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Friday, July 14, 2006

The adult dorm


Karen Falcon, left, is a kind of house mother
who matches up roommates like Kelly Frances
Cook in a dorm in Harlem for young professionals.



Out of College, but Now Living in Urban Dorms
Jennifer Altman for The New York Times



By JANNY SCOTT
Published: July 13, 2006

Kelly Frances Cook is an editorial assistant, Ivy League graduate, aspiring writer — the kind of new arrival who has long been important to the life of New York City. Young, educated and hailing from elsewhere, newcomers like Ms. Cook have historically stoked the city’s intellectual and creative fires. But, these days, how do they afford a place to live?

Ms. Cook, age 24 and from Ohio, at first could afford only a rented room in Dobbs Ferry, N.Y., for $650 a month. Then she embarked on the archetypal, hair-raising New York City apartment search: feckless would-be roommates, outlandish financial demands, an offer of a room in a building with a bullet-pocked lobby.

Then she saw an ad on Craigslist for space in a 60-unit building in Harlem described as full of young professionals. The price was right; the woman on the phone was friendly. Back in Ohio, Ms. Cook’s mother had begun to think like a New Yorker: “Yeah, right, Kelly. She’s probably some mass murderer. I don’t trust her. She’s too nice.”

This month, Ms. Cook is moving in. The woman on the phone, Karen Falcon (not a mass murderer), calls the building “a dorm for adults.” It is a community of the overeducated and underpaid.

There is nothing new about having roommates in New York City. What Ms. Falcon has invented is a full-service dorm, full of strangers she has brought together to share big apartments as a way to keep housing costs down. Her approach is a homegrown response to the soaring rents bedeviling desirable cities like New York, San Francisco and Los Angeles.

Ms. Falcon, an informal agent for the building’s owner, says she has placed nearly 150 young people there and in two other buildings in the neighborhood in recent years. A gregarious Californian with rainbow-colored braids, she pieces together roommate groups like puzzles. Each tenant ends up paying $700 to $1,200 a month.

Ms. Falcon says she screens for a combination of good credit ratings and “sweetness,” looking for people who are respectful, considerate and easygoing (and perhaps have a co-signer).

She mixes genders; all-female groups bring too much high drama, all-male groups make too much of a mess. She has matched Ph.D.’s with Ph.D.’s. If the combination is a disaster, she will arrange for a swap. Anyone can leave before the lease is up as long as Ms. Falcon can find a replacement.

She says the tenants she has placed in the three buildings have included chefs, actors, writers, people in publishing, a woman in public relations, a production manager, an accountant, a paralegal, a program officer for a foundation. There have also been plenty of graduate students and students from abroad.

“Our neighborhood is one of the last neighborhoods left in New York where you have these big old Beaux-Arts buildings, built for wealthy families,” Ms. Falcon said, referring to the stretch of Harlem from 145th to 155th Streets near the Hudson River. She said groups of adults, each contributing, pay rents that families cannot or choose not to pay.


The upside is that they are not forced to live by themselves at the ends of the city. But I always wonder about groups of people new to the city living together. They don't learn the tricks of the city as quickly as they could. But it's a lot cheaper than trying to live in some hovel, emotionally and financially.

posted by Steve @ 12:08:00 AM

12:08:00 AM

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