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.”
$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.