I wrote this in my other blog yesterday for Blog Action Day but forgot to put it here. There are great conversations happening all over the web and I encourage people to participate.

We tend to look at poverty as an issue too big for an individual to make an impact and too muddy to come up with an effective solution. As a result we remove ourselves from the issue and inadvertently start to “other” the people struggling—talking about them as if they exist in an entirely different world.

But what do we do when poverty hits home? When it’s not a matter of reading about a sad story but facing one?

Up until a few weeks ago my mother and my three sisters lived in a homeless shelter. They were there for six months. My sisters' frustrations extended beyond not having a home to call their own. They also had to abide by rules that were set by the shelter that were similar to lockdown: no visitors, a strict curfew, and no staying out over night without prior notice. Many of the cherished aspects of adolescence were denied to them.

I had these same issues growing up in the projects and when I left for college I thought that it was all behind me. Unfortunately it wasn’t. Aside from the fact that my family continues to struggle, our existence is stigmatized. We don’t solicit “oh no’s” and tear filled eyes when our stories are told. Apparently, you have to be in Africa for that. So I went to Africa—South Africa to be exact. And while the poverty I witnessed is much more severe, I saw similarities among young people there and the young people I work with in the States. They want to go to school; they want to make friends, and they want their families to be safe.

However, I also saw how diverse poverty in and of itself is: urban poverty is different from rural poverty; older poor people have different desires than younger poor people; and the dominant culture clashes with subcultures to shape how people respond to their poverty.

Thus, poverty isn’t just about “those people over there” and it extends beyond the lack of income. We all have a relationship to poverty whether through personal experience or through our viewpoint that extends beyond donating time or a check. In other words, in order to address poverty we need to examine its impact on everyone—not just those who live in it. We need to examine our relationship to poverty.

1. Get personal: There are faces behind the numbers and stories behind the faces. And those faces aren’t just in far away countries; many are in our neighborhoods or even our own families. Get to know people who have less than you—seek commonalities and accept differences.

2. Become an advocate: Why does poverty often solicit pity instead of outrage and when outrage does arise it’s directed at the impoverished? When there are a few people struggling it is a “trouble.” When there are billions of people struggling it is a structural issue that needs to be addressed as such. Volunteering and monetary donations are only the beginning. We need to address this together.

3. Study resilience: While I believe that advocacy—in terms of social change and personal investment in change—is key, our examination of the issue needs to involve more than asking why people are poor. How do some people make it out of poverty? How do people manage to have little and still have enriching lives? The answers to these questions need to be in every solution we think of.

4. Understand how we are connected: For some reason people like to think that there are infinite resources to go around. Nope. I am a “have” because someone else is a “have-not.” And even then, many of us who "have" are precariously on the edge. Addressing poverty means coming face to face with how we may be complicit in the oppression of others.

5. Share the knowledge and encourage others: No need to explore complex issues in solitude. Get a blog, take some photos, take out the video camera and share. Not just with those who are fortunate to have social media access but also with the very people you are trying to help. Visit organizations that work directly with those who are struggling. If we keep the conversation going and include as many people as possible, we may find a solution sooner than we think.


I'm proud to participate in Blog Action Day: an annual call for bloggers to post about a pressing social issue on the same day.

Bloomberg's Madness

Oct 10, 2008

At times I can see the merits of extending term limits. Limits can upset consistency and make completing long term projects difficult. However, whenever Bloomberg opens his mouth all I hear is a sickening sense of entitlement; an arrogance that yells “but 8 years isn’t enough time for you to savor my greatness.”

The complaint that NYC is too vulnerable for poppa Bloomberg to leave is laughable. Aside from the fact that such a power grab is eerily reminiscent of shock-doctrine political tactics, Bloomberg isn’t as awesome as he thinks he is. Yes, I’m glad we don’t have transfats in our foods and 311 is indeed a time saver, but the falling cranes, ultra-hands-on police enforcement, incessant development that is squeezing out the middle class, and—given your access to financial information—relative silence on mortgage crisis and subprime lending practices lead me to question your leadership.

However, if he thinks he is really such a great leader, why not move on to something bigger, as other politicians have done? Certainly a man of his wealth talent can find another suitable position at the local, state, or federal level. Indeed, this is a criticism of term limits as they rarely get rid of politicians, rather they allow politicians to shuffle themselves around, still having influence. So why not set your sights on Governor or possibly President (as he once joked he would do)?

His behavior reveals the answer to that question. Any person who believes that our city is so weak that we can’t bear to part with his mediocrity would never take the risk of moving on. To do so would require him to be more creative in addressing pressing social, economic, and political issues and more appealing to a diverse group of people. Instead, he prefers to go back on his own word and hang on to as much power as he can.

Regardless of my take on this, one critical issue remains: his approach to extending the term limit is blatantly undemocratic. We already voted on this and we voted in favor of limits in 1993 and 1996. He is not bringing this to the voters—as it is too late for a referendum—rather he is bringing this to the council, two-thirds of whom will be out next year because of term limits. So this has nothing to do with the political benefits (or lack thereof) of term limits. It has to do with him and his feeling that he is above the law.

