College Is Expensive and the NY Times is ON IT

Big News

Yes, even the Gray Lady has seen fit to write about how soaring student loan debt makes it hard to get housing in New York City.

It would be easy to dismiss the whole exercise, especially because it refers to “real estate maturity” as a state of existence to which human beings should aspire, and because it reports both the breed and name of a frustrated apartment-seeker’s dog. However, for a piece of non-news reported by the New York Times, the article paints a refreshingly varied portrait of post-collegiate financial distress. After first introducing us to Tierney Cooke, the dog owner who finds living with roommates intolerable (“I couldn’t take it. They were all in college.”), the Times also presents the tales of a mother of a two-year-old and a marvelously disillusioned chemist.

There is truly nothing surprising in the fact that housing in one of the most expensive cities in the country is hard to get in the midst of long-term economic trends that send personal debt up and wages down. But the chemist, Joseph Trout, a former foster kid from Philly who made good, is a font of excellent financial advice for an era of scarcity.

Trout on housing costs:

He came to New York about a year ago as a graduate student on a full scholarship to study chemistry at New York University. His apartment, a shared two-bedroom in Stuyvesant Town, is partly subsidized by the university, but Mr. Trout isn’t impressed with the $1,100 a month in rent that comes out of his own pocket.

“The fact that people think it’s a good deal makes me think people here are brainwashed,” he said.

Trout on the cost of living:

He is troubled by the New York tax on a simple sub. “Knowing there are people on this planet who think their sandwiches are worth $10 apiece bothers me immensely.”

Trout on neighborhoods:

The impending payments and the pressure of shouldering rent and utilities alone has forced Mr. Trout to look far beyond the city limits. He has contemplated moving back to a rough area of Philadelphia; he says rents decline with the increased likelihood of being mugged.

“There’s utility in having jerk neighbors,” he said, “because it makes sure you have enough money in your own pocket when it comes time to pay the rent.”

Trout on priorities:

No stranger to struggle, Mr. Trout said that, if things get bad, he will invest in keeping himself afloat before trying to keep the collectors at bay.

“If I don’t get all the income, then my survival comes first, because what are they going to do, milk a rock? They can’t take money from me that I don’t have,” he said.

Somebody get this man a book contract.

Photo: Newsies selling at the Hudson Tunnel Station, Jersey City. National Archives.

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22 Comments / Post A Comment

Cat Named Louise (#1,943)

The article purported to be a response to the study that said that for the first time, student loan debt was _preventing_ people from buying houses, but then used these stories of people interacting with the rental market. (I assume the Times keeps a filing cabinet full of these sorts of stories and just pulls them out when needed?) The point that student loan debt used to not be a barrier to taking out a mortgage is fascinating & important. Bummer that this article didn’t get into it.

Slutface (#53)

I liked the guy they profiled in this article, but the girl pissed me off for reasons I’m having trouble figuring out. Maybe that she’s dragging a dog around to these tiny bedrooms? I don’t know, she just seems unwilling to move back home or to another city and I think either one of those would easily solve a lot of her problems.

@Slutface Yeah, I always wonder about how much the preferences of people are making New York inaccessible, and I have to confess that I have no idea. When I lived there as an adult (13 years ago, now), people always said how the city was so expensive and I chuckled, because I knew that they were wrong, or unwilling to live outside of Park Slope and Cobble Hill. These days, however, I get the impression that even Sunset Park and Bay Ridge and Bushwick are besieged by up-and-comers willing to spend absurd amounts of money on rent, so maybe the whole city is lost. But the lady in the article who’s living in a motel on Long Island is paying $100 a night for a motel. Can an apartment really not be had anywhere in New York for under $3100 a month?

garli (#4,150)

@Slutface I find her easy to dislike because I can relate to her struggle (living in a place that was very expensive in my 20′s) but not her decisions. I shared a 4 bedroom house with 5 other people and didn’t buy a dog (even though I wanted one) so that I could live where I wanted on a grad student salary. Also she has a designer mutt! When you’re young and broke you don’t get all the things you want right away.

DebtOrAlive (#5,233)

@Josh Michtom@facebook The hipsters have reached Broadway Junction, Josh. BROADWAY. MF’ing. JUNCTION. The end is nigh.

@Josh Michtom@facebook @DebtOrAlive The end is nigh!

Another problem is that pesky requirement many landlords have that your annual salary is at least 40x/rent. So even if you can find a $2,000 apartment, that means you’re supposed to earn $80,000 a year. Which is crazy. The dude from the article is right: we’ve all been fucking brainwashed. Or you need a guarantor, preferably one who lives in the metro area, and then the guarantor must earn 80x rent. So if you’re not making much or not from a wealthy family, you’re screwed. And there are enough people out there, it seems, that meet these requirements so it’s not like landlords need to take a chance on someone with worse financial credentials. Then you have to scounge up several thousand dollars for first month, security, and maybe even a fucking broker’s fee, so you’re talking at least $4,000, maybe more than $6,000 if you’re paying a fee, just to get the keys. Who has that much money in their bank account, when you’re paying off loans or working a non-profit?

All this is why, until very recently, I had roommates, because I never would have qualified to rent a humble studio apartment of my own. (I got extraordinary lucky and found a place without having to meet the above requirements. It happens, but it’s rare.)

