In the Fall of 2012, Alex Clark was living in Manhattan’s East Village when Hurricane Sandy hit. With a cool apartment that was a little too close to the ground, floodwaters rushed in and he lost everything. “The water was up to my neck,” he says. A minimalist at heart, Alex would eventually use the opportunity to reinvent his life and try something new: living in a vehicle.
Of course, the path from apartment to a rent-free vehicle wasn’t that straightforward.
He had gotten insurance money for his damaged belongings, but the owners of his building had lost quite a bit from the storm as well. Paying lower rent as the building’s de facto handyman, the owners now needed to charge market rate, which was over $4000 per month. As a fellow business owner, Alex understood their situation, but he also realized “there was no way I could justify paying four thousand dollars for a one-bedroom apartment.”
When asked if his locale on the lower East Side was particularly expensive, he said “it used to be the punk rock, trendy neighborhood, and there’s still part of that, but you’ve got a lot of people moving in.”
“There’s a definite half-life or shelf-life for having a cool neighborhood and having it affordable because people come in, the money comes in and shops open. I’m probably part of the problem, I opened a café and wine bar and frankly that was six years ago … it wasn’t the best neighborhood but it’s changed a lot and so I was effectively priced out.”
Alex didn’t renew his lease, spending a month visiting his girlfriend who’s in school on the West coast. He had arranged to return and sub-lease a friend’s lower-rent apartment, but the deal fell through the day before he came back. He says “all of a sudden I ended up in New York, totally homeless.”
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