UPDATE: On that note, here is an event about term limits and public interest happening on Tuesday that I plan to attend:

Citizens Union, Common Cause/NY,
and the New York Public Interest Research Group present

A Panel Discussion and Public Forum

Term Limits: Their Impact and Who Decides

Panel in Formation

Richard Briffault
Joseph P. Chamberlain Professor of Legislation, Columbia Law School; Vice Chair, Citizens Union

The Honorable Lew Fidler
Assistant Majority Leader and Member, New York City Council

Randy M. Mastro
Attorney, Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher; Deputy Mayor, New York City, 1996 - 1998

Esmeralda Simmons
Executive Director, Center for Law and Social Justice, Medgar Evers College; former member of the NYC Redistricting Commission

6:00 - 9:00 PM

Baruch College
The William and Anita Newman Vertical Campus
55 Lexington Avenue at 24th Street
14th Floor

Please RSVP at 212.227.0342 ext.39
or events@citizensunion.org

Space is limited

Why I Love New York Moment

Sep 16, 2008

I'm looking outside of my office and watching a filming of Law and Order: SVU. The crew is really nice to us and even gives an eager parent some tips on breaking into the biz.

Christopher Meloni and Mariska Hargitay infinitely hotter in person.

Hot Fashion: Top Secret

Sep 9, 2008

As I have demonstrated I make no money. Sure, I live comfortably, but splurging on clothes whenever I want is out of the question. However, I have come across a website that can get you designer clothes for 40-75% off.

Top Secret sells sample clothing that designers dont put in their stores. There is currently a sale on Peugeot Watches, going for 40% off and there is usually a sale every week. Two weeks ago there was a sale on Marc Jacob shades. So if you want to get your hands on hot items deeply discounted, send me an email and I'll send you an invitation to join.

Don't Be Proud of Being a Jerk

Sep 5, 2008

New York City is known for its rudeness. While I am fortunate enough to be surrounded regularly by people (co-workers, friends, and family) who go out of their way to show kindness, I am the last person to pretend that in a city this dense and this competitive that you are not going to come across some jerks.

However, I have noticed people, native New Yorkers and transplants alike, actively taking on the rude persona like it’s a badge of honor; as if being a douche some how makes people respect you or admire you more. In addition to the attitude presented in this article I have heard so many people (transplants especially) say something like this:

“Gosh I’ve become a real dick to my friends. Like, now I don’t even listen to them. The City really changes you.”

All this demonstrates is that you are emotionally stunted.

If you are aware of the fact that you are an ass, then you are aware enough to change that behavior. Not doing so means that you enjoy being an ass.

And where does this rudeness come from? Are your friends rude? Are your co-workers rude? Family? Or is it from the 20 minutes you spend on the subway?

Does NYC toughen you up? Sure. Does it mean you have to be cruel? No way. Listen to those people who call you out on your foolishness--don'y brush them off because they "don't understand the grittiness of city living." Don't fall into the hype--rudeness does not equal coolness.

If you are new to NYC and looking for a way to meet people while learning and challenging yourself, I recommend taking advantage of a recent trend in many nonprofits: young professionals groups. Non-profits create young professional networks in order to get young adults more involved in the organization. I am a member of several of these groups and I strongly recommend them to young professionals for the following reasons:

  1. Network: What I love the most about these groups is that they tend to have young people from different fields working together on a common issue. It’s not an unfamiliar scene to find a teacher, a law student, an investment banker, and a nonprofit president-hopeful sitting together discussing their passion and suggestions for educational equality.
  2. Learn Skills: These groups aren’t just about sitting around and talking about an issue; you get to roll up your sleeves and get involved. Whether it’s fundraising and marketing or being a career counselor for a day, you get to develop interests and skills you may not have ever known you had.
  3. Give Back: All of your actions go towards the greater good of the organization and the community it serves. It’s not uncommon for discussions to lead to the creation of a new program for teens, or for fundraisers to go so well that more families can be served.
  4. Look Good: While the level of commitment can vary by organization, you are never turned away for wanting to become more involved. As a result your work can be placed front and center on your resume. Now, what looks better than community service that demands a commitment and innovation while also forcing you to grow professionally?

These groups allow us to use our passion and skills for good while providing a space to explore new ideas and interests. Below I have listed some organizations; the first three I am a part of, and the others are organizations that I have heard great things about. If you are in NYC, visit their websites to get involved.

