Friday, January 5, 2018

I Am a Rent-Stabilized Tenant

East Village resident Susan Schiffman has been photographing the apartments of rent-stabilized tenants living in the East Village for her Instagram account, I Am a Rent Stabilized Tenant. She will share some of the photos here for this ongoing EVG feature.

Photos and text by Susan Schiffman

Tenant: Andy, since 1996

Why did you move to the East Village?

I moved to New York City on April 28, 1991, from Cincinnati. I lived in Hell’s Kitchen on 47th near 10th Avenue, and like everything in the city, it was different than it is now. There were hookers in the vestibule. I loved that, but it wasn’t that much different from my neighborhood in downtown Cincinnati, where you had to run from the bar to your apartment.

I had two roommates. We shared a kitchen and a bathroom. There was no living room. I had a friend who lived in the East Village on 7th, in the next block down from where I am now. I would visit and hang out. When my apartment broke up after a year, I decided to try and find something in the East Village. I started searching. First, I was going to get a roommate or try to move in with somebody, but everyone was nuts. I thought I can’t do this. I’d lived alone since college. I had roommates when I moved here, but I knew one of them from before. He had moved here from Ohio about a year before me. I was worried I couldn’t bring my cat, Sweetness. He said, "come on, bring the cat."

How did you find your apartment?

I walked every block from Broadway to Avenue A from 14th to Houston, looking for notices, looking at super’s numbers and buzzing super’s apartments. Friends of mine, two drag queens (Brandywine and Brenda A Go-Go), had a store on East 7th Street called Howdy Do. They sold toy collectibles and designer sample sale stuff. You could get a Pee-wee Herman doll and a Versace handbag. They were big on the club scene. I was busy on the club scene all through the 1990s.

They said there’s an apartment next door on the first floor. I looked in the window. I didn’t want to be right on the street. So I canvassed the neighborhood. I looked and looked. After all that searching, I came back and I took that apartment.

There are planters in front right now, but when I moved in there were no planters in the front and people were putting their 40 ouncers on my windowsill. I would open the windows from the top. I got used to it. It was also my first apartment in NYC by myself, so that was cool. I was working long hours, I was out every night, I was partying a lot, and so it didn’t really bother me. I was noisier then, too, as my former upstairs neighbor can attest. Now, I’m the one trying to get everyone to shut the fuck up.

I was there for a little over four years when I saw someone moving out. Out of curiosity, I asked the guys who were moving the furniture about the apartment. It was 6B, at the top in the back. So there’s light. The building next door is only four floors. I knew that the synagogue was behind me. I knew it was going to be sunny. Being on the street, I was used to it being not sunny.

I moved upstairs. My rent went up $100. They renovated to a degree — there were many layers of rotten linoleum. They did the floors. The walls were painted dark grey or black. In the summer when it gets warm I roll up all of the carpets, change the bedding to all white, take down the prints and the whole place feels really light and airy. I like to switch it up in the fall for winter, which is what you see now.

When I moved up here I had a futon on the floor. These desks are old classroom desks from 1910 that I got from Open Hunt, that place that used to sell all the furniture on Houston between Elizabeth and Bowery. There are drawers in them from The Container Store. I also got that metal cabinet at Open Hunt. Cheap, but it was painted bright green. I stripped it. Eventually, I got a real bed from a great store called Desiron.

My dad died in 2014; my mom died last June. Some stuff is from her, most of the rugs were from my dad. They had lots of rugs. There were two that I grew up with that are still rolled up. These are ones that my dad bought later, so they’re not necessarily heirlooms. That chair, my parents had before I was born. These prints they had before I was born. They’re just prints from a department store that they bought in the 1960s.

Talk about your work with B&H Dairy.

I’ve got a whole collection of old B&H snapshots — which I collected from the children of three B&H owners — scanned at super high resolution and cleaned up in Photoshop. So now I can blow them up really big. I plan to frame them and B&H will have a little wall of history. Some of the photos are in the 2017 and 2018 B&H calendars.

In late 2013, when mom-and-pop businesses were really starting to close all around the neighborhood, I said, “You guys should really do a t-shirt. People love you. They’ll buy a shirt.” I thought if they can make a couple extra bucks from the t-shirt, it could make the difference between staying open or disappearing. I did the “CHALLAH! por favor” t-shirt and they liked it. I just did the design. Sheila at Works In Progress prints them. They’ve sold about 1,200 over the last four years.

Then the Second Avenue explosion happened in 2015 and the city closed B&H due to no fault of their own. The inspectors put everyone under the microscope. Stuff they would have let go before, they didn’t let go this time around. They were closed for five months. Somebody did an earlier crowdfunding campaign and they raised some money but it wasn’t enough. I organized the second one, it raised about $28,000. There was one donor who donated $7,000 twice!

Also, I did all the press. I’m a publicist and a graphic designer, so I gladly volunteered my skills to help B&H. I stayed involved with B&H through the re-opening and after. Now, I do their Facebook page, Instagram, some graphics. I love that place.

What do you love about your apartment?

