Doubling Up to Pay the Rent

A Bed-Stuy couple’s crowded house

By Julia Alsop and Jake Naughton

Yureca Martinez rents out space in every room of her four-room Bedford-Stuyvesant railroad apartment except for the bathroom and kitchen.

She needs the tenants to offset her rising rent – it leaps to $1,800 next month, a 50 percent increase from her first lease in 2005.

She has put up aluminum bunk beds in a room not much bigger than a walk-in closet and has strung up curtains to divide her narrow living room into two living spaces. Right now, Martinez, 40, and her husband share the apartment with three boarders, and she hopes to add two more next month.

Angel Vera, an organizer with advocacy group Make the Road, New York said Martinez’s situation is not unique, especially for low-income families of color.

“A couple with one, two, three and sometimes more kids will move into one room because people can’t afford to pay for their apartment or studios are not available any more. The only option is to just rent a room,” Vera said.

A 2012 report by NYU’s Furman Center found 4 percent of New Yorkers live in severely overcrowded conditions, a term it defines as more than 1.5 people occupying a single room. The same report found that more than half of New Yorkers are rent-burdened, meaning they spend over 30 percent of their income on rent. Vera believes the numbers are only going up as gentrification spreads.

Vera sees doubling-up most often in neighborhoods such as Ridgewood, Coronoa, Jackson Heights and Bushwick, where an influx of newcomers has flooded the rental market, allowing landlords of raise rents at exponential rates.

“Gentrification is fast. It’s aggressive. In Bushwick it’s happening too fast. The low-income Latinos and people of color are being displaced by real-estate developers,” Vera said.

The rise in demand for rental housing has been met with a rise in landlord harassment of rent-stabilized tenants. The most common way to get rid of tenants who don’t pay market rents is buy-outs.

Last year, Martinez’s landlord offered her $50,000 to move out of her four-room fourth-floor walk-up.

Her former neighbors took the landlord’s money and moved to other boroughs or left New York, but Martinez refuses to leave. Her husband works in a nearby pizza place and she cleans houses in the area.

“Yeah, there’s buildings everywhere. But work, that’s hard to find,” Martinez said.
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Population Density (per acre) in NYC