  • Step Up Women’s Network: Step Up Women’s Network is a national non-profit membership organization dedicated to strengthening community resources for women and girls. Through teen empowerment programs for underserved girls, women’s health education and advocacy, professional mentorship and social networking opportunities, we educate and activate our members to ensure that women and girls have the tools they need to create a better future. Recent Event: Photography exhibit hosted by teens enrolled in their teen empowerment program. Cost: $50
  • Let’s Get Ready!: LGR’s YPN is a network of young professionals committed to supporting Let’s Get Ready through their mentorship of LGR students, fundraising, donations, and networks There are two main events for people to be involved in: Career Days (providing mentoring opportunities for disadvantaged teens to learn about different careers) and fundraising events. Recent event: Career Day for teens at NYU. Cost: None.
  • Emerging Leaders of New York Arts (ELNYA): The group aims to bring together local, young arts administrators to discuss challenges specific to their field and generation. Our events are designed to help build the contacts, skills, and knowledge of arts professional under the age of 35 or with less than five years experience in the field. By focusing on this specific demographic we can empower associates, assistants, and junior level staff to explore ideas and potential they may not have opportunity to with their day-to-day responsibilities. Recent event: Happy hour and book club. Cost: None
  • Food Bank for New York City: Food Bank For New York City’s Young Professionals is a special group of successful, ambitious individuals, aged 21 through 35, committed to the fight to end hunger throughout the five boroughs. The Young Professsionals support the work of the Food Bank by raising funds and awareness through social events and campaigns geared toward younger New Yorkers. Cost: None
  • New York Urban League: NYULYP is a unique entity of the NYUL designed to serve as an empowerment forum for individuals ages 21-40 that live and work throughout the five boroughs of New York City. The organization trains, develops and educates young professionals to take leadership roles within the National Urban League (NUL), the civil rights movement and society-at-large. Members of NYULYP are defining, developing, implementing and leading the next generation. Cost: $75
  • Red Cross: The purpose of the Young Professionals Committee is to build awareness and raise funds in support of the mission of the American Red Cross in Greater New York (ARC/GNY). In addition, it is a platform for grooming members for future leadership roles on its Board of Trustees or the Boards of Advisors of its Area Offices. Cost: None

From NYC Tourism:

On September 5, 1882 the first Labor Day parade was held in New York City.
Twenty thousand workers marched in a parade up Broadway. After the parade there
were picnics all around the city. Workers and celebrants ate Irish stew,
homemade bread and apple pie. At night, fireworks were set off. Within the next
few years, the idea spread from coast to coast, and all states celebrated Labor
Day. In 1894, Congress voted it a federal holiday.

What a glorious history. Like most important dates in American history, this weekend will be full of shopping and bumming around as back-to-school sales abound and the weather is warm enough to eat and be merry.

I will be enjoying the 41st annual West Indian Carnival Festival and other events. While there is an official website, people around the city will be cooking up West Indian food instead of just ribs and burgers.

Enjoy the day and be easy!

Recently the New York Times published an article about the process of becoming a New Yorker for many 20-somethings making the move to the big city. While many eventually become comfortable and make the city their own, the process is extremely challenging:

Young people have flocked to New York City by the tens of thousands for generations, to chase their dreams and test their mettle. And they continue to come in strong numbers. In 2006, nearly 77,000 people in their 20s had been in the city for a year or less, according to the annual study by the United States Census Bureau for that year.

But for many, the thrill of arrival is often tempered by the sinking realization of what an alienating place the city can be, especially for those who are not wealthy or who do not have a pre-existing network of friends. Nothing comes easily, even if one can get past the dauntingly high cost of living. The subway maze seems indecipherable. People are everywhere, but ignore each other on the street. Friends might live in distant neighborhoods, and seeing them often requires booking time, like an appointment, weeks in advance.

“Any time I want to see someone and catch up with someone, everyone takes out their BlackBerrys and says, ‘This weekend isn’t good; how about three weeks from now?’ “ said Ms. Sirkin, who moved to New York from Milan in June 2007. “How can you form really good and solid relationships with people if you see them once a month?”

The biggest barrier to making it in NYC isn't just about the cost of living. The culture of NYC--needing to have a thick skin and constantly be on the move--is challenging even for us natives.

It has been three months since I moved back to NYC. After five years of living in Philly and its burbs, and only spending a few weeks at a time in NYC, I expected that, since this is my city, adjusting would be easy.

Well it hasnt been easy at all. Moving back to NYC has required more of me emotionally than when I left when I was 17. Aside from having to deal with family issues and disappearing friendships, NYC’s defining characteristic is that it is always changing. As a result, I no longer feel ownership of the city. I feel like a newbie trying to figure out what this big bad place is all about. Stores close, buildings are created, demographics shift, and suddenly Im in a place that still has the creativity and energy I remember and feel better prepared to handle, but I hate this wide eyed confused feeling I get walking around what is supposedly my home.

What steps do we need to take to feel more in control and more connected?

So far I have joined groups, spent time with my family, and I have opened myself up to new people. I still maintain those relationships I developed in Philly but have become invested in mastering a place I thought I already knew. On the one hand it is a sign of growing up and how much I have changed. But on the other it is nothing short of disorienting.

Surviving on an Entry Level Salary

Aug 28, 2008

“How much money do I need to live in NYC?”

I get this question all of the time and in all honesty, the answer really depends on what you mean by “live.”

