‘Why I Renewed My New York City Lease—Pandemic, Unemployment, and All’Posted by: jhon | Posted on: September 23, 2020
Photo: FilippoBacci / Getty Images
According to recent headlines, people have been fleeing New York City. I, however, recently renewed a yearlong lease on my Manhattan apartment, which means I’m stuck here—for better or for worse—until August 2021.
Why did I go against the grain in the wake of all the challenges New York is facing in the coronavirus pandemic? The decision caused me a lot of anxiety, but ultimately, I didn’t feel like I was ready or able to bail on the city I’ve called home for over 20 years. Here’s why.
Reason to renew: Staying costs money, as does moving
In March when the coronavirus pandemic first hit, I’d actually pulled my own version of an escape by hightailing it to Annapolis, MD, to stay with my mom in her big house. I thought maybe I’d be there a few weeks, but instead didn’t find myself contemplating a return to NYC before mid-July.
Even then, I worried I was returning too soon.
“Just how bad is it?” I asked a friend who remained in New York. The friend described the shuttered stores and restaurants, the empty streets, the uptick in crime.
My lease was set to expire at the end of July. This meant that if I were to renew it, I’d have to do so by June 30, or lose my apartment.
I knew that moving has its own costs associated with it, but I also estimated it would cost about $750 to move my things into storage—not including the cost of the storage unit itself. I calculated that moving out of New York would have cost about the same as staying put, at least upfront.
Reason to go: I’m unemployed
Still, in the long term, there was no argument that I could save more money by moving out of the city—particularly given some recent changes to my career and income.
Pre-COVID-19, I was a successful Broadway actor; but starting in March, all productions closed down, leaving me out of work. My “backup” careers of teaching dance and fitness were also moot, with gyms and studios closed as well.
Unemployment insurance provided a little security, but the extra Pandemic Unemployment Assistance ($600 a week) was the true godsend for me and many others in hard-hit industries.
But the extra PUA expired at the end of July, and as I write this, no extensions have been federally approved. Without it, could I even afford to stay in New York City?
I had some savings, but there was a possibility I might not work again for a year, or longer. Unless a vaccine or treatment is found for COVID-19, theatrical productions may be among the last jobs to return—the risk is just too great to the performers and the audiences. Live performances will return, but it’s going to be a long road.
One of the reasons I lived in the city was to work in theater, and enjoy all the amazing performances this city has to offer. Without that, I wasn’t sure if it made sense to shell out rent here. Would it be smarter to give up my apartment and just wait it out holed up with my mom?
Reason to renew: They say you should never give up a rent-stabilized apartment
I have a really good deal: a rent-stabilized, one-bedroom apartment for less than $1,500 a month in a nice area. Three years ago, I’d fought really hard to get it through a housing lottery. If I gave it up, odds are I’d never be able to pull that off again.
In a pre-COVID-19 world at least, one of the cardinal rules of NYC real estate was that you never, ever gave up a rent-stabilized lease if you somehow managed to get one.
Plus, if I did leave, where would I go? Would it be healthy to live at home with my mom? What about my independence, my career, my social life?
Granted, right now no one has much of a social life. But at some point, a vaccine will arrive, which will mean people mingling with a vengeance. When that day comes, I wagered I’d regret having given up my apartment so soon.
Reason to renew: If I left, there’s no coming back
The bottom line came down to this: I wasn’t ready to give up my life in New York City. For better or for worse, the city has my heart. Even though it’s no longer the city I once loved, I decided that renewing my lease was a risk I had to take.
A couple of weeks after renewing my lease remotely from my mother’s house, I returned in person to my Manhattan apartment. I was nervous. And my friend was right, things did feel different. I was shocked by the number of stores that were still boarded up or closed for good. The only people wandering the streets seemed to be homeless people who’d been placed in hotels in my area. The streets near my home now had drug activity and other dangers.
In my 20-plus years in the city, I’d never felt wary walking around alone after dark, but now I did.
For the first week back, I wondered if returning was a mistake. But then I enjoyed my first socially distanced dinner at a sidewalk cafe with a friend. I witnessed a glorious sunset sitting on a bench by the Hudson River. And when I went to a couple of neighborhood stores, I was surprised when cashiers and store clerks greeted me with “Where have you been? We missed you!”
I realized I was very happy to be back. I knew I’d made the right choice for now.
New York City is unique, and it will stage a comeback somehow. And if you love it, you love it—even when it’s having a rough year. But then again, who isn’t?
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