Transitions

From Hamilton Heights to Bedford Park and back again: Paying more to live near family

"We went from paying under $1,500 a month for that sunny apartment to about $2,000 a month for a smaller, darker, 600-square-foot, one-bedroom apartment on the first floor. Thankfully, it came with a washer/dryer, dishwasher, better commute and proximity to everything we need," says Pedro C.

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When native New Yorker Pedro C. and his girlfriend moved to Bedford Park, in the Bronx, they found the area afforded them a bigger, more modern place for less rent. But it just didn’t feel like home—and his commute to work in Manhattan was a killer. They returned to the neighborhood he grew up in, Manhattan’s Hamilton Heights, where they pay more to be closer to what’s most important to them: family—and express subways. 

I grew up in Hamilton Heights and did not really leave that bubble until I graduated college. My family and I lived in a shabby, prewar walkup rental on the fourth floor, which belonged to my grandmother. At one point we had six people living under the same roof in the 850-square foot, three-bedroom apartment where we would have to walk through my grandmother's bedroom to get to ours. The rent-controlled apartment has been in our family for over 40 years, since my family came to the U.S. from the Dominican Republic. I like to think of it as the neighborhood’s best-kept secret. 

When I was growing up, one of the things I enjoyed the most was going to the movies at the Nova Theater, which closed in August 2002 and became a 99-cent store, that’s now closed too. 


[Editor's Note: Brick Underground's series “Transitions” features first-person accounts of what it’s like to move from one New York City neighborhood to another. Have a story to share? Drop us an email. We respect all requests for anonymity.]


In recent years, I loved the area for restaurants like Harlem Public, Trufa, and Anchor Bar. I enjoyed the parks in the area—I run most mornings—and access pretty much anything I’d need in walking distance. Not to mention the transportation is great in the area. We had access to the 1, A, C, B, and D trains and tons of bus options to get us anywhere quickly. It was definitely easier to have friends visit or stop by because we were so well-located, and it made going out easier. I never had to stop to think about all the ways the MTA was going to mess our night up. 

After graduating from The City College of New York in 2015, I moved in with my girlfriend—who I met while attending college—in Bedford Park in the Bronx. 

My girlfriend is from Throgs Neck so she was familiar with the Bronx. We picked this area because even though I felt comfortable in Hamilton Heights, we realized we’d get a lot less space at a higher rent if we stayed. We took some time and walked around Bedford Park during both the day and night, and also read up on its history. 

Bedford Park seemed to have a lot of perks. In our new neighborhood, we rented a modern, one-bedroom apartment more than double the size of two Lower Manhattan studios—over 900 square feet—in a prewar building. Both the apartment and building had great features: A laundry room, elevator, hardwood floors, stainless steel appliances, and enough sunlight to make our home feel like a greenhouse.  

Right across the street from us, we had the Jerome Park Reservoir, which was the original Jerome Park Racetrack, and we would have great walks through the New York Botanical Garden and Van Cortlandt Park a couple of blocks away. The area had everything an outdoorsy couple wanted. We even had a great deli on the corner! 

We’d do our food shopping at a local C-Town for small items or take a bus to BJ’s where we’d buy the bulk of our groceries. Also, we’d order from Seamless a lot—a real lifesaver, especially when we were tired. 

But some things were lacking. 

My girlfriend and I both worked in Midtown West, where I am in sales and my girlfriend is a copywriter, so our commute was pretty long. It would take us 45 to 50 minutes to get Downtown on a good day, compared to the 15 minutes it would take me from Hamilton Heights on the A train. The 4 and D express trains were partly local and overcrowded. And to go out at night was worse. We often felt drained. 

It was also harder to get anyone to come far Uptown to the Bronx, so we found ourselves always going Downtown to visit family and friends. Between work and this, we had little time to ourselves. 

So after two years of long commutes and feeling somewhat isolated, we decided to move back to Hamilton Heights and bite the bullet. We went from paying under $1,500 a month for that sunny apartment to about $2,000 a month for a smaller, darker, 600-square-foot, one-bedroom apartment on the first floor. Thankfully, it came with a washer/dryer, dishwasher, better commute and proximity to everything we need. 

Now that I’m back, in retrospect, I miss the space and the natural light that we had in our Bedford Park apartment more than I thought I would. We had these amazing dark oak floors and every room had two windows, which made it feel like we were in Florida most days. We miss how close to nature we were and how we could escape to the woods and feel like we were no longer in the city. 

We also reminisce about how sometimes we would have brunch on Arthur Avenue (the real Little Italy), fill ourselves up with fresh mozzarella and prosciutto, and then grab a cannoli at Gino’s, eventually finding our way back into NYBG. We still visit when the mood strikes us. 

I think of living in Bedford Park as a sort of vacation—a beautiful New York City journey, but I’m thankful to be back where I consider my real home.