Based on my conversations with people, many want to be able to go out at least twice a night, party all day and all night in an effort to take in “all the city has to offer.” First of all, unless you are leaving in a few days, there is no reason to try to do everything as soon as you get here. Second, unless you are a big baller shot caller, that kind of lifestyle can leave you broke and on the financial edge (not good in NYC where so many things can go wrong that will require you to spend money).

The key to having fun and being financially sound in NYC is balance. So, in order to give you some insight on what you will need to be happy in NYC, I am going to share personal information about how I “live,” how much I make, and how much I spend.

My Lifestyle:

Since I am originally from NYC, I will admit that I have some privileges. For one, family is near by so I do get occasional home cooked meals. I also have lots of fun hanging with my siblings without spending any money, and my friends who are from NYC have no desire to attend big events, fancy restaraunts, or other “must do in NYC!!111!!” type of activities. At the same time, I prefer to buy breakfast rather than make it (since that requires waking up early) and my friends, while being low key, still enjoy going out regularly. So my lifestyle expenditures are as follows:

1. Home based gatherings: once a week (with friends or family).

2. Eating out: a. Buying breakfast and/or lunch: 5 days a week (I usually buy breakfast). B. With friends: once every other week.

3. Movies, shopping, other entertainment: once every other week.

4. Academic/Volunteer/Professional events: at least once a week. This is what keeps me busy, allows me to connect with other people, explore the city, and are usually FREE!

5. Neighborhood: I live in Queens in a two bedroom apartment that was recently renovated. Everything I need is close by and it takes 15 minutes to get to Union Square (the hub of youth nightlife and shopping).

My Income:

Annual Income: $36,000 before taxes. Take home pay: $2224/month

My Budget/Expenses:

As I have mentioned before, I use the “All Your Worth” model as a budget guide. 50% of your monthly take home pay should go towards your “Must-Haves” things you can absolutely not live with out and cannot get out of paying (i.e. legally required); 20% should go towards saving/investments; and 30% is for you!

Here is a rough breakdown of where my money goes each month:

Must-Haves (Maximum 50%): 1,112
Rent and utilities: $720
Health insurance: $24
Transportation: $81
Cell phone: $45
Groceries: $125

Total: $995 (45%)

Savings (Minimum 20%)
ING: $445
**I really need to look into better investment/savings opportunities for my money. I’m kinda slow on this but Im working on it.**

Wants (Maximum 30%)
Text messaging for phone: $13
Gym: $60
Clothes: $200
Eating out: $250
Netflix: $14

Total: $537 (24%)


1. I try to put any money that I do not spend in Wants and Must Haves into my Savings for that month. I’ll admit it doesnt always happen, but Im trying. Also, if I over spend in Must-Haves, I take it out of Wants but Savings is always at least 20%.

2. I clip coupons, making shopping lists, and often only buy what’s on sale (I grew up dong this so it’s a pretty hard but useful habit to break).

3. The Must-Haves are pretty fixed but Wants are always changing. When September rolls around, I’ll probably spend more on clothes for the season, and less on going out since students will be returning and I’ll have more work on my plate.

4. I owe $600 on my student loan (which I am paying off at the end of this month), I pay off my balance on my credit card asap (which is usually less than $100), and mainly use cash.

5. No cable/home phone/internet.

So far, so good. Clearly, I’m a more low-key person so my lifestyle and the way I budget isn’t for everyone. But one of the things I always do is look for inexpensive yet fulfilling ways to take in all that the city has to offer.

It's Ok to Hate this City

Aug 12, 2008

I guess I’m a rare breed. I’m a New Yorker who understands why people don’t like this city.

I moved back to NYC because I need the social support of my friends and family and the opportunities that I have to develop myself professionally are unparalleled (seriously, Im 22 and Ill be a Director of Development and Marketing). I do believe that if you can make it here, you can make it anywhere.

On the other hand, NYC isn’t for everyone. Many of my family members have left the city with no plans to return. And as I readjust to living in the city, I’m reminded of some of the reasons I left in the first place:

1. NYC = Racism’s 9-5: The biggest selling point about NYC is that it is so diverse. Let me tell you something, my neighborhood was all black. Next door all Jewish. A few blocks up, all hispanic. We didn’t hang out and we didn’t play nice. It was an antagonizing experience. And that’s just on a personal level. Sean Bell and Amadu Diallo show racism on an institutional level. And in case you missed it, a black high ranking off duty police officer was stopped by white cops. That should tell you something…

2. Back off—that’s mine! You’ll see this kind of attitude related to damn near everything: jobs, items at the store, and seats on the train. It’s one big competition for even the smallest things.

3. I hate my life. People work too hard and love too little. I’m generally a happy person. While in New York people have assumed that I am from another city because I’m so cheerful. What does that tell you?

4. We own the city so deal with it! This should be the transit motto. I’ve yet to have a weekend of efficiently running trains. Politeness and great customer service from a transit worker? HA! That’s funny. This coupled with increasing fares pretty much means transit will continue to screw us over. And there is nothing you can do about it.

