The Washington Square Arch
Issue date: 04.16.2007
LGBT-friendly housing in NYC
For-hire roommate services solve living dilemmas
by Emmy Favilla
|"We live in
a world where we have to pretend a lot," Rafael Ascencio
Ascencio is a partner at Rainbow Roommates, a Chelsea-based apartment share agency targeted toward the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) community.
Searching for an apartment in New York City may not automatically present members of the LGBT community with discrimination concerns, given the thriving gay communities in Chelsea, Greenwich Village, Gramercy Park and Park Slope, Brooklyn. For-hire roommate services, however, try to provide them with more successful living arrangements.
The concept of queer-friendly housing is hardly novel. Prior to World War I, an underground network existed to help gay individuals find one another and form a community.
"Before people went off to service, they would hook up with the network, come back and find other queer people [they could live with]," said Jessica Pettitt, program adviser at the university's Office of LGBT Student Services. "It's all about networking."
Pettitt talked about her experience with online roommate service craigslist.org when she moved to New York about nine months ago. Although she did not specify her sexual orientation on the site, Pettitt mentioned that she worked for an LGBT office. She figured that anyone who was not familiar with the term would not likely respond to her ad. She easily found three tolerant, compatible roommates.
At Rainbow Roommates, also recommended by the LGBT office, clients normally find a place within an average of two to four weeks, Ascencio said, but continue to receive new updates on a daily basis. Owners can list their apartments for free, while those searching pay $150 to receive listings for three months. Ascencio admits that many of the apartments do not have ideal accommodations for every individual and that some renters do not realize this right away.
"Sometimes people will discover their roommate is an alcoholic and want to move out," he said. While the service does encourage renters to ask potential roommates detailed questions, Ascencio stresses that they cannot legally discriminate against a person because of his or her private habits.
One issue Rainbow Roommates does not bring up is a person's HIV/AIDS status. But Ascencio said that if an individual prefers, the information can be posted.
The renters he deals with usually range in age from 18 to 35, and the majority come from outside New York and around the world. Ascencio estimates that 30 percent of his clientele are students, primarily those who prefer not to use university housing.
"A lot of people [who use the service] have been discriminated against by their family, and a lot come with frustration and weight," he said. "They want to find something now because they are angry at their family and the world."
While gays and lesbians may prefer to room with people who share the same sexual orientation, the option to live with equally tolerant heterosexuals is available. A broader selection of housing options is available at Roommates NYC, a complimentary service offered by Rainbow Roommates which caters to straight people who are gay-friendly. But Ascencio maintains that housing discrimination based solely on homosexuality is rare - rather, it is usually based on age or status. Pettitt agreed, saying that in New York especially, there is "a certain level of openness."
Michael Girard, a gay man in his 40s, was blinded 10 years ago when his motorcycle was hit by a drunk driver. While he is using Rainbow Roommates to move back to New York from Connecticut, he said he has had difficulty finding an apartment - not because of his sexual preference, but because it is a challenge to find a place that will welcome his seeing-eye dog.
"It's more of a class issue and about the type of apartment you would like to have," Pettitt said.
Up-and-coming gay neighborhoods include west midtown, also known as Hell's Kitchen; the Upper West Side, which attracts more professionals with its steeper prices; Brooklyn Heights; and Astoria, Queens.
Rainbow Roommates can be accessed at www.rainbowroommates.com and Roommates NYC at www.roommates-nyc.com.
Other similar services include GRIN, the Gay Roommate Information Network, at home.earthlink.net/~gayroommate, which usually lists about 40 to 50 available rooms in New York City and New Jersey.
Easy Roommate, at www.easyroommate.com, is a pay service that allows people to specify their sexual orientation. It extends its service throughout the world, and prides itself as being "the most updated roommate service," with approximately 20,000 U.S. ads listed.
Gayroomie.com is a national roommate service which does not charge members a fee until they choose to contact potential matches, while Nycgayrealtor.com assists the gay community in finding condos, co-ops, townhouses and lofts in popular gay neighborhoods.