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Thursday, May 23, 2024

The Fever Dream of Landing an Apartment

BusinessThe Fever Dream of Landing an Apartment


Felicia Russo says her friends tell her she seems calm. But she says she’s freaking out on the inside: Her housing search is keeping her up at night.

Also part of the problem: Lately, she finds herself sleeping in a toddler bed.

For six years, Ms. Russo, 40, lived on the first floor of a cape-style house in Queens around New Hyde Park, Long Island, where she grew up. She was paying $1,400 a month for the space, but she’s been without housing to call her own ever since her lease there expired in mid-March.

For a couple weeks, she stayed in the basement of a friend’s place nearby. Now, she’s at her parents’ house, rent free, sleeping in a room with her spunky 5-year-old son, MJ Korol. She set up a toddler bed for him and an air mattress for herself, but he prefers the mattress, so they’ll switch.

With three of her sisters and one of their boyfriends also living in the house, Ms. Russo said, space is tight.

She did not want it to be this way, but her search for a studio or one-bedroom apartment within her budget — up to $1,600 — has not been fruitful.

“I really just did not have any idea of how hard it was going to be to find a place. Everything is so expensive, like, rooms for rent for $1,200 — just rooms in somebody’s house,” said Ms. Russo, who works in operations at N.Y.U. Langone. “There’s just nothing. It’s crazy.”

Ms. Russo enlisted friends and co-workers to help her hunt.

“I’ve been asking everyone I know,” she said. “At night, I’ll just be looking through my text messages or my contacts and be like, ‘Oh, I haven’t asked this person yet.’”

She signed up for a Facebook account, posted an ad seeking housing on Craigslist and perused a website that aims to connect single parents looking for housing. She stays up late, scouring listings online.

Many messages she sent remain unanswered. Some people who did respond wouldn’t accommodate her dog, a 9-year-old beagle mix named Rebar. Others refused to rent to a person with a child.

“No kids, no dogs? I’m just gonna get rid of everybody,” Ms. Russo said with a rueful laugh. “My God, man, I can’t have nothing.”

She’s seen lots of likely scams, with people requesting application fees as high as $150, even though the fees are capped at $20 under state law.


$0 | New Hyde Park, LONG ISLAND

Occupation: Administrative lead operations at Perlmutter Cancer Center at N.Y.U. Langone.

On cooking: Ms. Russo found a $1,200 listing for what she thought was a studio apartment with a private entrance in Levittown, on Long Island. But then she discovered there was no kitchen. “I have an air fryer, but I need a kitchen,” she said. She and MJ like to make muffins and eggs. He has a step stool especially built to reach the counters so he can help peel and chop vegetables.

One last hurrah: MJ’s birthday was in February, and Ms. Russo threw him two parties in their old house in New Hyde Park over the course of a weekend: one with his friends from school and another with family members. The theme, at MJ’s request, was “Skibidi Toilet,” a web series on YouTube that involves human heads coming out of toilets. Ms. Russo procured stickers, decorations and cupcake toppers with characters from the series, and placed snacks in ceramic containers shaped like toilet bowls.


Ms. Russo has looked for places on Long Island and in White Plains and New Jersey, but she would prefer to stay within the city limits, ideally in or close to New Hyde Park.

“I like the city schools,” she said.

MJ was in the city’s 3-K program and is now in the universal pre-K program. Ms. Russo would like to enroll him in the city’s free summer camp next year, when he’s eligible as a kindergartner. Plus, her parents provide child care, picking MJ up from school and taking him to their house each day.

For a time, Ms. Russo was looking into purchasing a recreational vehicle or a travel trailer. She visited a dealership and was struck by the quality of what she saw.

“These trailers are beautiful — the kitchens and the storage and the bathroom,” she said. “I was like, oh, my God, these are nicer than some of the apartments I see or rooms for rent.”

But she reconsidered when she learned about the associated logistics: accessing potable water, moving the vehicle on a regular basis, dumping waste and figuring out electricity.

“It seems like a good idea, but I think in the long run it’s going to be just as expensive as an apartment with twice the work,” she said. “That’s not my lifestyle.”

In the meantime, she’s continuing to push ahead, as demoralizing as the process can be.

On the way to see a promising listing in Calverton, Long Island, recently, she realized it was for a 55-and-older community. She’d missed that detail in her haste to lock it down. She pulled the car over and began to cry.

From the back seat, MJ tried to comfort her.

“He’s like, ‘Mom, count to 10. Take 10 deep breaths, OK?’ And he counts for me, and he’s like, ‘OK, you’re crying? It’s OK. It’s gonna be OK,’” Ms. Russo said. “I’m like, ‘I hope so, Bubs. I’m trying to make it OK.’”




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