5. Guns and brawn: There is nothing remotely peaceful or pleasant about seeing cops and troops on trains and streets. Yes, I know it’s to “protect our freedoms” but it’s stressful, especially since I was here on 9/11. The greater the cop/troop presence the more real the threat feels. It’s scary. I don’t want to stay in a place that’s at the forefront of the Holy War.

6. Achoo! Oh, I sneezed on you? Well stop standing under my nose! New Yorkers live up the rude stereotype—and proudly. I’ve never met people who view rudeness as a positive attribute (well, except in Philly—I hate it here too). And I have never seen so many people at one time. In fact, often times you will be standing under someone’s nose. It’s terribly crowded.

7. Awww look at the cat…wait…that’s a rat! Yes. They are that big.

...and dont get me started on the roaches.

Every other Sunday from July 27th to September 21st from 12pm-8pm, party and shop at the Brooklyn Urban Arts Market, a fusion of the dynamic energy of Afro-Punk and BAM (Brooklyn Academy of Music) with Myrtle Avenue Revitalization Project's community initiatives.

The market will feature live music, visual art performances, food from Myrtle avenue restraunts, and 50 local vendors selling fashion, art, and accessories.

The Brooklyn Urban Arts Market will be held Myrtle Avenue (between Emerson pl. & Grand ave) 550 Myrtle AvenueBrooklyn, New York 11205

Every weekend, the artists change. This weekend, Bobbito Garcia, Kool Bob Love, The Movement Presents:Hollywood Holt, He Sah She Say, Mike Terror, and Shala will be performing.
These kinds of events are a great way to see the city and learn about different kinds of music and interests. So if you're in the city relaxing on Sunday, hit up this event--it looks like it will be awesome. I'll def be there.

I'm sure you have heard about the traumatic experiences of people looking for a place in NYC. The place is too small, too expensive, too dirty...or just off in some way.

Well those stories are true. However, it isnt about the apartment itself--it's also about the people who live there and how they present the place. Too often people overlook how a pleasant attitude, nice colors, and decent furniture can actually make an apartment look good.

Below is a guest post from How to Be a New Yorker, by another young person making the move to NYC. Maybe folks will learn that a little effort goes a long way...

In order to successfully find an apartment in New York City, it is virtually a prerequisite for one to become physically, mentally, and emotionally addicted to Craigslist. I don’t know who this enigmatic “Craig” is or why he decided to take time off from pleasuring himself to craft this amazing database of classified ads. What I do know is that if checking Craigslist were equivalent to drinking a half a shot of Malibu, I would be wasted by 10:30 am every single day.

On Monday, I had my first ever New York City apartment viewings. Both of the ads fit my relatively reasonable requirements for an apartment:

a) Female roommates in their early to mid-20s.

b) Apartment was located in either the Upper West Side, Morningside Heights, or West Harlem below 135th St and priced below $1200 a month.

c) Apartment was not described as “cozy,” “charming,” (read: “glorified closet”) or “kosher.” Don’t get me wrong, I love the Jews, but at the risk of unintentionally making a sexual innuendo, I like my meat and cheese together whenever possible, thank-you-very-much.

d) The ad had good syntax, grammar, and punctuation. I have visceral reactions to “IDK MY BFF JILL” types. Also, on some level I irrationally believe that if one possesses typing aptitude, one has a smaller chance of being serial killer or rapist. “Can I kill u in ur sleep?” “No pls kthxbai.”

The first apartment building, on W 110th and Broadway, was gorgeous. No doorman, but the marble-floored lobby had a vaulted ceiling, which looked fantastic. I took this adorably quirky elevator up to the fourth floor, and an overenthusiastic (perhaps rabid) Columbia med student let me in. I walked in and–

The apartment. Was. A Shithole.

I don’t think I would ever want the young woman who showed me this place to ever be my doctor. If her apartment is any indication of her work hygiene and bedside manner, she would probably lick her hands clean before entering the operating room, and then later after I regained consciousness, slap me across the face with an eight month old copy of the New York Times she’s been saving for a rainy day. The place was straight up disgusting. The kitchen appliances seemed to be gravitating toward a central, vortex-like sunken point in the floor, and there were cracks in the wall. I attempted some robotic med school humor by calling the cracks “flesh wounds.” She was not amused.

I quickly left the decrepit apartment and set out for the next apartment, two blocks downtown on W108th and Broadway. The two blocks were like night and day. W110th was a quiet, beautiful tree-lined street with picaresque stone buildings. W108th was a busy, dumpster-lined street with stone buildings constantly under renovation. Upon entering the building, I was immediately reminded of my visit to the depressing Tenement Museum on the Lower East Side, except it was far less clean than the museum. And people still lived in it.

