles that had previously stunted our search were gone. We saw a few houses at the beginning of December, until we finally found the place of our dreams: a three-level, three-bedroom, three-bathroom townhouse across the street from the beach.
I realize that four adults in their 30s sharing a house—and living so far from the center of the NYC action—is not considered ideal. But it’s working out great for us. We split all costs and pay only a fraction of what we used to in Brooklyn, with the added benefit of feeling like we truly have our own home.
While Staten Island is mostly residential, with not much in the way of culture, there’s still plenty to do, and it’s connected to the city by an extensive network of buses, trains, and ferries. My trip to work takes just about an hour, and while it will never beat the 10-minute walking commute I enjoyed in Cobble Hill, I definitely do a lot more reading now.