Since she was nineteen-years-old, LaToya Lennard has traversed her hometown Brooklyn, bouncing from rented-room to rented-room while searching for safe and secure housing.
LaToya, a medical assistant to a dermatologist and burgeoning musician, was born and raised in NYC, and like two-thirds of all New Yorkers, is also a life-long renter. A renter, like many, who faces rapidly-escalating rent and inflation, worsened by the pandemic. “Every six months or a year, I always had to think about where I would go next.” LaToya told me via Zoom, “I was always in survival mode all the time.”
As a result, she often was forced to sublet rooms and studio apartments. These rooms and studios were largely located in unsafe neighborhoods, and LaToya described her living conditions as overcrowded by roommates, often people she didn’t know well or at all.
“It was scary. It was crazy with roommates. Not knowing who you are living with, you just don’t know who you’re dealing with.”
As a young professional, LaToya generates a steady income, and so does her partner Joshua Renaud, who is a plumber's apprentice. Both have dealt with this type of housing insecurity for a good portion of their lives, and consider it normal as they have friends and family who also navigate New York’s taciturn rental market.
What prevents LaToya, and many other renters, from being able to rent long-term? Notoriously extreme move-in requirements and the high expenses associated with renting an apartment, which are only more difficult to afford in a post-pandemic world. LaToya sees through it: “The expectations are way too high.”
The expectations she is referring to? NYC property owners can impose a 40x rule, which requires renters to earn 40x times the monthly rent to rent an apartment. To rent a $3,000 per month apartment, your annual income will need to be around $120,000. Renters are also subject to a credit check and background check, and renters who have less than a 700 credit score may require a guarantor or co-signer on the lease. This forces renters to often appeal to friends and family, many of which don’t want to risk co-signing in case it impacts their own credit. Additionally, a required cash security deposit can amount to thousands of dollars, as it can be equal to one month’s rent. (The median one-bedroom rental in the boroughs is now $2,810.)
These requirements have long-burdened renters in NYC, but compounded with the pandemic it’s led to millions falling behind on rent, even as the city starts to recover and the median rent is on the rise. Meaning many could face eviction, and be priced out of safe and secure housing in the coming months.
LaToya had keen foresight, and the instability of the economy during the pandemic persuaded her to pivot her career in October 2020. She originally vested her interests in event planning and music, but she studied remotely during COVID-19 to become a medical assistant. “I’m a creative, and with dermatology, I can still make people feel good and look good.”
It was during this time that she set her sights on moving to the historic Dunbar Apartments in Harlem. She also decided to move in with her partner, Joshua.
As high school sweethearts, they have been dating seriously for three years, and they’re both musicians and song-writers. “We grew up together. We’ve come a long way, and we have learned a lot about each other. As mutual friends to now.”
It was definitely time. Both were seeking a place of respite and inspiration, an apartment that could double as a creative studio to make their music. Both from Brooklyn, they also wanted to make Harlem their new home.
Dunbar Apartments satisfied their move-in requirements with its history, its community, and its location. LaToya and Joshua were able to use Rhino security deposit insurance to get their foot in the door, and moved into an airy, open-concept, one-bedroom in April, 2021. (In case you were wondering, she saved $18,856 on her security deposit and guarantor coverage with Rhino.)
The historic pre-war building was constructed in 1926 to alleviate the housing shortage in Harlem and consists of ten, iconic u-shaped buildings. The complex was home to many prolific singers, musicians, writers, and politicians during the Harlem Renaissance, including the activist W.E.B. DuBois, the poet Countee Cullen, and reformer Asa Philip Randolph.
As a way of preserving its legacy, Dunbar Apartments is committed to maintaining a sense of community, what LaToya calls “an extended support system,” by cultivating its outdoor garden and hosting events. LaToya and Joshua like to attend the outdoor parties, barbecues, and look forward to a Thanksgiving dinner shared with their neighbors.
For LaToya, this community feels particularly special, coming from a place of housing insecurity as well as her unique familial situation. “When I was eight-years-old, I was adopted by my grandmother, and separated from my sister. I had to go to court to get the right to see her, because my parents rights to my sister were terminated.”
If you Google LaToya’s name, you get a list of search results that give you the full story of how she fought to keep her family together. She and her younger brothers were adopted by their grandmother, but she was separated from her younger sister Jaylin, who was adopted by her own foster mother. After being unable to make consistent contact with her sister throughout middle school and high school, LaToya went to court to file for visitation rights, and to win the right to see her sister. At 24-years-old, she helped change a state law that now requires foster care agencies to arrange contact for siblings and half-siblings not placed together.
While talking to her about her sister, as well as the growing issue of insecure housing in New York, I could see that LaToya constantly advocates for the people and places she loves. That is inclusive of her neighbors, her friends, and her fellow renters in New York.
“I’m very outspoken, when it comes to these things. I’m not afraid of standing up for myself or other people. Why stop now? I could make more changes, anything I want to do that’s positive.”
It’s no wonder that she wants the inside of her home to be tranquil and restful. Their days at home are effortless, as she and her partner love to cook, mediate, and paint in their free time. (Netflix and karaoke were also mentioned as mutual passions.) Every day they like to fill their airy apartment with music, all the way up to its high ceilings. “We can sing as loud as we want with all the brick.”
When asked what’s in the future, now she was able to secure housing, refocus on her artistic endeavors, and pivot her career, she’s positive. She has a new song coming out (“I write soul music, jazz, R&B, mostly R&B. I’m trying to make music that will move and push people.”) and she likes that Dunbar Apartments is across from a school, envisioning a future with kids and travel.
A future, unencumbered by move-in costs and housing unaffordability, a vision that we share with Rhino renters nationwide.