My future studio apartment in Morningside Heights

The authors of the ad, despite having grammatical prowess, failed to mention that the apartment was a fifth floor walk-up. I finally made it to the apartment, thankfully without needing to enlist the aid of a Sherpa. The girl who answered my knock let me in and without any small talk immediately began the tour of what was an unexpectedly amazing hidden gem of a place. Some highlights: high ceilings, an absurd amount of natural light, newly renovated, new appliances, clean, wood floors, well-decorated, spacious bedroom, and seemingly sane potential roommates.

After sitting down with the two current roommates, I found out they were also interviewing a number of other “applicants” for the apartment, and my meeting with them was strangely intimidating and uncomfortable for that very reason. The whole interview process kind of freaked me out. Lesson learned– apartment hunting is a cutthroat business. I need to learn to better sell myself, but not literally (since it’s illegal and degrading), just metaphorically.

Unsurprisingly, the two girls did not choose me to live in their covertly awesome apartment on W 108th. I think I lacked the latent sorority girl quality that they possessed. Also, it probably didn’t help that I mocked the Zac Efron poster in their apartment, only to find out that they didn’t put it up to be ironic. Awk-ward.

I should have just responded to this Craigslist ad. What a perfect arrangement.

Honestly, I find that hunting for an apartment is more difficult than hunting for a job since I am being judged solely on my personality. It makes sense—you want to live with someone who not only pays rent on time but who is also pleasant to be around. So instead of asking me questions related to my productivity and ability to excel, I’m being asked if I like pets or if I’m 420 friendly.

But finding an apartment in a new city, especially a city like NYC requires more than just a nice personality. While searching for a place I realized that there are many things that I never really thought about including total living expenses for the first month of relocating, what I can and cannot deal with in a roommate, and what kinds of facilities I need access to on a regular basis. Therefore, to make the best out of your apartment search the key is to plan ahead. I’ve broken down the search into six tips and some important websites you should keep in mind when look for an apartment in New York City.

1. Be prepared: You increase your chances of having a smooth transition if you prepare yourself financially.

  • Have a job. Having a job before you move has the following benefits: 1. You can set a more realistic budget for yourself (check out paycheckcity.com. Select the state and city then input your gross pay and exemptions. It can deduct taxes and show your take home pay). 2. You have a better sense of what neighborhoods to look at. 3. You have income to count on. 4. Many landlords want proof of income (or a guarantor stating they will pay for you if you are a student).

  • Have money saved up. People usually save up for the move in—I recommend saving for the first month of living in the apartment so you don’t have to stress while waiting for your next paycheck. Most apartments will want at least first month and security. A decent room may run you about $700 so I would save at least $1800 for the move in, utilities (if not included) and food. If you need furnishings add another $500 to that.

  • Give yourself some time. Especially if you are coming from afar—at least a month. People want to be able to see you and get in touch with you if they have any questions or some new information arises. Additionally, places tend to go quickly so I would recommend allocating at least a week to solely spending time in the city looking for a place.
2. Think of your budget for renting—then add 25% more: Shit happens. While most problems will be covered by a landlord, having an AC in the summer, appliances breaking down, suddenly ruined furniture, and a host of other problems will be your responsibility. It’s good to have about 25% of what you plan to spend on rent and utilities set aside for sudden events. And in general, things always cost more than we expect.

3. Know where to look: With so many people wanting to call New York their home there are a variety of resources available to assist people in the move mainly in the form of affordable housing options. Below is a list of websites, compiled by Citi-Habitats that can help you in every step of the way as you try to make NYC your home:
  • The Actors Fund (www.actorsfund.org)
    The Actors Fund works in many ways to help its constituents find affordable housing. Check out the I-lousing Resource Center and the Housing Bulletin Board (with new listings added every couple of weeks) to learn more about the fund's residences and housing seminars.
  • Citi Habitats (www.citi-habitats.com)
    Citi Habitats is just one of many reputable licensed real estate brokers in New York, but it's one of the largest, with more than 900 employees, offices throughout Manhattan, and housing in every price range. But brokers in outer-borough neighborhoods are easy to find online; just type in the neighborhood of your choice and "apartment broker."
  • Common Ground (www.commonground.org)
    Common Ground's mission is "to end homelessness through innovativeprograms that transform people, buildings, and entire communities," but the organization also assists working people with lower incomes. Visit the site to learn more about its affordable housing options.
  • Manhattan Plaza Tenants Association (www.mptenants.com)
    Manhattan Plaza doesn't have a website of its own, but on the site of the Manhattan Plaza Tenants Association, which serves current residents, you'll find information about the residence and its waiting list.
  • NYC Affordable Housing Resource Center (www.nyc.gov/housING)
    The city's official site offers information on all aspects of housing, including renting an apartment, buying a home, and maintenance issues. Be sure to check the site regularly for a list of the city's affordable-housing lotteries.
  • Craigslist (newyork.craigslist.org)
    This massive free market of online classified ads has become a topresource for finding apartments, sublets, roommates, and everything else under the sun.
  • New York City Housing Development Corporation (www.nychdc.com)
    The FIDC finances the development and preservation of affordable housing in New York. Click on "Apartment Seekers" for a list of buildings with available apartments, future developments, income requirements, and other info.
4. Word of mouth is much better: While the resources above are certainly helpful, being referred to someone who is looking for a roommate or renter by a mutual friend gives you an instant leg up. Tap into alumni networks to see if they know of any opportunities. Post that you are looking for an apartment on twitter, your blog, facebook, myspace—any place that people read so that friends know you are looking and can keep you in mind if they hear of anything. If you have landed a job, ask them to put you in touch with people who are also looking or who have openings. The more people who know that you are searching the better.

