There’s been plenty of ink spilled on the quickly rising prices of housing throughout New York City, but that doesn’t mean all hope is lost for home-seekers on a budget. New York is a big city, where you’ll still find reasonable rents in appealing, diverse and under-the-radar neighborhoods — and it doesn’t always mean a never-ending subway commute. These are the great unsung neighborhoods of the Big Apple — they may not have the same cachet as SoHo or Tribeca, but that’s a big part of the appeal. Because they’re still undiscovered, they remain affordable, welcoming and down-to-earth.
This central Queens neighborhood is home to many longtime Sunnyside residents and families. The neighborhood is characterized by grand, brick co-op buildings and Sunnyside Gardens, a landmarked townhouse development with shared garden space. While you’ll find affordable rents and co-op prices, the neighborhood has a very low condo stock. And those looking for a neighborhood with a vibrant nightlife won’t find it. On main drags such as Sunnyside Avenue, the neighborhood feels more like a small town, with local businesses catering to surrounding families. There are, however, several new bars and restaurants that appeal to a younger crowd scattered around the neighborhood.
The inventory: Sunnyside is a great neighborhood to rent or buy a co-op apartment — you’ll find units available in one of the many large brick apartment buildings. The single-family homes in Sunnyside Gardens rarely, if ever, hit the market, since this tight-knit community is hesitant to give up their properties.
What you’ll pay: The average price for a co-op is $229,900. The average price for an 800-square-foot rental is $1,925 a month. A 750-square-foot renovated apartment is asking $269,000, and a two-bedroom is going for an even $2,000 a month.
How to get here: The neighborhood is serviced by the 7 train, and it’s about a 15-minute ride into Grand Central.
JACKSON HEIGHTS, Queens
This diverse neighborhood is filled with bustling commercial drags — including New York’s Little India — and restaurants serving food from around the globe. Walk along the side streets to find large brick co-op buildings built in the 1920s and ’30s, known for private central courtyards. The neighborhood also has a number of one-family, brick Tudor homes that you can still get for under $1 million. Jackson Heights offers the best of both worlds: quiet residential streets and affordable apartments with a richly cultural surrounding community.
The inventory: While the neighborhood has very high co-op stock, you’ll also find single-family freestanding homes (although the market is more competitive for them), a decent rental selection and a few condos. This isn’t a neighborhood with much new development, so expect somewhat older apartments. See apartments for sale in Jackson Heights.
What you’ll pay: The average price for a co-op in the neighborhood is $210,000, while the average price for a single-family home is $642,000. A well-maintained Tudor home, however, will sell for just under $1 million. The average rent for a 900-square-foot space is $1,750 a month. This large, well-kept two bed/two bath co-op is asking $518,000. And recent searches have yielded three-bedroom rentals with a backyard at a reasonable $2,200 a month.
How to get here: The main Jackson Heights subway hub services the 7, E, R, M and R lines. On the 7 train, it’s about a 25-minute trip into Grand Central.
MOTT HAVEN, BRONX
This Bronx neighborhood still shows remnants of its rough past, but it also has pockets of historic architecture, community gardens and convenient access to Manhattan on three subway lines (details below). Gentrification has moved slowly in this neighborhood, so rents and housing prices still remain some of the most affordable in the city. And the green housing development Via Verde, which opened in 2012, shows that this neighborhood is ripe for innovative development.
The inventory: The neighborhood has brownstones and brick townhouses, some of which are protected by historic districts. There’s not a huge market for homes, though, as a recent search shows a grand total of zero currently on the market. There are also large buildings with loft apartments that have attracted a fledgling artist community.
What you’ll pay: There aren’t many condos on the market here, but you can find loft apartments for sale for $900,000. The average rent for a 942-square-foot apartment is $1,650.
How to get here: The neighborhood is in the southernmost area of the Bronx, and therefore not a difficult commute into Manhattan. The 4, 5 and 6 trains all go to the neighborhood.
