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When Rent Cost $10 Per Week In New York City

The Cost of Apartment Living In New York In 1892

Lexington Avenue and 64th Street - typical turn of the century brownstones

Lexington Avenue and 64th Street – typical turn of the century brownstones

New York has always had a wide range of housing choices. But the gulf in living conditions between rich and the poor remains vast. If you have a lot of money, your housing choices are unlimited. If not, you are hard pressed to find anything decent. As Kansas gunslinger and New York journalist Bat Masterson observed in his final column, “Everybody gets the same amount of ice — the rich get theirs in the summer and the poor get theirs in the winter.”

The lowest of New York's living quarters: the 7 cent per night lodging house

The lowest of New York’s living quarters: the 7 cent per night lodging house

Over time when it comes to housing a lot of things have changed, others have not. In 1892 living conditions for the very poor in New York were abysmal. Maybe not as bad as they are now, but pretty close. The majority of New Yorker’s were not living in poverty, but were just plain working people at various income levels; some struggling to survive and in many cases raise a family.

Which brings us to the question about living in New York in 1892 – just what sort of housing did you get for your money?

Kings Handbook of New York coverThe fabulous King’s Handbook of New York City, (1892), delves into everything related to New York, including home life, and answers the question.

One chapter in the book devotes itself to the types of housing available in New York.

The mansions, high class homes, bachelor apartments, middle income flats, boarding houses, tenements and lodging houses are all covered.

The most surprising thing is that you could live in a relatively decent neighborhood with room and board for about $10 per week. Realize of course that an unskilled laborer might barely earn that amount of money and paying room and board put them at the the precipice of poverty. For those people it typically meant finding lodging at a $2 per week boarding house.

152nd Street Riverside Drive Onondaga Apartments postcardThe wealthy, professional and merchant classes could afford to choose their housing according to taste and preferences with a good deal of flexibility. The middle class also had choices which varied widely. So when you read about what you got for your money at $50 or more per month, you cannot help but feel envy for Gotham’s dwellers of the past. You come away with the feeling that New York was a much more affordable city 123 years ago. The prices quoted may have you looking for a time machine.

From King’s Handbook, a selection from the section on housing: Continue reading