Friday, May 11, 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

Tenants: Jess and Martin, since 1981

Why did you move to the East Village?


I was living in Brooklyn and I wanted to live in Manhattan. I answered an ad in the newspaper and I came and looked at [the apartment]. It needed work, but it had a garden. So I took it. I really didn’t know the East Village. I was by myself at the time. I was baffled because all night long people would be ringing my bell. I didn’t know very many people. They weren’t ringing for me. It didn’t take me too long to understand that the first door as you come in which is one room right on the street had a metal door. There was a hole in the door and they were selling drugs through the door.

There was also a shooting gallery across the street in an abandoned building. People were selling drugs on the corners. I became aware of all this. At the same time many storefronts were turning into performance spaces. I started working with an experimental theater company in a squat on 13th Street. We were working with new kinds of texts and new forms.

Many people today feel nostalgic for that time. There was a lot of misery and poverty. But then there was the beginning of a renewal and renaissance.

I found out that my mother had been born in this neighborhood, on Sixth Street between Avenue C and Avenue D, in 1921. I hadn’t known that. I feel a connection to her. Her family moved to Brooklyn eventually. In that typical immigrant thing, when once you get a little money you try to move out to a better place.

It always gave me pleasure to think, when our son was born, that he played in the Park that my mother had played in. When our son was born, it was before they had renovated the playground. It had one broken swing and a sandbox. We saw the whole change.


I had many times ventured from the west side across Bleecker Street and St Mark's but never proceeded any further east. I just noticed a different vibe right at the entrance to St Mark's. There was less-intense light — it was the dark part of town then — and it seemed unfamiliar and mysterious. Soon enough I entered the gate to meet friends I had met by then. Then I rented an apartment on Avenue B.

What do you love about your apartment?


I love the serenity here. It is really quite peaceful. If I want company, I walk outside the door. There’s still shops where I know the people. I can go to the butcher. I can go to Ben’s magazine store. A lot of places have disappeared and people we knew. I work in the neighborhood. I teach in a school in the neighborhood. I walk everywhere.

There are also things that we don’t like. There are chronic problems in the apartment. They can’t really be solved definitively. We have leaks in the bathroom. It’s an old building. We have lived here for 37 years. We have 37 years worth of stuff.

Let me show you our garden.


Stabilized rent. The door to the backyard. Being woken by the song of birds. And listening to the various voices of human beings living their lives freely and not being concerned with disturbing their neighbors. To move out of the apartment onto the street any time of the day and night and encounter people.

I don’t like that It’s small and that it is on the ground floor and therefore not much light enters. I love apartments with high ceilings and even though I like this apartment, I still have to admit that I don’t like that our apartment does not have high ceilings.

What I like about the neighborhood is the human scale.

I don’t like the pretentious restaurants that lack atmosphere and culinary delights, the chain stores and the absence of craftspeople as there once were when I moved in, visible from the streets and avenues at work. I don’t like the nail salons.

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


Anonymous said...

Love this place!

Anonymous said...

I would trade high ceilings for that garden space!

Anonymous said...

Great story. The apartment and yard look so sweet. I love the kitty. It must be fun to live and work here. All the best.