Living with roommates in Chelsea with a reduced rent meant Ada Hsieh could eventually save enough money to move out and live on her own. She landed in a studio in Murray Hill, a neighborhood that feels safer and cleaner—and doesn't have people doing drugs on the street. Here’s her story.
I was born and raised in Dallas, Texas. Most recently I was living in Chelsea with two male roommates. We shared a spacious three-bedroom, two-bath rent-stabilized apartment in a doorman building in Chelsea.
Our total monthly rent was $5,000, and my portion was initially $1,650 then dropped to $1,250 when management gave us three months free to renew our lease during the pandemic. (You can pick your jaw up off the ground.) The affordable rent made it possible for me to save money.
[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.]
We lived in the middle of everything! There were lots of art galleries, restaurants, bars, and stores. The Meatpacking District was nearby, and so was Flatiron and Nomad. The location was my favorite party of living there. With so many subway lines I could get anywhere in the city quickly.
What I didn’t like: The sketchy areas where the homeless and drug addicts congregated. I would walk on the opposite side of my street at night, because my apartment building was on the same side as the “druggy corner,” as we called it, where people would shoot up.
Still, it was great having roommates to socialize with during the pandemic lockdown. It meant I didn’t go crazy talking to myself or staring at the walls.
I enjoyed walking along the Westside Highway—especially after a tough day at work. I frequented the art galleries nearby and had drinks at cocktail bars like LouLou’s, Jungle Bird, and Bathtub Gin. I loved to eat at Fle Fle Grill, Ample Hills, The Grey Dog, Milk Bar, and Foragers Market.
Food shopping was a breeze. Trader Joe’s was nearby and we lived above a Gristedes. We also used Doordash and Seamless a lot.
In April, after I had saved enough, I decided to move out and cash in on pandemic discounts. My business, a clean beauty brand startup called Ada Lip Beauty, was growing and I was keeping all the inventory in my living room. My roommates were super nice but I still needed more space.
I searched listings on StreetEasy, checked out virtual tours, and then went to see four apartments in person. I wanted an elevator building with doormen because of a bad experience: Someone followed me home one night when I was living in my first NYC apartment and the doorman saved me.
My budget was $2,000, although I really wanted something less expensive. I wanted to be near subway lines, and find a updated place with an open layout and good light. It needed to have an AC, microwave and refrigerator—an actual, full-sized kitchen since I cook a lot. I don't like parquet floors but that wasn’t a dealbreaker. I also wanted to be near friends on the East Side and wanted laundry in the building to make my life easier.
I looked at a listing in my friend’s building and when I realized it didn’t have AC unit, the agent told me about a new place that wasn’t listed anywhere yet. I think he sized me up pretty well and knew what I was looking for. He showed me a great unit on Park Avenue in Murray Hill in a doorman building that I ended up taking. It’s honestly pretty bougie compared to my Chelsea place.
I moved out of my room two months before my lease was up, so I had to sublet it. For some reason 99 percent of the people who reached out to see my room were women, and they all had issues with the other roommates both being male. The one male that inquired about the room asked if the other guys were ok that he was gay. I died a bit inside at that question because no one should have to worry about being ridiculed or ostracized for who they are. One of my roommates is gay so that would never pose a problem.
I assured the female applicants that the male roommates were harmless and respectable. One woman even said her boyfriend was not comfortable with her living with two other men. Thankfully I found someone to take my room. The woman who ended up renting it was the most conservative of the bunch I met and I thought she would definitely have an issue with living with men because of her faith and culture, but she surprised us all. My room really was dirt cheap though for an amazing area and fantastic views, so practicality and financials won in the end.
My new apartment is very nice and the building is great. I'm currently in a 400-square-feet alcove studio with an open layout. It has updated finishes and no parquet flooring. (Score!) The kitchen and bathroom are sectioned off, otherwise I can see my entire apartment no matter what corner I'm standing in.
The rent is $2,000. Even though it was the top of my budget, I was sold! And this building also offered three months free as an incentive. The building is pretty much what I wanted with elevator, laundry, and doormen.
Murray Hill also has cleaner streets and no homeless encampments. It’s almost a bit too clean. I wish the neighborhood had a bit more culture.
My current doormen are all very nice, but I’m not sure what would happen if there was any sort of conflict. I felt my old Chelsea doormen would throw down if anything happened. I saw them protect residents from people who wandered in and got aggressive. If that happened at my new building, I’m not sure what would happen. I am on Park Avenue after all. It’s just a different world.
There’s not much to do in the immediate area. There’s a little cluster of restaurants that are really poppin’ on Third Avenue. The age range is a little young, so I don’t really hang out there but the food is legit. Ruby’s Cafe, Norma, and Van Leeuwen are about it. Of course, all the hotel rooftops are on Park, which is super nice. I like Mondrian Park Avenue and OneOneFour. Madison Square Park is also a bit further down which I love walking to in order to read or just chill for a bit
Food shopping remains the same—there’s a Trader Joe’s two avenues over and I’m still ordering in from Doordash and Seamless. My current building offers free grocery delivery from AVO Groceries.
I work from home now, but when I do have to go into the office on occasion, I use the 6 train and that’s easy.
Friends have visited and they really like the new apartment. They think I'm bougie now since I live on Park Avenue, but I remind them that coming from the South, this girl will always be a little hood. My friend's little sister, who's in her early 20s, tagged along one time and said that she hopes she can live in an apartment like mine one day, which really humbled me and made me appreciate where I am in life because sometimes you just get lost in the grind and are always pining for more.
I am happy with my decision and current place. However, if the owner decides to hike the rent when lease renewal time comes around, I'm moving out because I want to explore other neighborhoods that can offer more to do.
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