Escape From the L Train
Featuring Maggie Chong
Roxanne and Jaime Lopez met at work in Washington, D.C., and later lived in a rowhouse that Roxanne — who goes by Rocky and whose maiden name was Heilizer — bought in 2014.
Shortly before their wedding two years ago, both relocated to New York for work. Jaime, who is from Los Angeles, is now the creative director of a cancer technology company, while Rocky, who is from the D.C. area, runs a marketing team at a health technology company.
The couple rented the house in Washington and landed in a converted church in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, where they paid $4,350 a month for a lofty one-bedroom with two bathrooms and an office.
They enjoyed the neighborhood, but their home was always noisy. “There were a lot of Burning Man-ers in the building,” Jaime said. Music throbbed all night. “We had email chains with other neighbors trying to band together to stop it. It made our quality of life challenging.”
They also relied on the L train for commuting to Manhattan and were increasingly nervous about the doomsday predictions for the line’s shutdown (which is now in question). They worried about overcrowded trains and platforms on the JMZ line, which was less convenient for them.
So the women, both in their 30s, went on the hunt for a dog-friendly two-bedroom with an easy commute, where they could settle in for the long haul and entertain visiting friends.
“I feel bad sticking them in the living room,” Rocky said of their guests in Williamsburg. And she preferred a doorman building: “It was a reaction to the previous apartment where the front door never locked, so the security of the building was pretty low.”
In Lower Manhattan, for their budget of around $4,500 a month, they found one-bedrooms lacking sunlight and closet space.
But they were enthralled by the pool at the new and amenity-packed EVGB on East 14th Street, near Avenue A. “This is a level of nice apartment that I have never had in my life,” Jaime said. “I grew up in a shack.”
Alas, two-bedrooms there were in the $6,000s and $7,000s, and they thought the location could be noisy and busy.
Then Maggie Chong, a friend who is a licensed sales agent at the Corcoran Group, suggested they explore Downtown Brooklyn, with its many subway lines and new developments.
The couple was reluctant to even look. It was “more of a transactional neighborhood than a residential one,” Rocky said. “There were services like rental cars.”
But at the very least, she decided, “it will help us validate other neighborhoods.”
Ms. Chong lined up a day’s itinerary. At the Offerman House Lofts, converted from a century-old store just off the Fulton Street mall, the interiors seemed dark. “I learned that light is super important to me,” Jaime said.
Also, the layouts were odd, with space devoted to long hallways rather than rooms. “Every time you have a conversion, there is a risk of choppy floor plans,” Ms. Chong said.
And by now, with the tantalizing possibility of a pool, pool-free buildings had less appeal.
They headed to 363 Bond Street, with its gym, common rooms and rooftop pool, on the Gowanus Canal, a federal Superfund site. The Lopezes, unfamiliar with the Gowanus neighborhood, had envisioned the “landscaped canal-side esplanade” mentioned on the building’s website, but found more of an industrial zone.
They headed back to Downtown Brooklyn, where the central location, postcard views and amenities on offer quickly won them over. “Halfway through the day,” Jaime said, “I was, like, ‘This is incredible.’”
Their budget grew with their enthusiasm, to more than $5,000.
So they were excited when they reached their last stop, the towering new rental building Hub, steps from Flatbush Avenue. They toured several similar apartments. “Maggie was charting which apartment was which, because we were getting lost in this matrix of floor plans,” Jaime said.
They were taken with the sprawling views and high ceilings. The building offered not just a pool but a dog park for their two French bulldogs, Olive and Otto. “I didn’t know that was an option,” Rocky said.
Even Ms. Chong, in need of more space than her Manhattan studio offered, was ready to move to a one-bedroom there. “So it’s a real estate agent who is picking this place,” Jaime said. “It was an ‘I’ll have what she’s having’ kind of thing.”
The Lopezes rented a two-bedroom, two-bathroom unit on a high floor, with high ceilings, a washer-dryer and Manhattan views through floor-to-ceiling windows. They arrived in the summer, paying just under $5,900 a month, with one month free on a 13-month lease and an amenity fee of $75 a month per person. The building paid the broker’s fee.
“The little things that were nice to have became possible all in one apartment,” Rocky said. “None of these things are deal-breakers — like, who would not move into an apartment because it doesn’t have a walk-in closet? But this had a walk-in closet.”
Now, with the windows open, they hear sirens and traffic, but there are no neighbors partying all night. “The peacefulness was deeply appealing to me,” Jaime said.
They pay their rent and make repair requests online, a far cry from “texting the super and he would maybe respond,” Rocky said. “It is nice having a lot of infrastructure.
They use the dog park every day, and during the summer they invited friends to swim. Of course, not everything is perfect: The elevators are too often out of service, leading to overcrowding and long waits. And with the dogs, they go up and down a lot, “so waiting 10 minutes for an elevator seems a super long time when you have somewhere to be,” Rocky said.
As for Downtown Brooklyn, they have learned that it serves more than just their car-rental needs. The neighborhood makes it easier to explore the rest of the city, both on foot and by subway. In Williamsburg, they felt marooned on weekends, with few good transit options beyond the finicky L train.
Now they no longer worry about the L, regardless of its future. “I am glad to be away from the uncertainty of it,” Jaime said.
Copyright © 2018 The New York Times Company. Reprinted with Permission. Stefano Ukmar/The New York Times.