One night recently, a group of architecture students staying up late in a loft in Brooklyn took to amusing themselves by stuffing a mattress into a hole cut into the wall above a bedroom door. Then they tried the mattress out for comfort. Not half bad! It occurred to one of them, Nick Freeman, that people might pay money to call that elevated mattress home.
So Freeman posted an ad on the Web site Craigslist: "US$35 -- elevated mattress-sized space between rooms."
He used a minimalist pitch. "Opening between hall and room available for long/short-term use, accessible by ladder, sheets and pillows not provided." The ad went up around noon and by the end of that day, Freeman had a dozen potential takers.
PHOTO: NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE
"I was actually surprised with the amount of places that fall into that category -- kind of like, `I'll rent a corner,"' said Drew Hart, who answered the ad. "I went to look at a place recently in Queens; I wasn't aware until I got there that it was a cloth shower curtain separating part of the living room."
Into the six-ring circus that is the housing market in New York City -- where a house can sell for US$40 million, an apartment can rent for US$25,000 a month and extended families sleep in shifts in single rooms -- came the airborne mattress, at least briefly.
As real estate prices remain stratospheric and people keep pouring into the city, some housing experts believe the market for space within other people's space is on the rise.
On Craigslist alone, one can find hundreds of ads for rooms within apartments, beds within bedrooms, even the occasional couch -- if not living quarters, then living eighths. Some are available from Monday evenings through Friday mornings, some only on weekends. Some exclude kitchen privileges, request teetotalers, insist upon plant care, limit sleepovers.
"You're in the subterranean world in this particular issue," said Frank Braconi, executive director of the Citizens Housing and Planning Council, a policy research group in Manhattan. "So little of it is aboveboard and legal and monitored, nobody's counting anything. You're inevitably going to be in the realm of anecdote rather than data." He added, "Anecdotally, it's overwhelmingly the case that it is going on more and more."
Caroline Adalian, a 33-year-old "child life specialist" in a Queens hospital who figures she has lived in 10 different places since college, recalls being required in one New York apartment to say she was a friend of the family and never mention rent. Another woman was told to say she was the cleaning lady.
The mattress episode began sometime before dawn on Jan. 16. John Ivanoff, a 22-year-old architecture student at the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, who shares the apartment on Taaffe Place with five others -- the person with the only room with a real window pays an extra US$50 in rent -- said he and his roommates and Freeman, a friend, had stayed up drinking and suddenly decided to stuff a spare mattress into the rectangular hole cut into the wall above one bedroom door.
"There were three of us up there at one time," Freeman recalled. "All three of us hung out there. After the night was done, I said it would be funny if I put this on a room-share thing on Craigslist and see if anyone responds."
One who did was Adam Kriney, a 29-year-old experimental jazz drummer "looking for living spaces for under US$200, if possible," as he put it later. He had given up his share in an apartment in Williamsburg and had been staying on various couches of friends.
"Look, I'm looking to live in a crawl space," said Kriney, who said he spent his money on rehearsal space. "What do I really need besides my laptop, a sleeping bag and a suitcase?"
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