America’s Most Expensive Cities: How to save on rent in Brooklyn


Jeanne Lee

Jeanne Lee

Contributing Writer

Jeanne Lee is a freelance journalist with 16 years of experience writing about personal finance and small business. Her work has appeared in Fortune, Money, Fortune Small Business, and Financial Planning, among others.

Published September 20, 2018|4 min read

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Welcome to Expensive Cities, a new series designed to help renters find affordable apartments in the nation’s most unaffordable metros.

The fun parts of hipster Brooklyn — those craft cocktail bars, artisanal chocolatiers and music halls — are also the reason for its sky-high rents. Cross the Brooklyn Bridge and you’ll soon discover apartments in Brooklyn Heights, Downtown Brooklyn and Boerum Hill can be even costlier than some units in Manhattan, especially compared to the Upper East Side, East Village or Harlem.

The trick is to go a little deeper into Brooklyn, past the hyper-expensive parts, where it’s possible to find a nice brownstone neighborhood that’s not yet punctuated with steel-and-glass luxury developments and still retains some traditional feel.

How much does renting cost in Brooklyn?

Brooklyn’s rental affordability is heavily determined by proximity to Manhattan, the Big Apple’s financial heart.

New York City is the second-most expensive big city for renters, trailing only San Francisco. The median rent is a whopping $2,870 a month for a one-bedroom apartment, according to Zumper, an apartment listings site. Brooklyn median rents are only a smidge cheaper, at $2,795.

Brooklyn renters pay a premium in fashionable neighborhoods closest to the Brooklyn and Manhattan bridges. In Dumbo — the neighborhood Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass that Gen X artists claimed from old industrial buildings — one-bedrooms go for more than $3,600. Just as expensive is Vinegar Hill, a six-block enclave near the Brooklyn Navy Yard that has picturesque two-century-old Greek Revival row houses and cobblestone streets. One three-bedroom duplex there, with a balcony and a view of Lower Manhattan, recently listed for $6,600.

Where to find affordable rentals in Brooklyn?

Fortunately, not all the good parts of Brooklyn are priced at such stratospheric levels. For budget-minded renters, Adin Perera, a market analyst for the CoStar Group — the parent of — recommends looking for homes in these three up-and-coming Brooklyn neighborhoods: Bushwick, the Ditmas Park area of Flatbush and Prospect Heights.

1. Bushwick

Bushwick is an energetic and artsy community that was once dominated by textile warehouses, but “is emerging as a new hipster neighborhood,” said Perera. The neighborhood is known for its annual Bushwick Collective block party, which brings residents together to enjoy colorful street murals, lively music and food trucks.

One-bedrooms in Bushwick go for an average of $2,200, Perera says, though you can find even cheaper bargains. A 625-square-foot unit, close to the M train, recently listed for $1,950, including heat and hot water.

Bushwick sits between the J, M, Z and L subway lines, but it’s important to note that the L train, an essential Manhattan connector, is scheduled for a 15-month renovation to begin in April 2019. The Metropolitan Transportation Authority plans to provide shuttle buses and enhanced service on other trains, but many commuters are dreading the “L-pocalypse.” If your job requires a commute to Manhattan, examine the subway situation closely before signing a lease.

2. Flatbush-Ditmas Park

Ditmas Park, in western Flatbush between Coney Island Avenue and Ocean Avenue, is a neighborhood featuring unattached 19th-century houses, many with sizeable yards, stained glass windows and wraparound porches. There are also mid-rise apartment buildings in the mix and a slew of restaurants and coffee shops along Cortelyou Road. Two subway lines to Manhattan run straight through the neighborhood and several additional lines are within walking distance.

One-bedroom apartments go for an average of $1,800, said Perera.

Residents are close to Prospect Park, a 585-acre green haven with a zoo, a carousel and even a beach for dogs. The park was designed by Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux, the architects of Central Park.

“Flatbush-Ditmas Park may have slightly fewer neighborhood amenities than Brooklyn neighborhoods closer to Manhattan, but it offers a great combination of location and pricing,” said Perera. “The neighborhood is adjacent to Prospect Park and not far from the Park Slope neighborhood, which is full of trendy restaurants.”

3. Prospect Heights

Like pricier Park Slope, Prospect Heights is a neighborhood with tree-lined streets, iconic brownstones and proximity to Prospect Park. Rents in Prospect Heights “may appear steep from an outsider perspective, but are affordable compared with Manhattan and more western Brooklyn,” said Perera. “The neighborhood has trendy restaurants and is located close to the Barclays Center, Atlantic Terminal, and Downtown Brooklyn.”

The B, Q, 2 and 3 trains provide direct access to Manhattan. Residents can enter Prospect Park through the Grand Army Plaza entrance, near the majestic Soldiers and Sailors Arch.

One-bedrooms average $2,350, but units in brownstones and older buildings can be much cheaper. A 700-square-foot apartment, close to the express trains, recently listed for $1,895.

Bonus tip

Brooklyn is home to many writers, musicians, freelancers and other creative types who don’t commute on a regular basis. If that’s you, the impending L-train shutdown may provide an opportunity to snag a deal on an apartment in trendy Williamsburg that normally would be too expensive. Landlords are feeling the pressure, so it’s worth asking for concessions on apartment leases along the L-train line. The same goes for avid cyclists who want to steep themselves in North Brooklyn culture at a cut rate.

After all, once the subway renovation is complete, some time in 2020, prices in hipsterville are likely to shoot right back up again.

Image: Frederic Prochasson