Searching Harlem for a More Efficient Home
Kendal Fisher found the creature comforts and the affordability he was looking for in a new eco-friendly development.
Kendal Fisher and his dog, Seven, in their new rental at Perch Harlem, in Hamilton Heights.CreditCreditStefano Ukmar for The New York Times
By Joyce Cohen
Sept. 13, 2018
Kendal Fisher has lived in Harlem since he arrived in New York nine years ago, having spent much of that time in a large rental complex in Manhattanville .
Mr. Fisher, 34, stayed there for six years, with his monthly rent rising to around $1,650. “I lived in a studio,” he said. “It was all I could afford, and it was all I needed.”
That changed over time. He often had guests sleeping on the couch, infringing on his privacy. And he adopted Seven, an energetic miniature schnauzer. “I felt the dog needed more space to run around,” he said. “In a studio, she’s running in a circle.”
His salary grew, and last spring he decided to upgrade to a one-bedroom. Mr. Fisher, a graduate of Virginia Commonwealth University, wanted to move a bit farther south, to shorten his commute to Midtown, where he works as an executive assistant. Most of all, he craved some creature comforts — namely, a washer-dryer and central air-conditioning.
“There were certain things I had on my checklist, and I wasn’t going to move until I had them,” he said.
Mr. Fisher grew up with central air-conditioning in Virginia, and he was surprised to find it was not all that common in New York. His rental included a through-the-wall unit, with gaps in the sleeve where hot air seeped in.
Mr. Fisher's one-bedroom in the new Perch Harlem building has high ceilings, large windows and a southern exposure. CreditStefano Ukmar for The New York Times
“My apartment wouldn’t be that cool, but my Con Ed bill would be sky-high,” he said. “I figured with central air, the Con Ed bill might be high but I would have air equally spread throughout the room.”
Also, laundry was a hassle, with machines that were often broken. The complex he was living in had overhauled its two crowded laundry rooms, but the new machines “lasted maybe a month before they started to break down,” he said.
The buildings listed on StreetEasy and Craigslist with the features he sought tended to be newer developments, with rents in the mid to high $2,000s, although he was willing to spend more.
He started with a renovated unit in the Kalahari building on West 116th Street, which opened in 2006. He didn’t realize at first that the 249-unit complex was a condominium and he would be renting from the unit owner. “The application process is gruesome,” he said, with an application fee, multiple forms and an indefinite wait for approval.
The Kalahari on West 116th Street, which opened in 2006, had an arduous application process and an ambiguous pet policy.CreditStefano Ukmar for The New York Times
The same thing was true of many places he saw: relatively new condo building, beautiful inside, burdensome application process.
In some cases, the building allowed dogs — but that didn’t mean the unit owner did. “It’s confusing when they have ‘dogs accepted’ on the listing, but when I get there it’s ‘I have to check with the owner,’” he said. “That’s misleading.”
He worried, too, that a capricious owner could arbitrarily decide not to renew his lease. He grew leery of renting a condo.
Mr. Fisher found a few new rental developments that fit his criteria, including a 20-unit boutique building on Pleasant Avenue near East 118th Street, in East Harlem. It was conveniently a few minutes from Target in East River Plaza, and its modern style, with protruding balconies, was conspicuous on the block.
But to Mr. Fisher, the building didn’t feel like home. And it was all electric. “The agent said the Con Ed bills were astronomical, so I am thinking that defeats the purpose of what I want,” he said.
In his research, Perch Harlem often popped up. The 34-unit building opened late last fall with the features he sought — a washer-dryer and central air — but he dismissed it because it was on 153rd Street in Hamilton Heights, farther uptown with a longer trip to work.
A 20-unit building on Pleasant Avenue in East Harlem had a sleek, modern look, but it didn't feel like home.CreditStefano Ukmar for The New York Times
“But something just told me to go see it,” Mr. Fisher said. “What do you have to lose?”
He contacted Juan Rosado , the leasing agent, then with Citi Habitats and now with Compass. Mr. Rosado told him it was a passive-house building. “I had no idea what that meant,” Mr. Fisher said.
Mr. Rosado explained that the building was constructed to certain energy-saving standards, with central heating and cooling, constant air circulation and airtight insulation. As a result, the electric bill would be significantly lower. “We are all electric, but because of the passive-house standard, the tenants save on their energy costs,” Mr. Rosado said.
Mr. Fisher returned twice. He learned about the services, including Rhino , which for a monthly fee eliminates the security deposit, and Hello Alfred , an in-home concierge (with one year provided free).
He walked around the neighborhood — only two stops farther north on the 1 train — and said to himself, “This is my new home.”
Mr. Fisher chose a unit on a high floor in the south-facing back of the building rather than the front, which overlooks the Trinity Church Cemetery and Mausoleum. It had an open kitchen, a big bedroom closet and enough space for Seven to run around. He arrived in the spring, paying a monthly rent of $2,830, with two months free on a 26-month lease.
“Nobody has ever lived in my unit,” he said. “I am the very first person. I never imagined that would happen unless I built something from the ground up. It’s a home instead of somewhere I just sleep.”
Mr. Fisher was impressed by the services and energy standards at Perch Harlem in Hamilton Heights, where he found his one-bedroom.CreditStefano Ukmar for The New York Times
The stacked washer-dryer is tucked into a nook near the bedroom. “I don’t have to worry about schlepping a bag down the hall or to the basement or even outside,” he said.
“Because it is ventless,” he said of the dryer, “it takes extremely long to dry things — but I’m home, so it doesn’t matter.”
Mr. Fisher’s summer electric bill dropped by half — from $140 a month at his old place to $70 at Perch Harlem. “That is the main thing that has impressed me so far,” he said. “The apartment is way more comfortable than my previous apartment. I don’t even know how hot it is outside until I take my dog out.”