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Living in ... Alphabet City

Living in ... Alphabet City

CreditDavid Dee Delgado for The New York Times
In Alphabet City, a stylishly scruffy part of Manhattan’s East Village, civic pride sometimes comes with a dose of gallows humor.
A couple of decades ago, when violent crime related to drug-dealing was a concern, especially on the easternmost blocks, both arrivals and longtime residents seemed to take the problems in stride. The “A” in Avenue A stood for “alive,” according to a popular saying, while Avenue “B” was for “breathing,” Avenue “C” for “comatose” and Avenue “D” for “dead.”
Today, in a spiffier era, that guide might need an update. Avenue A, where a single square foot in a new condo can go for more than the monthly rent of an entire apartment elsewhere, “A lot of money” might be more apt. Even D is now “developing.”
But critics are focused more on a word beginning with G: gentrification, a lightning-rod term in a middle-class neighborhood where rent-stabilized and other affordably priced units have traditionally made up a large chunk of the housing stock.
“The luxury buildings definitely have undertones of colonialism when they pop up,” said Ori Carino, 34, an artist who grew up in the neighborhood and still lives there.
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Still, Mr. Carino accepts that some change is inevitable in an area that has seen various ethnic groups and crowds over the last century or so. As he reasoned, “If you’re not somebody who can change with the times, you will kind of be at a loss.”
162 EAST SECOND STREET, No. 3D A one-bedroom, one-bath co-op with a home office and a windowless kitchen with a subway-tile wall, restricted to buyers below a certain income level and listed at $435,000. 917-273-0763 CreditDavid Dee Delgado for The New York Times
He shares a five-bedroom, one-bath apartment with his girlfriend, Nancy Allen, and their son, Francis, as well Mr. Carino’s mother, Nancy Carin (who spells the family name differently). Ms. Carin bought the apartment in 1992 for $140,000, part of which she borrowed from someone she knew, Mr. Carino said, and she had to take in “stragglers” from time to time to make ends meet. Today, the apartment, which is also home to another relative, is worth about $2 million, Mr. Carino said.
Despite that sort of increase in prices, the area still seems in reach for those who don’t have six-figure incomes, in part because of New York’s Housing Development Fund Corporation, which over the years has created a special breed of co-ops in once-derelict buildings. So-called H.D.F.C. co-ops — which are reserved for those making below certain incomes, and have lower than usual maintenance fees — represent about 40 percent of the owned housing stock in Alphabet City, said Max Moondoc, an associate broker with Halstead Property and a resident of an H.D.F.C. building.
For Maura Gaudio, who turns 26 this month and works in marketing for a record label, the H.D.F.C. program offered a way to move to her favorite neighborhood for the nightlife. Now, at the end of a night at some of the rollicking bars on Avenue A, Ms. Gaudio doesn’t have to trek back to Bushwick, Brooklyn, where she shared a two-bedroom rental with a roommate. Instead, she walks a few blocks to her new studio, which she bought for $380,000 in August. To qualify, she could make no more than $76,000 a year.
“Anybody who lived during a period like the 1990s may say the East Village is dead now,” she said. “But I think it’s all still pretty cool.”

What You’ll Find

Stretching from Avenue A to the East River, and East 14th to East Houston Streets, Alphabet City is a compact and mostly low-rise mix of 19th-century townhouses and turn-of the-20th-century former tenements, with scattered whimsical residences just a few years old. Well-kept East Seventh Street, between Avenues C and D, is a handy place to see all three types commingle, including the Flowerbox Building, a boutique condo that opened in 2008 with clumps of greenery at the base of each casement window.
Also tucked into Alphabet City, often inconspicuously, are buildings abandoned in the 1970s but reclaimed by do-it-yourself homesteaders, often aided with city, state and church funds, like 66 Avenue C, a six-story Beaux-Arts structure that the city ultimately sold to tenants for $250 a unit.
Two large postwar public housing complexes, the Lillian Wald and Jacob Riis Houses, sit side by side along Avenue D, facing newer developments like the Adele, a 12-story, 135-unit market-rate rental completed in 2014.
E.14TH ST.
Dry Dock
6BC Botanical
Secret Garden
F.D.R. DR.
Alphabet City
Other major projects underway include 500 East 14th Street, at Avenue A, a two-building, 160-unit rental from the Extell Development Company that will have an indoor pool and a grill-lined roof deck. It will start leasing this fall, an Extell spokeswoman said.
Around the corner is Steiner East Village, a seven-story, 82-unit brick condo with its own indoor pool and roof deck. It has been 65 percent sold since spring 2016, said Douglas C. Steiner, the chairman of Steiner NYC, its developer. He added that he has been enamored of the area since the mid-1980s, when he and the woman whom he would marry went on their first date, at the Pyramid Club bar. (They’re now divorced.) “The area still has funky stores and eccentric people, and is mixed in all respects,” Mr. Steiner said.

