Bonnie Blue Edwards had long fantasized about taking over her three-bedroom apartment in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, where she has spent 10 years living with roommates. But when both of her roommates moved out in March — one departure was planned, the other wasn’t — it was far from a dream scenario.
It was the height of the coronavirus pandemic, and Ms. Edwards, 31, had been furloughed from her job as a content producer for a creative agency for theaters and museums when the venues shut down. More people seemed to be fleeing the city than looking for room shares.
Anticipating the long days ahead that would be spent almost entirely in the apartment — and considering that one of her roommates had moved out following a disagreement about social distancing — Ms. Edwards didn’t want to just take the first person who showed up with a check.
“It’s more than just finding someone to pay the rent. It’s someone you’re going to be in isolation with,” she said.
Potential roommates also seemed hesitant to move in with a stranger. When she posted the larger of the two empty bedrooms on Listings Project in April, noting that the rent was flexible, she received no responses.
Given the circumstances, her landlord agreed to a generous discount, dropping the rent to $2,400 a month for as long as Ms. Edwards is living there alone. (The new rent is several hundred dollars less than the pre-virus total, but substantially more than Ms. Edwards was paying when she split the amount with roommates.)
“I’m lucky to have a nice landlord who’s been understanding, and some income coming in,” said Ms. Edwards, who is able to cover the rent with money from a part-time tech-support job, her stimulus check and savings. But the situation is not sustainable. If she doesn’t find full-time work or at least one roommate by the time her lease is up in August, she will likely have to move out.
Until then, she has decided to make the most of her situation, reorganizing the apartment, tackling home-improvement projects and taking advantage of having, however briefly, a three-bedroom apartment to herself.
“I’ve tried to think creatively and ignore the fact that I’m now covering the cost of the apartment,” she said. “It’s been interesting to reimagine this space I’ve shared with roommates for the last 10 years.”
$2,400 | Crown Heights, Brooklyn
Bonnie Blue Edwards, 31
Occupation: Filmmaker and content producer for a creative agency that works with theaters and museums
When she told her landlord her roommates had moved out: “He was understanding, for sure,” she said. “Whenever my lease is up for renewal, if he tries to raise the rent, I try to talk him down, and he negotiates. We have a happy rapport.”
Low-cost improvements: Besides repainting the apartment, Ms. Edwards has been ordering inexpensive frames from Etsy to display items she had previously propped up or taped to the wall.
If her finances improve: She would also like to replace some furniture, a hodgepodge of items her mother drove up from Alabama in a U-Haul, odds and ends left behind by previous tenants and thrift-store finds.
The first change she made was turning the smallest bedroom at the back of the apartment, where a friend had been staying short-term after a breakup, into a space to sort and store P.P.E., which she has been delivering as a volunteer for a neighborhood group. With requests starting to ebb, she is now reconfiguring it as a guest room, as she anticipates friends might need a place to stay in the near future.
Then she moved into the other back bedroom, which has a window that opens onto the roof. She has always had the bedroom at the front of the apartment, and because the only roof access is through the back bedrooms, it’s the first time she has been able to use the outdoor space regularly.
“As soon as I found out this was happening, I ordered beach chairs,” she said. In the mornings, she drinks her coffee there, and her dog, Hope, watches the squirrels on the roof. The room overlooks the backyard of a popular bar, but it’s quiet now, like the coffee shop downstairs, which usually generates a pleasant hum that can be heard in the apartment throughout the day.
Finally, Ms. Edwards has turned her old bedroom into a living room. The previous living room was a glorified alcove off the front door, with barely enough space for a love seat, bookcase and TV. She always wished the apartment had a proper living room. Now, it does.
She likes the setup so much that if she is able to return to her job this summer, she plans to keep the two-bedroom configuration.
Rearranging the space, however, did call attention to how rundown and shabby some things were. Moving wall hangings and furniture revealed faded paint and once-white windowsills that were now gray. When she asked the super for paint to spruce up the apartment, he sent an assistant who replastered and painted the walls while she tackled the trim and windowsills.
“Part of me laughs at the fact I’m doing this, because it is so unclear whether I will renew,” Ms. Edwards said. “But I do so almost in thanks to the apartment for being my home.”
It was her first place in the city. She had been looking for several months when she spotted it on Craigslist. By then, she had started to despair that she would ever find a good apartment with a good landlord.
“I’d see a place I liked, and then the management company would have terrible reviews, or the landlord would be arguing with tenants in the hall,” Ms. Edwards said.
This landlord was recommended by another tenant, but when she emailed he informed her she would have to wait until the open house a few weeks later. “I was looking at the pictures every day,” she said. “I had a crush on this apartment.”
When the day of the open house arrived, Ms. Edwards arrived first, with all her paperwork, stepped inside, looked in either direction and told the super she wanted it.
She liked that “the layout was friendly and open,” she said, and that the last tenant had painted some of the walls robin’s-egg blue. She was also pleased that it was in an older, three-unit building on a street of shops and restaurants.
Recently, painting late at night, a realization dawned on her: “This apartment is the longest I’ve lived anywhere in my whole, entire life.”
Happy as she has been, she has thought about leaving — moving upstate, perhaps, or getting a studio apartment rather than hoping to one day earn enough to live alone there. Still, she’d like to stay.
“Worst-case scenario, if I’m still out of a job by the time my lease is up, I might have to go home to Alabama,” she said. “But if this is my last hurrah, it’s a beautiful last hurrah.”