From Central to East Harlem: I was tired of co-living with strangers and wanted a livelier neighborhood

By Kelly Kreth | July 29, 2022 - 12:30PM

"The apartment itself is renovated, with two bathrooms for the four of us and a washer/dryer," Allyson says of her new digs in East Harlem. "We love the amenities and the value we get for the price we pay."

Tired of her co-living situation in Central/West Harlem, Allyson opted to move in with friends. They found a great apartment in East Harlem and were pleasantly surprised to find the neighborhood is more active—and has better transportation options—than across town. Here’s her story.

I was born in Worcester, Massachusetts, and raised in Hudson, Massachusetts. Most recently I was renting a bedroom (with my previous partner) in a four-bedroom, co-living-style apartment on the fifth floor of a walkup in Central Harlem. Our rent was around $1,600. The unit is furnished and comes with interesting amenities like coffee pods, garbage bags, some cleaning tools, and supplies. Here’s the listing.

I did not know my roommates in the co-living space and essentially paid to use the bedroom and then spend time sparingly in the kitchen and bathroom. 

We did our laundry at the laundromat across the street. It was relatively pricey so we would try and do a load or two every two weeks if we could last that long.

There was a local grocery store a few blocks away if we needed something in a pinch, but usually I did a larger biweekly shopping trip at Trader Joe's since they have cheaper produce. 

[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.]

I liked my short walk to the B and C subway lines (the 2 and 3 lines were about 10 minutes away) and the overall friendliness of most people on my block.

The actual street was also picturesque with murals and trees, though I did not spend much time at home because at the time I worked as a real estate agent in Midtown and went out in other parts of the city. And since I didn't know my roommates, I used the apartment mostly for sleeping. 

So I didn’t get to know the neighborhood very well in the year I lived there. I did however enjoy going to our local coffee shop Proof Coffee Roasters and eventually getting recognized by the workers. Little moments like that made my day brighter.

A bar around the corner called Harlem Nights was a good spot for happy hour in the warmer months. There were a few summer weekends when parties and festivals lined the entire block.

Why she decided to move

In March of 2020, a few weeks before lockdown started and Covid ramped up, I decided to move when my lease ended on June 30th. The co-living situation with strangers no longer appealed to me and I wanted to live with my friends. Turns out they had an opening in their Central Harlem apartment because one of their roommates left the city because of the pandemic. So I was able to sublease from them in the summer of 2020 and then we all decided to move together to East Harlem.

I believe we viewed fewer than five apartments. Because of social distancing, only one person could go to showings at a time. I went to one and one of my roommates went to a few others. We would take photos, record videos, and get measurements and information about the space and then put that all into a Google Sheet. When we saw the East Harlem apartment, everyone liked it a lot and we decided to act quickly on it.

It’s a three-bedroom apartment and the four of us pay $750 each month, however the rent is about to increase to $900 a month in September.

Our new building has an elevator and 60 units. The apartment itself is renovated, with two bathrooms for the four of us and a washer/dryer. The finishes are nice, and we each have a decent amount of bedroom and closet space. We love the amenities and the value we get for the price we pay.

What the new neighborhood is like

East Harlem is always active—lots of people hang out outside, especially when it is warmer, and they all seem to know each other. We also bump into our neighbors while on the block. That makes it feel more like a real community compared to Central Harlem. 

However building is on Madison Avenue near the northwest corner of Central Park, so it can be noisy at night.

On the plus side, I now live close to the 6 train and the 2 and 3 line, which means I can get around both sides of Manhattan (and commute to my job with RentHop) fairly easily. I’m also close to several bus routes. 

We like to go to local spots like Pabada Bakery, Maxwell's Central Park, and El Paso Mexican Restaurant. On sunny days I often go to the Conservatory Garden in Central Park, which is nearby.  

I go to a supermarket that's a block away, but still frequent Trader Joe's because it's more cost-effective for cooking meals as a single person. There are similar options for take-out here as in Central Harlem, so I don’t notice much difference when ordering in. 

The ultimate upshot

My sister visited last summer and enjoyed the dynamic of the neighborhood and liked our local restaurants. Overall, the move was a good idea. We just renewed our lease for another year.

Kelly Kreth

Contributing writer

Contributing writer Kelly Kreth has been a freelance journalist, essayist, and columnist for more than two decades. Her real estate articles have appeared in The Real Deal, Luxury Listings, Our Town, and amNewYork. A long-time New York City renter who loves a good deal, Kreth currently lives in a coveted rent-stabilized apartment in a luxury building on the Upper East Side.

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