I like that it is sunny and there is good cross ventilation. If this apartment had stone walls so I could never hear my neighbors, and if it had an elevator so that I could grow old and die here, I would never leave. I think about moving a lot. You can see half of the Empire State Building. You can see that new building 432 Park, and down here you can see the One World Trade Center. I can also see the top of the Chrysler Building. I love the light and the sun. It’s sunny from mid-morning till sunset. The view is pretty good. You get enough of the skyline.

I’ve got it arranged so that these shelves in the kitchen just absorbed all of my stuff. I used to have a file cabinet, an enormous desk from when I ran a record label, and a tall metal shelf that held my record collection. I got rid of all the office stuff, and these big shelves absorbed everything, including the refrigerator and microwave.

I love reading. I can sit there in that chair and read for hours. It's a great way to spend an afternoon.

If you're interested in inviting Susan in to photograph your apartment for an upcoming post, then you may contact her via this email.


Glenn said...

Great story!

Anonymous said...

first of all, i LOVE the spare yet cozy way this apartment is decorated! second, great story about putting in the time to find it! third, cheers to andy for his work for and with B&H! fourth, i wish i was rich so i could install a chair lift and he could live there from his clubbing days til his dying day! thanks ev grieve and susan schiffman for another great installment in this killer series!

Anonymous said...

Andy, you seem like a very nice person and I'm happy for you that you have such a cozy apartment! I can't tell if your reading chair is by the window or not, which would be my any case, I'm jealous of your view. Also, just by the way, I liked that book Less!

Anonymous said...

B&H challah rules.

Anonymous said...

independent, creative, smart, concerned, political, not about money, respects, enjoys books, sunlight, beauty- A True East Villager. I love this guy.

marjorie said...

Aw, I love this one! I hope Susan will go back to photograph this apartment in its minimalist summer glory, too.

Is that Sweetness in the little jeweled frame?

(Andy was very helpful to me when I was doing a story on the history of B&H for Tablet Magazine -- thank you, Andy!)

Anonymous said...

BTW what was the starting rent and what is the current rent? I am sure I am not the only person curious about the rents. Thanks.

CurlyZip said...

Thanks for all the help you gave to B & H. It's not surprising that your apartment looks like a beautiful home.

Anonymous said...

So many people make fun of us. Like-you still live there? I've been here since the late 80's and for me what it has been all about is freedom. I am grateful that I have been able to have my slice of the dream. It's sad that there are less and less places to hang out and less interesting people to chat with. I have always thought that people were jealous of us. Great story. Thanks for helping B&H.

Anonymous said...

@11:40am: Well said!

@1:03pm: You seem to be missing the point of this feature ENTIRELY. It's about someone's HOME.

Why is the rent anyone's business but the tenant's? And why should it be posted on here? Just so cranks can crab about people who are rent-stabilized, and go off on diatribes about how if there were no rent controls of any kind, somehow everyone's rent would go down (due to the big-hearted landlords!)?

That would be the end of this lovely series.

Anonymous said...

I am also considering moving from my rent stabilized apartment. It's very reasonable for the area but not dirt cheap as many people think. I would have to downsize to buy. It's a tough decision when you are comfortable but feel pressures to own. Is ownership over-rated? Lol

Giovanni said...

This great EV Grieve feature should really be turned into a book. It humanizes the lives of ever day New Yorkers and puts to rest all the propaganda and myths about rent stabilized tenants. These tenants are the kinds of people who are being harassed out of their homes by greedy landlords. Great job Susan, keep up the good work!

Anonymous said...

I'm in the same situation as you. I pay a fair amount of rent at this point. I really hate it when people say- oh you're rent controlled. They think I pay like $400 a month. I have no problem with rent controlled tenants but I'm rent stabilized. I heard that relatives of mine who I don't have contact with tell people that I live in a rent controlled dump and that I'm destitute and unstable. Ha ha!

I think you should look into buying a co-op or maybe if some of the new buildings might offer a decent new rental. You know what will work for yourself, light is important, can do a lot with ceiling height, an elevator would be nice. Most of the co-ops in tenements are renovated.

It's like,where to go? All the best.

Anonymous said...

Those relatives are jealous and want your apartment. Good luck to everyone! It ain't easy.

Anonymous said...

@11:40am: Unfortunately, people think rent-stabilized means you're paying virtually nothing in rent - not true! I have a friend who's rent-stabilized and nearly 80 years old, and she's paying well over $2,200/month for her one bedroom. And while that may sound cheap for a one-bedroom, she's on a fixed income and her rent now consumes ALL of her monthly pension PLUS a chunk of her social security check. Her income is *just* high enough to deny her any kind of rent-freeze or other relief, and she's left worried about her ability to continue affording her apartment in future years.

Anonymous said...

good story. you make great use of the space, imbued with character and surprisingly even maintaining a "minimal" aesthetic when the space itself appears to be small (aka ny sized). all the best to you.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for working to help B&H Dairy remain. Good article. Love Andy's story. We all seem to have good and bad things to deal with our apts. Great to be on the top floor but getting older, it would be nice to get a lower floor apt or elevator.

Scuba Diva said...

Anonymous 1:03: Nosy much?

Interestingly, when I was on St. Mark's Place in the 80s, that was the premier ice-breaker conversation-starter: "Whaddayapay?"…soon followed by "Whaddayado?"

Anonymous said...

Very beautiful room with the framed prints menorah,cross, rug and lighting.