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Cassandra Cotta, a Pilates instructor and artist, was living in Ridgewood, Queens with no plans to move. But when NYC rents started to drop, she began to look for an apartment in Williamsburg, Brooklyn—a neighborhood she had wanted to live in but couldn't afford. She ended up in her dream location with cheaper rent and better amenities. Here’s her story.
I'd been in my apartment for four years and in the general neighborhood for six. My apartment was two doors in from the corner that separates Queens from Brooklyn, and that corner makes a pretty big difference.
Living in Ridgewood instead of pricier Bushwick in nearby Brooklyn saved me $1,000 in rent. The neighborhood was a mix of young artists, families, and young couples; I was the only single person in my building after my ex moved out.
The apartment was big for NYC—easily 1,000 square feet. It could be a two bedroom if it needed to be or a spacious one bedroom. We went for the one bedroom. It had exposed brick, big windows and a really nice kitchen. While it didn’t have a washer/dryer/dishwasher, it did have a very big closet with tons of space.
An exposed brick wall that ran through the entire hallway and kitchen was definitely my favorite. It's what made me fall in love with the space, along with the beautiful hardwood floors and the bathroom heater!
The rent was $2,050 per month, but every year, when I re-signed the lease, the owner reminded me he could be charging over $4,000. That was probably true, but it didn’t appear anyone I knew in the neighborhood paid that much.
[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—or outside the city. Have a story to share? Drop us an email. We respect all requests for anonymity.]
I loved being close to Bushwick. I'm an artist and so being close to a neighborhood that is filled with street art and like-minded people was very comforting to me. There was always something new and exciting happening. Pearl's Social Billy Club was a lifesaver during quarantine—they were one of the first places to do cocktail deliveries to apartments and they would include a side of toilet paper with your order, which was some much-needed comic relief. I'm also a big fan of Sea Wolf, the Bushwick Beer Garden, and House of Yes. I literally just hung around Jefferson Street.
I also loved that I was in a quieter neighborhood when I retreated to my apartment.
My block had this group of guys that often hung out in the front of my building. They often invited me to stay and have a drink with them. It took at least a year until I did, and they were so nice. They'd greet me any time I came outside and if they hadn't seen me in a while, they'd ask if I was okay and where I'd been. That might sound creepy, but they weren't. They were just a group of great people, some of whom had lived on the block their entire lives and looked out for one another. They made the building feel like home and leaving them was probably the saddest part of moving.
Pre-pandemic, my commute could take anywhere from 30 to 45 minutes, depending on where I needed to go. I used to be strategically based at studios on the the Lower East and West sides because they were the easiest and quickest places for me to get to, Now I own my own virtual studio—Pilates People—so thanks to the pandemic, so I don't really commute anymore.
There was a laundromat on the corner of my street, so that was very convenient. During the height of Covid, it became a little nerve-racking because it was often very busy and people weren't great about wearing masks, so I would wake up super early (like 6 a.m.) to do my laundry. Grocery shopping was easy too. I would either order deliveries from Whole Foods or go to the natural food store near Jefferson—it was a nice walk. Sometimes, I'd make the trip to Williamsburg to go to Whole Foods myself, but that wasn't a particularly standard occurrence.
I had wanted to move to Williamsburg when I first moved to NYC eight years ago, but I couldn't afford it. Then, this past September, my landlord said he wouldn't lower my rent, even as rents for empty apartments near me dropped significantly.
I started looking on Zillow and StreetEasy. I didn’t want to pay more than $1,900. I was hoping to get an apartment with a washer/dryer or dishwasher in unit (or both!). And it needed to be big enough that I could fit my in-home Pilates studio.
I only looked at two places: the first was a very tiny studio and the other is where I wound up. I knew when I saw the pictures of the place that it's where I wanted to go, the question was whether I could get there fast enough and if they wanted me—and it all worked out.
The unit is typically $2,400 a month, but I pay $1,850. I moved in on Halloween. I'm now near the Williamsburg Bridge in a prewar, walkup building. My fourth-floor apartment has a very slanted floor and needed of a ton of repairs that I didn't know about at first. But it is also in my dream location, cheaper than my old apartment, has a washer/dryer in the unit and is so much closer to Manhattan.
I love my new neighborhood. There are so many more options for bars, restaurants, and shops and I'm so close to Manhattan. I walk or run over the bridge into Manhattan or walk by the water on a daily basis. Those things feel so important to me and worth any of the hassle of repairing this apartment.
Food shopping is much easier as well! I have one grocery store about five minutes away close to the water and Whole Foods about 10 minutes away on Bedford Avenue. It's been way more convenient.
Places I love in my neighborhood include: Hole in the Wall, Hounds Tree, The Butcher's Daughter, Social House, Oslo Coffee, Martha's Country Bakery, Springbone, Blank Street Cafe, and Borsalia. My cat's vet is right down the street at Northside Veterinary.
I miss the guys from my old street. My new street is mostly Jewish families that keep to themselves, so I miss the sense of community I had before.
Still, I have friends here. I actually already knew a lot of people in this neighborhood and many more are moving here. A few friends have visited, and they all love the area as well and have all commented on the slanted floor but, I'm used to it. It’s a novelty!
I’m glad NYC’s lower rents made this move possible. I plan on staying here in Williamsburg for the foreseeable future. Unless of course life suddenly sweeps me away somewhere new. But overall, I’m very happy and look forward to things getting better as the pandemic restrictions lift and the weather gets warm.
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