If you don’t know many people, go to the actual neighborhood where you are considering moving and check out libraries and community centers for postings. And don’t be afraid to ask the doormen/receptionists at apartments if they know of openings in the building or in the neighborhood.

5. Be real: This is not the time to pretend as if you can deal with cats when you are allergic, or that you are a social butterfly when you are really a cave dweller. Nor is it the time to pursue apartments/rooms that are so far out of your budget you leave yourself open to financial disaster. Your home is your sanctuary and should be a place where you feel free to truly be yourself and be at ease—in both an emotional and financial sense. Below are some great questions from So You Wanna… that you should ask yourself AND your potential roommate:

  • Have you ever had a roommate before? What if anything bothered you about your past roommates?
  • Do you have a boyfriend/girlfriend or other friend who will be staying here frequently?
  • Are you promiscuous? (Do not be afraid to ask this one. You probably don't want strange people sleeping over a lot.)
  • Do you smoke? Drink? Do drugs? If yes to any, how often?
  • Do you stay out late on weekdays?
  • Did/do you have any credit problems?
  • Do you have any pets?
  • What is your occupation?
  • What do you like to watch on television? What music do you listen to?
6. Get over Manhattan: People tend to come to NYC with the expectation that their lives will be like something from Sex in the City or Friends. Get your mind away from the cosmos and cafes and remember that NYC has FIVE BOROUGHS—Brooklyn, Manhattan, Queens, Staten Island, and the Bronx. Further, there is so much more that goes into finding an apartment including access to supermarkets and laundromats, length of lease, cost of utilities and more. When choosing an apartment ask the following questions, again from So You Wanna…:
  • How long is the lease?
  • Do you have the option to renew?
  • How large of a deposit will you be required to leave as security?
  • Are utilities included in your rent? Which ones (gas, electric, water, cable, etc.)?
  • Are you allowed to keep pets in the apartment?
  • Are you allowed to sublet if you go away?
  • What sort of security does the building have?
  • Does the building have laundry facilities?
  • Does the building have a super or some sort of arrangement for repairs?
  • Does anyone else have keys to the apartment?
  • Do you need special permission to make superficial changes, i.e. painting or hanging picture?
Side: How do I establish a budget for relocating to New York?

Most people recommend that you set aside 1/4 to 1/3 of your monthly pay to housing costs. This is certainly one part of the budgeting equation, but I also realize that to get a better grasp on how much I can spend on housing I need to look at my total cost of living. I use the budgeting tips from All Your Worth, a personal finance book. In a nutshell, your budget should look as follows:
  • 50% of monthly pay goes to MUST HAVES: rent, utilities, healthcare, food, student loans, and other obligatory payments. These are the basics you need for survival and couldnt go very long without.
  • 20% goes to SAVINGS: directly to your savings account or making extra payments on debts (since doing the latter will save you money in the long term).
  • 30% goes to WANTS: entertainment, shopping, food, lattes, and all the other fun stuff you like.

Granted this kind of budget isnt easy and I am grossly oversimplifying here, but I think it is a great start for creating and maintaining healthy finances. Destination Money Balance has more information on this type of budgeting and The Single Edition (an online magazine for Singles) has money saving tips for lean living.

Side: What if I want to move right now but don’t have much time or money?

Hit up networks you already have and ask to crash while you look for a place. If you can’t find a friend, sign up on CouchSurfing or look for short term places to stay (i.e. sublets) on craigslist. The nice thing about sublets is that they require little upfront money and allow you to search for permanent employment and housing.

To jump start this blog, I want to begin with some key points that I think every person should know when moving NYC.

I must admit that making this list was difficult. Even though I grew up in NYC, I left the city for 5 years to study and work in Philadelphia. As a result I occupy an outsider-insider relationship with NYC: I love it and am comfortable yet still feel like I don’t have a grasp on everything in the city and am still learning. In any case here are some things that I have learned over time since leaving and I think people will find useful. At some point each of these points will be elaborated on to give additional details.

Health in NYC:
1. You will get sick. And dirty. I came across this great quote: “NYC is the only city that when it rains it makes its own gravy.” That’s how dirty the city is. Be prepared to have the sniffles when you first move here because of the dirt and smog in the air, to buy a humidifier, and to have any light colored clothes turn yellow.

2. If it is not an emergency, you will find yourself waiting forever or not being helped at all. So learn to deal with pain or get yourself some amazing health insurance so you can see a doctor when necessary.

