Goodbye, Spencer Street House
Every so often in a person's life, the Universe redirects ones path in a way that cannot be foreseen or even remotely expected. But out of this context patterns emerge, and new opportunties arise that seemingly always existed of which we were unaware, until thrust out of the familiarity of normal everyday circumstances. Such has been my experience recently.
For the past few years, I have been trying to find ways to make my living situation more affordable and more creatively stimulating. In December of 2010, a friend and I signed a lease on a duplex apartment in Bedstuy/Clinton Hill, which we remodeled and subleased to artists and creative types. The idea was that we would be able to live cheaply by renting out the spare rooms, while also giving creative people an affordable place to live and a community environment to work and collaborate. Unfortunately, this vision was never fully realized. It would take too long to list the reasons here, but most importantly the fact that the building was in violation of numerous codes and the landlord refused to address any of our complaints. In the end, we decided to negotiate out of our 2 year lease rather than get involved in a long and expensive court proceeding and risk being on the hook for the balance of the lease.
July, 1st 2011 was my 10 year anniversary in New York City. It was also the day I signed the agreement terminating my lease, which made me officially homeless. It was this strange confluence of events - the money lost on the investment and hours of work spent refurbishing the apartment, all the hassles of dealing with roommates and collecting rent, and dealing with a landlord who refused to invest any money into the property to make it more attractive to renters but rather let it deteriorate while extracting any money he could get out of it - that lead to my decision that I will not pay rent in New York City for 1 year.
I understand that on the surface this must sound completely insane, that nobody of sound mind would willingly choose homelessness especially in a large urban environment like New York City. But I arrived at this decision with much greater ease than many would imagine. For one thing, I had been seeking an opportunity that would release me from being tied down to a specific location and allow me freedom to travel for awhile. And the bourgeois lifestyle centered around a home where people live and accumulate material possessions has never held much interest or appeal to me. So getting rid of my belongings and freeing myself up to be more mobile was not very difficult.
But what really made up my mind was a disinclination to have to pay another landlord after what I had just experienced. New York City is a renting city. 70% of New Yorkers rent rather than own the place they live. We pay the highest rent prices anywhere. I remember paying $420 a month for a nice sized studio apartment in Pittsburgh, which would cost probably $1200 a month in NYC. You can't even rent a closet for $420. Even worse, the rent prices continue to go up even though only the top 2% are better of today than they were a year ago. The rent prices are such that it often accounts for 1/3 or up to half of a persons income. When you consider that many of these landlords are scumbag slumlords that don't even keep their buildings up to code (which often are never enforced), it is very hard to justify giving these people a large percentage of your income each month. It is easy to see why we are in the midst of a housing crisis. 100,000 New Yorkers are homeless each year, yet new luxury condos get built and go unsold or half filled with renters.
So circumstances guided me to my decision to not pay rent for 1 year. But there are deeper philosophical reasons for this as well. I believe that land ownership is the biggest issue facing the world today. The division between the Propertied and Tenant classes is a vestage of feudal and colonialist society. The economic order sustaining these class distinctions is in the process of collapsing. As a result, we will either experience extraordinary human suffering and social unrest, or we will move into a new cooperative and sustainable paradigm. Our survival will depend on how we adapt to the challenges of the disintigration of the false system of cash and competition once currency has been devalued to the point of having no practical use, and if we create value through communal living and shared resources. I am advocating for a return to the Archaic Mind, to our hunter-gatherer origins, and a return to the tribal family. This is a new lifestyle movement, the Urban Nomad lifestyle, and a new Share Trade economy. These concepts will be explored and developed.
In this blog, I will document how I am managing a rent free lifestyle, so that you can use some of the techniques if you choose. I will also be exploring various issues related to homelessness and the real estate industry, and interview experts on these topics.