It’s Friday night and you just left the office, a dinner, a birthday party. You’re exhausted, but you proceed at a fast pace, clutching your keys in your pocket – the sharpest one wedged between your index and your middle finger. Just like you were taught.
You’re still on a well-lit street, surrounded by people going about their night. The bustle makes you feel safe until you turn the corner toward your apartment. The block is not well-lit – it never has been. The streetlamps remain broken because this block, lined with older buildings, all in desperate need of repair, is not a priority for the city.
After searching for months for a place you could afford, you settled on this one. The street seemed fine the day you viewed the apartment, but that was in the afternoon – at night, things changed. You’ve had to hold your breath every time you turned that dark corner, your heart racing, beating so fast it feels as if it could burst from your chest. This trek, which in reality only takes a few minutes, feels never-ending in the dark.
If you can just reach your front door, you’ll be able to slam it shut, locking the knob, the deadbolt, and that extra chain you installed when you moved in. Once barricaded inside, you’ll be safe, at least for one more night. You pray that one day you won’t have to feel this, but you’re not sure if that day will ever come.
This is the reality for most single women today. And, I’m not talking about low-income female earners – who face an even scarier existence – this is us, middle-income earners, at the peak of our careers, who are unable to afford a home in a neighborhood where we feel safe. So, we take what we can get, spending every day living in constant fear of being attacked.
Christina Yuna Lee was one of us – an accomplished 35-year-old woman with a college education at the peak of her career living in a housing situation that put her at risk. How is it that a woman with her level of success was unable to afford to live in a safe area, in a secure building?
Christina Yuna Lee, a Senior Creative Producer for an agency, presumably made a good salary. Yet, she lived in an older apartment on a dark street, where a lack of building security features failed to prevent a stranger from easily entering her home behind her. This neighborhood and this building are one of the few “affordable” options for housing left in Manhattan for a single working woman with a decent-paying job.
The average rent in Chinatown, according to Zumper is $2,395/month. If you do a quick search on StreetEasy, you’ll see that the caliber of apartment you get for this price isn’t high, and you’re likely looking more in the range of $3,000/month for something habitable. So, for a mid-career, college-educated Senior Creative Producer in NYC, an average studio or 1-bedroom apartment in this area eats up around two-thirds of their income. Wage inequality, student debt, and other basic expenses are all factors to consider here as well. For anyone though, two-thirds of take-home pay is a big chunk of one’s income to spend on “affordable” housing in a sub-par neighborhood.
This is the story for many of us young single women out there, with our college degrees, who are busting our asses mid-career, only to come home to a place every night where we don’t get to feel safe.
We are not frivolously spending nor saving because there is no surplus left at the end of the month for such things. In fact, most of us are falling further into debt to pay for basic necessities [like groceries and transportation]. We don’t get tax breaks. We still make around $0.77 on the dollar [to our male counterparts]. And, we are drowning. Barely getting by. Unable to afford a small pocket of space in this world to call home – on a safe street, with proper lighting, where we don’t have to fear for our lives. This is a problem.
We worked hard to get here, and we continue to work hard – putting in long hours, ending in late nights that have us clutching our keys and our mace on those tense walks home. None of it seems to matter though because it just feels more and more like finding that tiny pocket of safe space is a pipedream. During times of economic toil, women have been, and continue to be disproportionately affected by job loss and wage inequality, making us vulnerable to violent and unsafe living conditions.
And, today with drastically increasing housing costs, sluggish wage increases and hyper-inflation, we are living in a failing economic and social climate. This system is broken, and [for women] it’s literally killing us.