What You’ll Pay

In late August, 38 co-ops and condos were for sale at an average list price of $860,000, according to StreetEasy. They ranged from a studio co-op in a prewar elevator building, at $380,000, to a two-bedroom, two-bath penthouse condo with a private roof deck, at $2,495,000. New developments often sell for $2,000 or more a square foot.
The market may be softening. In 2017, through late August, the average sale price of 94 co-ops and condos was $988,000, according to data prepared by Jonathan Miller, the president of the Miller Samuel appraisal firm. In contrast, in 2016, the average sale price in 116 deals was $1.05 million, Mr. Miller said.
Rents, which can be as low as a couple hundred dollars a month in surviving rent-controlled units, start at about $1,700 for studios and $2,000 for one-bedrooms, in older walk-up buildings, Mr. Moondoc of Halstead said; in new properties, he added, expect to pay $2,500 and up for studios and at least $3,200 for one-bedrooms.

The Vibe

In 1988, Tompkins Square Park was the scene of a violent clash between police and protesters, when anti-gentrification sentiment was starting to boil. Today, the three-block green space, shaded by rare elm trees, is more placid.
Tiny parks, some carved from the footprints of vanished buildings, speckle the neighborhood. A standout is 6BC Botanical Garden, with brick-lined paths and a deep-eaved teahouse that wouldn’t look out of place in the Adirondacks.
99 AVENUE B, No. 3C A studio co-op with a kitchen with a limestone counter and lacquered cabinets, in a prewar elevator building with a roof deck, listed at $399,000. 917-860-4749 CreditDavid Dee Delgado for The New York Times
Aspects of the neighborhood can seem to defy time. At Ink, a newsstand on Avenue A, print journalism appears to be alive and well. Magazines, in categories like “Military,” “Feminism” and “World Affairs,” are stacked high enough to block the aisles.
On the doors of dive bars, stickers of long-forgotten bands are slapped on top of one another, thick as bark. SideWalk Cafe has had a weekly open-mic night since it opened in 1985, according to its website. But fancier restaurants also turn up with frequency, like Tuome, on East Fifth Street, where a snow crab entree is $31.

The Schools

One building at 600 East Sixth Street offers three options.
There is Public School 64, the Robert Simon School, which serves about 250 children in prekindergarten through fifth grade. In the state exams given in the 2015-16 school year, 19 percent of students met standards in English, versus 39 percent citywide, and 30 percent of students met standards in math, versus 40 percent citywide.
Also housed there is the Earth School, which offers a green-focused curriculum and enrolls about 350 students in prekindergarten through fifth grade. In the 2015-16 school year, 58 percent of students met English standards, and 49 percent met math standards.
Tompkins Square Middle School, which serves about 370 students in sixth to eighth grades, is at the same address.
A nearby public high school is the East Side Community School, just outside the neighborhood. On SAT exams in 2016, students scored an average of 456 in reading, 459 in math and 446 in writing, compared with 446, 466 and 440 citywide.

The Commute

For now, there are no subways that serve the neighborhood. But new entrances are under construction at the First Avenue stop for the L train on East 14th Street, to allow passengers to enter that station from Avenue A. In the meantime, five city bus lines serve the neighborhood.

The History

Dry Dock Playground, a park with a popular pool at Avenue D, sits in an area once known as the Dry Dock District for all of its shipbuilders, according to the New York Parks Department. But when iron-hulled boats became the rage after the Civil War, that industry declined, and Alphabet City became a magnet for German immigrants.
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