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When Alicia moved into a tiny, one-bedroom apartment in Brooklyn, she landed an affordable apartment in a vibrant neighborhood, but there was a major downside: It was across the street from an assisted-living facility for the mentally ill. And so she regularly witnessed loud fights, witching-hour scream fests, and panhandling from the residents. The neighborhood was also prone to shootings. Here’s Alicia’s story.
About seven years ago, when the Flatbush Avenue area was on the rise, I found a rent-stabilized apartment near Prospect Park through a broker. I was happy to be in an up-and-coming neighborhood, although the apartment was kind of a dump. Still, it was affordable and over the years I didn’t experience big rent increases. But there was definitely a price to be paid!
At first I was a bit annoyed by the paper-thin walls and my upstairs neighbor’s toilet flooding six times, eventually destroying my bathroom. But the bigger issues were outside.
[Editor's Note: Brick Underground's series “Living Next to” features first-person accounts of what it’s like to have an iconic or unusual New York City neighbor. Have a story to share? Drop us an email. We respect all requests for anonymity.]
I knew there was an assisted-living facility for the mentally ill across from my building, but I told myself it was good that the people who lived there had a warm bed and place to stay. But as time went on, I began to wonder if they were receiving enough care. This made me sad, but still I was thankful they at least had this facility. I suspected if they didn’t they’d be on the street.
For the most part the people there were really nice, but sadly, that wasn’t always the case. One guy would corner me and ask me to borrow money. The first time he did so, he kept saying, “Come on, you know I’m good for it!” (I’d never met him before in my life.) Another time, one of the residents (who was visibly drunk), copped a squat in front of my apartment and relieved herself right in the street.
Public urination aside, there was also a constant stream of cigarette smoke wafting through my windows. My living space was so small that closing the windows would make it impossibly hot.
The biggest drawback was worrying about my safety. It was pretty normal to walk out of my building and find a few people passed out on my stoop. Worse, were the almost nightly shootings—usually at around 3 a.m. when I was trying to sleep. The shootings were not directly related to the facility, and were more of a neighborhood problem, however, the facility seemed to attract some unsavory characters to the area. Thankfully at that time of night I was safely inside, but it was still jarring. I had to call 911 frequently because of fights as well—sometimes neighbors would beat the hell out of each other.
Aside from my cheap rent, at least I lived right on Flatbush, which is a busy street so there were always other people around who would also intervene and call the police as well.
I tried to look at the bright side: I enjoyed being just one block from Prospect Park and a block from the Q, B, and shuttle trains. And many of the residents would greet me in a friendly way.
There was one guy who was missing most of his teeth, but he had the best smile I’ve ever seen. He smiled with his whole body. This definitely picked up my day a little bit when I encountered him my way to the subway. I could tell getting a wave and smile in response also made his day.
The other tenants in my building would also comment on the facility at times, but overall I think most were fine with it. When people visited me, I just figured they would chalk up any disturbance to being part of the NYC experience.
Over time my neighborhood changed—for the better. There were lots of new coffee shops, “mixology bars” and cute restaurants. Many Williamsburg transplants came to the area as well to beat high rents and to avoid the impending L-train shutdown that never happened.
I had hoped that all the positive changes to the neighborhood would also transform my block. But it didn’t work out that way
After a woman from the facility pounded on my building’s door in the middle of the night, claiming that someone was trying to kill her, I decided I was done.
Last January I moved to a different neighborhood. I feel more peaceful now not having the constant stress of worrying about those who live across from my apartment.
I still think of those neighbors though, and I wonder how everyone is doing—especially the guy who the big smile. I don’t really get those kinds of ‘hellos’ in my new neighborhood.