Communication/Awareness in NYC:
1. NYC = 5 BOROUGHS! Brooklyn, Manhattan, Queens, The Bronx, and Staten Island. No, Long Island doesn’t count, neither does Yonkers. And don’t even think about suggesting Jersey…

2. Learn the lingo: Bodega (corner store); “Can I Get A…” (instead of “May I Please Have A…); “A Slice” (instead of plain pizza slice), “Hero” (instead of hoagie or sub).

3. Don’t confuse being firm with being mean. This will take a while to get used to. Just because people are straight to the point doesn’t make them mean—they simply want to get their point across with as little confusion as possible. So grow a thick skin and be prepared hold your ground. It’ll make you stronger in the end.

4. Don’t let the celebrations of diversity blind you to reality. The biggest selling point about NYC is that it is so diverse. Let me tell you something, my neighborhood was all black. Next door all Jewish. A few blocks up, all hispanic. We didn’t hang out and we didn’t play nice. It was an antagonizing experience. And that’s just on a personal level. Sean Bell and Amadu Diallo show racism on an institutional level. And in case you missed it, a black high ranking off duty police officer was stopped by white cops.That should tell you something.

Transportation in NYC:

2. Know the driving directions to where you need to go BEFORE you get in a cab. If you let the cabbie decide, you will get screwed.

3. Subway lines are recognized by their NUMBERS/LETTERS not colors. If you say you want the green line you will have 4 options: 4, 5, 6, and G.

4. Train exits are labeled SW-NW-SE-NE so you can find your way around. If you need to go to a building located on the “Northeast side of 34th street” there you have it.

5. While NYC may have the largest public transportation system in the world there are frequent delays, it is often filthy, hot, slow, and full of crying babies. Subways are horrible on the weekends, so learn the bus routes and be prepared to walk a lot.

Working in NYC:
1. Bring your A-Game. Don’t come here if you’re looking for an easy escape. Anyone who is anyone moves to NYC with the hope of making it big. Therefore competition for even the smallest things is fierce. However, there are many organizations available for young professionals to help you make a name for yourself in the city. The Young Non-Profit Professionals Network (free) and Young Professionals in New York City ($50) provide networking and professional development opportunities. Check to see if your college has an alumni chapter in the city and participate in their events. With schools like Columbia and NYU nearby, take advantage of conferences and continuing education programs.

2. Volunteering is good for the soul and the resume. Looking through some of the volunteer opportunities available, many of them read like jobs. Additionally, many non-profits have young professionals groups where you can network, learn, and give back to the community. While this may be daunting, it is also exciting since you can contribute to the greater good of the city while learning some skills. So if you are just starting at an entry-level position, buttress that job with some volunteering.

3. Look good. Not everything looks good on everybody but take pride in your appearance. People will notice if you don’t.

Food/Entertainment in NYC:
1. The carts that sell fruits and veggies are great. Don’t be afraid of them. Same for the guys that sell bacon and eggs on the corner.

2. Only tourists go to the Statue of Liberty, Empire State Building, and the Circle Line. Well, tourists and elementary schools for field trips.

3. However, go to museums and galleries whenever you can. The difference between museums and the points of interests mentioned above is that museums and galleries can change their focus and bring you things about the city (and country) that you may never find any place else. You go to the Statue of Liberty once, you’re pretty much done. But at a museum, one week you can be learning about African-Americans in government and the next week about pop music. It’s quite wonderful.

Living/Buying in NYC:
1. Get a library card. The libraries in New York, especially the New York Public Library and the Brooklyn Public Library have massive amounts of books, videos, and periodicals—not to mention the research libraries such as the Schomburg which focus on specific groups and events and the technological upgrades taking place across the city at all of the libraries. You learn so much about the city as well as increase your access to a wealth of materials by getting a library card.

2. Cheap purchases are available if you look. Century 21, Loehmann’s, Strand Bookstore, The Greenmarket at Union Square, and Canal Street (on the 6 line) have an abundance of cheap quality items (although with the last two, be prepared to haggle). However, be prepared to become more materialistic. I have never in my life seen so many COACH or Louis Vuitton, and other name brand bags in my life (however, most of them are knock offs from Canal Street).

3. Find your favorite spots. There is so much emphasis on trying everything all the time. However, I have my places that I go to and am quite comfortable with that. The best fried chicken wings and pizza are at this pizza place and Chinese restaurant near my grandmom’s house in Bed-Stuy where I grew up. I love shopping in Union Square. The Promenade is where I like to take walks and relax. I love the Schomburg. I go to United Artists in Brooklyn Heights. Finding places that are comfortable and relatively cheap make your time in NYC much more rewarding.

4. You’ll appreciate your friends and family much much more. It can get lonely in this city and the competition to be the best can get overwhelming. That’s when you find yourself wanting the love and comfort of friends. So make sure that in between work and stress you develop those relationships…they will get you through hell.