Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Opening A New York Branch

Back in the early 1970s, Midtown Manhattan was a scary place, and the middle class was deserting the city in droves.  In an effort to stem the tide, somebody built two apartment towers right in the middle of what was (and is) known as Hell's Kitchen. 

They took up a full city block, and were meant to offer the middle class a safe place to live, in the heart of a very dangerous city. Nobody was interested, and the two towers seemed destined for the scrap heap. But then, somebody came up with the idea that the two buildings, which held over 1600 apartments, should be dedicated to the artists who keep New York City alive.  Since then, Manhattan Plaza has been a haven for artists, with 70% of the occupants receiving discounted rents.  Those rents are calculated according to the individual tenant's gross income, so the complex became the most desirable place for actors, musicians, playwrights, designers, and the like to live.  The place became so desirable, in fact, that in 1995, the waiting list was officially closed.  Apparently, it had become just too long to be handled.

In July of 2003, the waiting list was reopened for one month.  There was an avalanche of requests to be put on the list, so a lottery was held to randomly choose the artists who would be allowed to be placed on the waiting list for an apartment.  I saw the announcement in the trades, and on a fluke, submitted my name.  A few months later, I was informed, by mail, that my name had been chosen from the lottery, and I was now #683 on the waiting list.

Since then, once a year, Manhattan Plaza has sent me a form letter which I was required to return, verifying that I wished to remain on the waiting list for a subsidized apartment.  It didn't cost me anything to remain on the list, so, year after year, I sent my annual confirmation, and forgot about it.

Three years ago, I received a personal letter from ManPlaza.  I was now #55 on the waiting list, and it was time to gather proof that I am, indeed, an artist.  The rules for receiving this discounted housing require that the artists earn 51% or more of their income, for the past 3 consecutive years, from the arts.  I was able to meet that requirement, and provided proof with my income tax returns.

For the next several years, I was required to furnish the most recent tax returns, to prove that I continue to be a performing artist.  In January of this year, after almost 8 years, I received an actual phone call from an actual person connected with Manhattan Plaza.  It was now time to gather current income and banking info, so my file could go before two committees.  The first would determine that I am, in fact, a qualified performing artist, and the second would crunch the numbers of my income from the last 3 years, and would determine what my monthly rent should be.

I cannot describe how odd all this activity seems to me, as I added myself to this waiting list on a fluke, and never expected to get this far along in the process.  I have never had a strong desire to live in New York, and I believe you really need such a desire, as the city is, to quote one of my friends who lives there, a Cruel Bitch.

About a month ago, I was summoned to the city to view an apartment. I was (and still am) in the midst of Witness for the Prosecution in Maryland, so I was forced to donate my single day off to make the roundtrip train schlep to New York.  The apartment I was shown was a shambles.  The floor had been taken up, there was no fridge or stove in the kitchen, and the entire bathroom was in a rubble in the tub.  I suppose this is good news, proof that the place is being completely overhauled for the next tenant.  But I was disoriented and rattled, and could not get a clear vision of what this studio apartment might eventually look like.

Everyone I have spoken to swears that Manhattan Plaza tenants are the luckiest actors in New York.  I suppose that's true, and, though I still have no urgent desire to hang my hat in Manhattan, I surely cannot pass up an opportunity which has dropped into my lap.  So, a week from Monday (Halloween! I'm trying not to read too much into that...), I will be taking a final walkthrough and will be handed the keys to apt #29G.

Perhaps Thespis wants me in New York, but I am not so sure.  Luckily, I will be able to keep my condo on Capitol Hill, and will become Bi-Urban.  Most of my work comes from DC, so I do not foresee giving up that life.  Instead, I will be splitting my time between the two cities, as the need arises. 

I am not moving to New York.  I am simply opening a branch of my life there.