Real Estate

She Found Serenity Again in Brooklyn, and a Place to Build a New Life

When Christina Blacken moved into a prewar building in Flatbush, Brooklyn, in 2015, she thought, like most of her long-term neighbors, she would be there for 20-plus years. But in 2021 she was forced to move.

Like many who migrated to New York, Ms. Blacken, 34, who grew up in Ogden, Utah, and is founder and chief story strategist at The New Quo, a professional development and equity consultancy, had experienced her share of bad apartments. After graduating from Cornell University in 2010, she spent her 20s apartment hopping, moving each time for a variety of issues: roaches, mice, no heat in the winter, and a relationship that ended. After her break up, she moved from Astoria to Brooklyn, thanks to an ad for an apartment share she found on Craigslist.

“I was splitting the $1,500 rent for a sizable two-bedroom,” she said. “It was a crazy deal when I moved in. After four months, my roommate left to move in with her fiancé. I wasn’t a relative, so I couldn’t take the lease over for the same price. It became a new lease and increased to $1,800. It was still a steal, so I stayed.”

During the next five years she became close with her neighbors and super. Everyone was friendly and supportive. There was community. She felt safe and secure.

Then the pandemic hit and everything fell apart.

First, because of the lockdown, which she took seriously, she couldn’t leave her home because of Covid. Then she was unable to stay because of the deterioration of both the building and her quality of life. And so she began an intense rental search. In June 2021, six weeks into her quest, she stumbled upon perfection: a three-bedroom, two-bath apartment a few blocks away from where she was living. It was the last apartment she saw of the day and the last one she would need to see. She put in an application, acknowledged the steep competition, and hoped for the best.

The price tag was $2,998, more than $1,000 above what she had been paying. But the extra bedroom and bathroom, the added square footage and high ceilings justified the increase. It was bright, sunny and faced Prospect Park. And it had amenities.

“Having a washer, dryer and dishwasher was life-altering,” said Ms. Blacken, who had never experienced these amenities inside her own apartment. “Moving here was a refresh and a restart, and a feeling of making it. This was a big, validating moment for me.”

Ms. Blacken said that her furniture fit perfectly in her new apartment.Credit…Sara Messinger for The New York Times

$3,250 | Prospect Lefferts Gardens, Brooklyn

Christina Blacken, 34

Occupation: Founder and chief story strategist at The New Quo, a professional development and equity consultancy

Having Amenities: “I used to wash all my dishes by hand, which took so much time. And dried my hands out. Doing laundry now is so easy. I don’t have to leave the apartment and I can do it while I’m working. It’s no longer a disruptive activity filled with stress and preplanning and hoping machines are free downstairs.”

Biophilia: “Seeing Prospect Park from my window is incredibly calming. Being this close to nature has changed my mental and physical health.”

Not having to relocate was also a relief after her previous, short term, up-and-down experiences with her old buildings. For the first time, she was living alone in a space that was solely hers.

When Ms. Blacken moved into her old building in 2015, she quickly got to know her neighbors. That experience deepened once her roommate moved out and Ms. Blacken stayed. The following years brought stability and contentment, paired with the fact that she was living alone for the first time.

“The building was a good fit for my lifestyle,” she said. “I had friends in the neighborhood. I was growing roots.”

Things slowly disintegrated at the beginning of the pandemic.

Her neighbor, who lived a few doors down and had been battling mental illness, had a psychotic break. Suddenly, there was the slamming of doors happening throughout the day; incoherent screaming; the throwing of random possessions out the window; and the tossing of breakable items in the hallway. That went on for months.

“Covid made getting access to treatment and medication extremely hard. We were concerned for this poor woman’s safety, and for ours,” said Ms. Blacken, who added that many calls to 911 were made. “Social workers came. So did the police, who were dressed in full riot gear. She threatened the neighbors next to me. It was scary and terribly sad.”

Upkeep for the building seemed to fall by the wayside as well, bordering on neglect.

“The elevator started trapping people in-between floors. I was experiencing claustrophobic issues and having anxiety attacks from having that happen to me,” she said. “We had someone in a wheelchair on my floor who got stuck, and no one did anything.”

Then came the barrage of unwanted friends. The breaking point was a mouse swimming in a pot, enjoying the rice and beans Ms. Blacken had cooked.

The apartment has three bedrooms. Ms. Blacken uses one of them as a home office.Credit…Sara Messinger for The New York Times

In June she began poring over websites including Craigslist, PadMapper and StreetEasy. She made lists of buildings that had no rental fees and were within a 10-block radius of her neighborhood, which she cherished. She spent weekends looking at apartments — mostly older ones as “the new developments I saw were weirdly designed,” she said, and taking photos and videos of ones she liked.

Ms. Blacken was looking for rent-stabilized apartments or those with low rents — a huge ask on her wish list — and she found one that suited her. “It was the perfect place the minute I walked in. I put in an application that day.”

Then several lucky events happened: the person who was originally accepted into that apartment no longer wanted it; she was able to break her lease; and it wasn’t a deal-breaker that as a sole business owner, she could not provide W2 tax forms as proof of her income. Ms. Blacken was approved for the apartment.

“Not everyone understands having a creative job or what I do for a living,” she explained. “They did. Plus, I had a year’s worth of savings so that added assurance.”

Ms. Blacken’s furniture fit perfectly. Décor standouts include a vestibule, and an area where “I have a painting and table, and place where you put your shoes,” she said. “The living room, which includes a sectional couch and love seat, is on the left. Huge windows reveal beautiful parts of the park.” Two built-in shelving areas, containing a liquor bar on one side and teas and antique medicine bottles on the other, greet you before entering the kitchen, which is decked out with new appliances.

The second bedroom became her office/guest room. The third became storage and a place to record her podcast “Sway Them in Color.” The extra space also made it effortless to have family members sleep over without having a blowup mattress on the floor.

Since moving she has built a new community, and home — investing in herself, the apartment and the people who live here.

“Seeing Prospect Park from my window is incredibly calming,” Ms. Blacken said.Credit…Sara Messinger for The New York Times

Her first year was apartment bliss. Then the renewal rental lease arrived in August 2022; Ms. Blacken saw there was a $252-per-month increase.

When Ms. Bracken rented the apartment, she was under the impression that it was rent stabilized. But when she inquired about the increase, she was told that while some apartments in the building were stabilized, hers was not. When she reviewed her lease, the fine print included the phrase, “not subject to the rent stabilization law.”

Ms. Blacken acknowledged the unexpected financial jump paired with the reality, not to mention heartbreak, that she may not be able to afford a third year if the surge continues.

“What happens to people who don’t have the money to pay for a surprise increase?” she asked.

“I love it here. This is the best apartment I’ve lived in. It would be extremely hard to move again, all within the span of two and a half years. I’ll never find anything this special,” she said. “My life changed significantly when I moved here. I feel at peace and serene. I didn’t realize how much stress and chaos my last apartment was causing me.”

For weekly email updates on residential real estate news, sign up here. Follow us on Twitter: @nytrealestate.

Back to top button