A Brief Chronicle of my 25 year old Daughter’s Struggle to Find Housing in NYC
It is not easy for anyone to find an apartment in NYC. This is especially true for the young who are just beginning their working lives. And the competition for housing is fierce. As soon as there is a new listing of a desirable rental, the line of supplicants burnishing their credentials may go around the digital block.
But she who is lucky enough to get her application filed first may still not secure the dream (or at least adequate) apartment. And that is true even if her references are unimpeachable, her employment stable, her credit score outstanding.
Let me tell our story. My daughter is 25. She works for a University in the city. She has a high credit score, had never defaulted on a monthly payment with previous NYC landlords, and earns a very decent non-profit salary.
Through a broker whom she paid a fee, she found an apartment that met her needs for $1600.00 a month—very reasonable for NYC. To put a hold on it, she acted with great dispatch: she filled out all the paperwork and handed over a check to the broker for the first and last month’s rent.
The broker came back to her a day later to say that her offer would not be accepted unless she had “guarantor,”---someone who would ensure payment, in the case she were to default on her monthly obligation. She was disappointed though not surprised, given (as the broker reminded her) that her yearly salary was not 45X her monthly rent, the default demand of landlords in New York City. Meeting this requirement is a near impossibility for most 20 something employees not in the financial sector or other high paying industries.
She reminded me that the guarantor, to prove her bona fides, is expected to provide the prospective landlord with two pay stubs, banks statements, tax returns and a letter of employment. And this had to be submitted all over night or she would most likely lose the apartment.
I was certainly happy to play the role of the fat cat for the third time since her graduation from college and move to New York-- and I dropped everything else I was doing to locate and then scan the needed documents. I got the PDFS out to her right away. But what I could not provide this time around was “the letter of employment” since I had recently been “restructured” out of my job. Because I had received a generous severance package, and was lucky enough to have other assets I could easily cover any putative default on payment in the coming year. So I saw no cause for concern.
My daughter submitted my details and almost immediately heard back from the broker that the landlord would reject her application unless I could produce “something else.” The “something else” I sent was the last statement of my 403 B, an asset substantial enough to reassure any fearful landlord. Or so I thought.
So the broker submitted the statement to the landlord. And we crossed our fingers. We were now entering day 3 and the cash deposit of two months’ rent my daughter had put on the apartment (while the paperwork was evaluated) would soon be null and void. The dream apartment would be back on the open market.
But the 403B was rejected out of hand because it was not “taxable income.” And the application was now in its death throes. My daughter was understandably frantic. And I was ashamed that I had let my daughter down and failed to protect her from the meanness of the world. Us dads feel this way whether their little girl is 5 or twenty five.
I racked my brain for a “Hail Mary.” Then I remembered that I had power of attorney over my failing mother’s life time savings—which amounted to a considerable sum-- and some of the bonds and stock dividends threw off taxable income!
So I sent my daughter her grandmother’s brokerage account statement. I was certainly troubled that I was violating my mother’s privacy but knew that she would do anything in her power to help her beloved granddaughter.
A day later she got the apartment!
Jubilant as I was for my daughter, as a citizen of a democracy that holds up as a bipartisan ideal equal opportunity, I was more than a little distressed. And this became full blown distress when I began to research how the guarantor business works NYC.
The fact that to even qualify to be a guarantor, a person must have a salary of AT LEAST 80x the monthly rental in question---which in my daughter’s case would mean a yearly income of 128k! Only ten per cent of Americans make this much.
So a young person, in spite of having an income and credit history the same or even better than my daughter’s, will be unable to rent a similar apartment. And why? Because she doesn’t have a relative wealthy enough to provide the guarantee. (There are certainly private sector players that may provide a guarantee-- but how many could afford this additional upfront extra expense, even if they were to qualify?)
In this very blue state, in the bluest of cities, this guarantor policy serves to exacerbate gross inequality and conspires against upward mobility.
In practical terms, what does this mean? It means that a hard working person may be forced to leave her job, (or turn it down in the first place) because she cannot afford to live in the city. And all because she does not come from a “family of means.” A lot of means. After all, my daughter barely made it through.
True, she might be able to find a squalid apartment somewhere in the city. In this case, humiliation and zip code ghettoization will define the start of her working life. For her, New York City is the lost opportunity society.
Right now this despicable state of affairs seems to be a mere footnote even for NYC tenant’s rights advocates, who are focused on fighting eviction- not protecting the rights of prospective tenants to secure a nice place to call home in the first place.
Liberal and conservative should both be alarmed about this ongoing injustice. It is worth stating the obvious: the ideal of meritocracy is under permanent siege when family wealth determines a young person’s future prospects in New York City, not hard work and individual initiative. While only one inequity in a sea of inequities, this is a cause well worth taking up.