EAST HARLEM, MANHATTAN
Also known as El Barrio or Spanish Harlem, this small pocket of Harlem has a varied population that includes Puerto Ricans, African Americans, Dominicans, Mexicans, Italians — you name it. It’s a neighborhood with a community feel, from people who have lived their entire lives here to new visitors moving in to a growing crop of condo developments. All residents enjoy the excellent Latino restaurants and easy access to the northern end of Central Park. East Harlem is also home to an unlikely Little Italy, going back to when Italians moved to the neighborhood in the 1930s.
The inventory: This neighborhood has one of the larger concentrations of public housing in New York, but that’s also coupled with incoming development. Some of the newer buildings, like One Museum Mile, have luxury apartments at sky-high prices. There’s also a concentration of prewar apartments.
What you’ll pay: The average price for a 1,090-square-foot condo is around $799,000 — but you can pay as much as $2.98 million for a penthouse in the neighborhood. A one bedroom in a boutique luxury condo building is asking $525,000. The average rent in the neighborhood for 850 square feet is $2,232 a month.
How to get here: The 6 train goes directly into the neighborhood, or you can take the 4, 5 to 125th St. and walk east from there.
WASHINGTON HEIGHTS, MANHATTAN
Just a short trip north from Harlem, Washington Heights offers less bars, restaurants and nightlife but still has gorgeous architecture and cheap rents. The neighborhood is home to large prewar apartment buildings, brownstones and even a few freestanding mansions. It’s also a short distance from two waterfront parks on the east and west side, as well as the Cloisters and the Morris-Jumel Mansion.
The inventory: Gorgeous brownstones and townhouses line the blocks of Washington Heights, and the neighborhood also has a very special strip of historic housing known as Sylvan Terrace, as well as many prewar apartments. See apartments for sale in Washington Heights.
What you’ll pay: Average rents for 850 square feet are around $1,900 a month. There aren’t many homes on the market, and they aren’t cheap. You’ll pay as much as $2.475 million for a well-kept, historic brownstone.
How to get here: The 6 train travels to Washington Heights, or you can take the 4, 5 to 125th St. and trek east from there.
This charming neighborhood on the north end of Manhattan is pretty quiet, but has seen a promising amount of growth in the past few years. This recent New York Times article notes that restaurants, wine shops, a bike store and even a Starbucks have moved in. There’s also Inwood Hill Park, an expansive, wild green space that fronts the Hudson River. Prices here remain below-market — about one-third of the average price you’ll find in Manhattan.
The inventory: There are a number of apartment buildings with units much larger than you’ll find in Manhattan. The neighborhood does not have a big market for condos or single-family homes, however.
What you’ll pay: The average price for an 850-square-foot co-op is $301,500. There’s a large rental market in Inwood, with a 950-square-foot space averaging $1,800 a month. A typical one bedroom is $1,400.
How to get here: The commute is one of the downsides to living in this charming neighborhood, as it’s the northernmost point of Manhattan. It’s accessible by the A train — the trip takes about 45 minutes from Midtown — and the 1 train, which takes longer.
SUNSET PARK, BROOKLYN
This is one of the last remaining cheap neighborhoods in Brooklyn, and also one of the borough’s great unsung food destinations. A vibrant Chinese and Spanish population means lots of diverse restaurants. There’s also Sunset Park (the park the neighborhood is named after), which offers amazing views of the city skyline, as well as access to the waterfront. The arrival of Industry City, a complex of creative office space right along the water, promises even more growth for the neighborhood.
The inventory: Sunset Park is home to some of the typical brownstones and townhouses Brooklyn is known for. There are also large brick apartments that house a huge rental stock.
What you’ll pay: An 881-square-foot rental in the neighborhood averages $1,900 per month. You could pay a little more ($2,500 for two bedrooms) to live in a lovely apartment in a nice brownstone. Unfortunately, you’ll have trouble buying a townhouse for under $1 million, as the average price is just above, at $1.175 million. A recent search revealed a modest frame house going for $999,000.
How to get here: Sunset Park is well-serviced by subway, and can be reached on the D, M, N and R trains.