Young women find affordable living space in Manhattan by renting rooms in convents
UPPER EAST SIDE When young professional women are looking for affordable apartments, they rarely spend time on listings for the Upper East and West Sides. These areas have been off limits to broke, young New Yorkers for at least a decade. There seems to be one real estate loophole, however, that some young women are taking advantage of. Courtney Megaro has found a way to live on East 72nd St for under $900 a month.
Megaro was having trouble finding an apartment during her last semester at the American Musical and Dramatic Academy (AMDA). She was trying to find a way to stay in New York, but still pursue her dream of becoming an actress.
“My parents were under this delusion that I could find an affordable apartment in a safe neighborhood,” she said. It came as a huge surprise when her professor suggested she could live on West 74th street for $550 a month at the St. Agnes Convent. Since she wasn’t planning on becoming a nun after graduation, Megaro was initially confused by this suggestion.
After finding out how inexpensive it was to rent a room at St. Agnes Convent, she took the idea much more seriously. She searched “convents Upper West Side” in Google that afternoon and found dozens of options. Some enforced a nightly curfew; others had an extensive application process and lengthy wait list.
Megaro settled on St. Mary’s Residence on East 72nd Street, for $220 a week. Residents must be female, between the ages of 18-40, and prove their employment or enrollment in school. They don’t enforce a curfew, which was important to Megaro because she often works late. She was also drawn to St. Mary’s because of their simple application process, and the safe surrounding neighborhood.
The building has a feeling of an adult dorm room; each floor has a shared kitchen and bathroom. On the ground floor, there’s a lounge area that offers free WiFi adjacent to the chapel. Religious figures decorate each floor, but it’s tough find a nun on any of the residential floors. Megaro explained that you occasionally run into them in the elevator.
Everything is extremely clean, and they even offer a rehearsal space on the penthouse floor, a small gym, and an outdoor deck. Each room has its own bed, sink, large closet space, and desk. Each floor has a communal kitchen, bathroom, showers, and laundry room. They offer a cleaning service to every resident once a week.
There is an obvious and pleasant connection among the women who live there. Lisa Rodriguez was working at the security desk, and has been coming to St. Mary’s since she was 8 years old. Her mother worked there for 16 years, and she has been working there for over a decade herself.
“Coming into New York, and living in an apartment all by yourself can be a cold, lonely existence,” Rodriguez explained. “Here you have your own private rooms, but you can also come out in the lounge and be with other people. There is a shoulder to cry on, the sisters are around if you just need to vent, and I am here to offer that same support.”
The lounge had several women working quietly on their laptops while relaxing in blue cushioned chairs from the 1960s. The entire building has a retro vibe, including the pink and purple paneling inside the elevator. Each room has a private phone line – connected through a switchboard between the hours of 8 a.m. – 10 p.m.
Megaro said she is working so much she isn’t bothered by some of their resident rules, including one that doesn’t allow male visitors outside the first floor lounge. Other items off limits include bicycles, microwaves, toasters, hot plates, and pets. Smoking and drinking alcohol are also “forbidden.”
“I moved in a few weeks before graduation, and was so broke I had to lug my suitcases across the park because I couldn’t afford the cross town bus,” Megaro said. St. Mary’s has been a great option for her, allowing her to live in New York while she finishes her degree and pursues an acting career. “I’m not home a lot because I work long hours on the West Side, so the rules haven’t bothered me. I’ve really enjoyed living here. It is so clean, and everyone I run into is really friendly.”
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