If you told me back in the day that I will be writing about moving to New Jersey after turning 40, I would have made a face and mouthed, Never. Funny how life happens: you meet the person who changes the trajectory you thought you’d already planned for in your head, and you love it.
I was fortunate enough to buy my own place in Harlem, New York when the neighborhood was starting to gentrify 10 years ago. I grew up in Washington Heights, so staying uptown was a no brainer for me. Until my parents retired, home-cooked Filipino meals were a block away. Except for a short stint in 2009 commuting to Connecticut for work, Manhattan has always been home.
Alec and I were hiking in Patagonia, Chile when we started talking about moving in together. We never felt any pressure–things just started to happen. We welcomed 2020 and started consolidating our stuff. We were even able to travel to San Francisco and San Diego in late February, not knowing it was going to be our last trip for a while. When it became obvious that Covid-19 was worse than what anyone has said, we had to act quickly; Alec rented a storage space and carried his essentials to move to Harlem. There was a day when we didn’t even know if he can cross New Jersey from New York; everything was up in the air and things were just getting worse. We already planned on moving in together, but the pandemic just pushed us to do it earlier.
The first lockdown was months long so we felt so grateful to have our own private outdoor space. We carved our own work spaces in the apartment while my 8-year old Rottweiler, Atticus, started to get used to having us both at home. By summer, we started passively looking at house listings–what if we got a bigger space? But we had a very specific wishlist:
1. Must be walking distance to public transportation – Our commute from Harlem to the bottom tip of Manhattan takes us at least 50 minutes due to overcrowding in the subway; anything that’s shorter than that would be a plus
2. Must have safe biking lanes – As cyclists, we would like to ride our bikes when running errands without worrying about vehicular traffic. Unfortunately, the New York City mayor has not kept his promise to make it safe for bike commuters. I have biked from Harlem all the way down to World Trade Center and even though it’s a good workout, crossing Harlem has always been harrowing for me.
3. A neighborhood that supports high-density housing – Neither of us aspire to have a house in the suburbs. We’ve always advocated for city living and higher density so that communities form and thrive. We want to keep an outdoor space to be used for vegetable and flower gardening, composting, and someday a chicken coop, but never just for a green lawn. We would like an attached home to conserve heat, but if it’s a detached house, we’d consider making it passive and as energy-efficient as much as possible.
Looking for a comparable but bigger apartment in Harlem proved to be way out of our budget, even with two salaries. Alec used to live in Hoboken, New Jersey so he was already familiar with the area, but his Hurricane Sandy experience motivated us to find a place less vulnerable to flooding. Alec has also been involved with Bike Hoboken and Bike JC, citizen-based non-profit advocacy organizations that aim to make their city streets safer for bike use, so I started to learn about the Jersey City mayor who has made significant improvements to its cycling infrastructure.
There were plenty of listings in the Heights in Jersey City, but every time I mapped the house, it was always a long walk to the nearest train. Our walk to the subway is less than 10 minutes now and we have 4 lines to choose from to get us downtown; if I was truly to give up New York, everything must be an improvement. I didn’t want to settle–27 years in Manhattan will do that to anyone.
So we started doing our homework.