A nice one-bedroom, even on a teacher's salary

(Renters): NEW YORK — Rachael Williams decided it was time to live alone this winter, after the second time in three years one of her roommates stopped paying rent.

A nice one-bedroom, even on a teacher's salary

“I really did not want to move,” said Williams, 31, a teacher at Liberty Avenue Middle School in the East New York neighborhood of Brooklyn. “I’m a Coast Guard military brat, and I don’t mind moving, but I’ve moved eight times in six years.”

She figured that her best chance of staying put in the future would be to make sure that hers was the only name on the lease. She just didn’t know if she could afford it. The absolute top of her budget was $1,600, which is about the bottom of the market for studios and one-bedrooms in Brooklyn, where she had been living and wanted to stay.

Since Williams hadn’t been expecting to move, she had no money set aside for a security deposit, broker’s fees or moving expenses. She only learned that her roommate, the leaseholder, had been cashing and keeping the rent money from her and another roommate when the landlord called to say that rent hadn’t been paid in months. (Because she was on a sublease, she was not liable for the unpaid rent.)

But her long spell of bad apartment luck was about to change.

Shortly after the call from the landlord, she came across a listing for a large one-bedroom in eastern Bedford-Stuyvesant, near Ocean Hill, which was about a 15-minute motor-scooter ride from the school where she works. It had just posted, there was no broker’s fee, and the rent was $1,550 a month.

When she went to see the apartment the next day, the first thing that caught her eye was the blue kitchen cabinets, which reminded her of the kitchen in her favorite childhood home. “I loved the blue cabinets,” said Williams, who immediately felt drawn to the space.

There were other pleasant surprises: high ceilings, an enormous mirror in the living room and, even though the apartment was on the second floor, a huge outdoor space on the roof in the rear of the house. It was also the entire floor of a town house, which meant it had good light on two sides. And the rent included electricity, which made it feel like a little less of a stretch.

Then, as she waited to hear back about her application, wondering how she’d assemble the move-in money, she started receiving unexpected checks. There was an insurance reimbursement from when someone had hit her parked scooter in January, then two more checks from after-school work that she’d forgotten were coming. Friends volunteered to help her move. Then the broker called to tell her that since her credit was excellent, she could have the apartment.

When people ask her how she found her new home, she tells them: God. “I’m serious,” said Williams, who keeps a copy of the Bible on her coffee table. “I wasn’t prepared at all and the timing just worked out perfectly.” At the lease signing, she was excited when the landlady told her she’d prayed for a tenant like her.

“Living alone, I always wanted to do it — I think most people do — but I never thought I’d be able to with my salary and paying off loans,” said Williams, who moved in this April.

When Williams first came to New York six years ago, living alone had been out of the question. It was hard enough to afford room shares working as a researcher at an educational nonprofit. Later, when she started training to become a teacher, money was even tighter.

She got along with her roommates, but no place she lived really felt like home. There was a teeny-tiny, $1,100 bedroom in the East Village and a windowless bedroom on the Upper East Side, followed by shares without heat, shares with collapsing ceilings, shares with paper-thin walls and shares where one of the four roommates was always an Airbnb guest.

She often found herself longing for the quietude of her own space, where she wouldn’t have to make conversation in the kitchen or the hall.

“I identify as an introvert,” Williams said. “I love to be alone, to journal or read in the evenings or listen to music without lyrics, especially after spending a long day with 13-year-olds.”

She started sprucing up her new space shortly after moving in, repainting the living room from a buttercream hue to a grayish white, and replacing the light fixtures in the living room and bedroom.

“I really want to do the apartment justice. It has a lot of character, but it’s older so it needs love and attention,” she said. “I’m learning a lot about my own style. With roommates I had to make the most of what was given to me. Here I can get a sense of what I actually like.”

The landlady, who lives downstairs, has also promised to help her learn to garden — a welcome offer since Williams has had trouble even keeping succulents alive, which she admits may not be the fault of bad light in her previous apartments.

“I feel comfortable here; it’s becoming a home,” she said. “It feels like I have privacy and space, but if I need anything I can just shout.”


$1,550 | Bedford-Stuyvesant

Rachael Williams, 31

Occupation: English teacher at a public middle school. She also trains teachers through the New York City Teaching Collaborative and New York City Teaching Fellows.

Kitchen cabinets for art supplies: On a friend’s recommendation, Williams started keeping her nonperishable food in the refrigerator to free up space for her arts-and-crafts supplies. She taught herself how to macramé and also makes candles with essential oils.

Unexpected bonus: “Now that I live by myself, my dad wants to visit. He’s never visited me in New York before. So that’s exciting.”

On upgrading from a scooter to a motorcycle: “There are so many potholes in New York, I wanted to focus on learning how to navigate through the streets safely before I had to manage the clutch. I’ve wanted a motorcycle since I was a kid.”

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.


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