Lily Rowan (#70)

@Josh Michtom@facebook Yeah, like @angry little raincloud says, it’s probably not the monthly rate, it’s the upfront cash and qualifications that are so hard for people (….she says, without having read the article.)

I might bellyache about not having parents who could lend me down payment money, but I know I’ve been super lucky to have parents who could lend me broker fee money.

Stupid New York. And I still think my $1100 crappy but big one-bedroom in Astoria was a steal!

thejacqueline (#799)

Oh no, I found Trout insufferable.

“Knowing there are people on this planet who think their sandwiches are worth $10 apiece bothers me immensely.”?

Give me a break. The people who are making the sandwiches have to pay rent as well.

therealjaygatsby (#4,053)

@thejacqueline Yeah, but what percentage of that $10 is actually going toward the wages of the people making the sandwiches? This is an actual question, because I don’t know. I’ve worked in many different types of retail, which is somewhat analogous, and someone somewhere was taking home the vast profit on the marked-up merchandise we sold. Not us workers, that’s for sure.

thejacqueline (#799)

@therealjaygatsby Profit margins for restaurants tend to be pretty slim.

Much of the article rubbed me the wrong way; that was just one example that I pulled out. I felt like they could have found better representatives than these three to highlight this issue.

@thejacqueline My takeway from the guy’s comments was not that the $10 sandwich is, itself, an absurd, status-based markup, but that many people who feel they must live in New York City because if what it represents, and who undertake significant financial hardship to do it, are chasing a foolish dream. In essence, “If New York means $10 sandwiches and sharing an apartment for $1100, New York is not worth it.”

thejacqueline (#799)

@Josh Michtom@facebook That’s fair, New York City is not for everyone, but as I said above, I felt like the NYT pulled particularly bad reps for this article.

1) Owing $1,000/mo and owning a dog. Unless it’s a therapy dog, maybe she should admit that she isn’t at a point in her life where she can be a responsible dog owner.

2)$100/night for a motel. Why? You can get absolutely get a 1bed in Manhattan for that price (even a 2 bed in less trendy areas like Yorkville) or a 2 bed in the outer village.

3) 19k in loans is a lot, but its not crippling the way other debt is — I have a similar amount and my repayments are $221/mo in a 10 year plan. Moreover, he can defer the entire time he’s in grad school, and most NYU PhD’s I knew lived way out in Bed-Stuy so they could live inexpensively on their meager stipends.

Yes, college debt is a HUGE problem and yes, NYC is too expensive, but these people really aren’t making great decisions. Then again, it’s the NYT

@thejacqueline Re point 2: the woman renting the hotel room notes she doesn’t qualify for those 1-bedroom apartments. So even if a $1600 studio over on 1st Ave is cheaper than what she’s doing, those apartments are going to people who have parents who can serve as guarantors.

I feel sad for the ex-PhD student: he seems like a good example of the challenges kids from non-academic/lower income backgrounds face. Considering what he accomplished to get into a PhD program, it’s heartbreaking he couldn’t get a little bit of help in figuring out loan deferments, how to live cheap in New York City, etc. (And, yes, maybe if he’s that smart he should be able to figure that out, but that’s where lack of cultural capital and support networks really show. The first year of a PhD is hard enough!)

But I have a lot less sympathy for the girl with the dog.

@thejacqueline : Oh, that’s interesting, because I read his comment as “(the purchasers of expensive sandwiches) think their sandwiches are worth $10 apiece,” which lines up with the rest of his commentary.

Per Mr. Trout, people believe that NYC’s benefits (including its sandwiches) are worth the premium price; he feels that this is not the case (says the piece, “(he) doesn’t know why he should subsist on noodles ‘just so I can live in an area with a few parks nearby’”).

thejacqueline (#799)

@angry little raincloud True, I completely forgot about the guarantor requirement which is complete and total bullshit

Marille (#5,933)

@angry little raincloud I was just appalled that his undergraduate university stuck him with loans like that. With that kind of class rank and demonstrated financial need, he shouldn’t have had debt over $10,000 tops. Additionally, it’s a shame that he feels like the program isn’t a good fit–it seems like he might be shooting himself in the foot over the long haul.

DebtOrAlive (#5,233)

But the line that really got to the heart of the matter (emphasis added):

“My upward mobility completely depended on getting that education,” he said. “Debt or no debt, I would do it again, because it was my only way out.

@DebtOrAlive That underlines the recent studies that say that college is still a worthwhile investment, but I think there’s another point lurking in all of that: the study, and Mr. Trout, says that college is a worthwhile investment *because it provides better outcomes than the alternative* (i.e., no college). But if college is the best option and the outcome it delivers is still untenable, what does that tell us about the options provided by the economy overall?

Josh Trout is basically the Millenial Holden Caulfield. :D

chic noir (#713)

@The Dauphine IIRC Holden was from a wealthy family ? Trout is a real bootstrap story or proof that even people who pull themselves up by their bootstraps still struggle.

DebtOrAlive (#5,233)

@chic noir But STEM was supposed to save us all! ALLLLL!

@chic noir He is like the voice of a generation? ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

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