By Jordan Reisman
Among the many destitute New York City living spaces featured on The Worst Room Tumblr account.
Finding a decent apartment in New York City is hard. Like, really hard. Yet for some reason, it was only word of mouth that perpetuated this maxim, that is until The Worst Room Tumblr account went viral in back in May of this year.
The Worst Room is a photo-per-day blog that shows all of the decrepit, barely habitable living spaces offered in the Big Apple that are put up on Craigslist. Although the site is just collection of photos, The Worst Room serves as a symbol of just how far people will go to fill up space, and a warning to those looking for housing.
The idea for the blog was hatched by NYU grad and freelance cinematographer from Kentucky named Ryan Nethery. BTR had a chance to speak with Nethery while he was in his car returning from vacation, a brief respite from the concrete jungle he documents.
“Almost every housing situation that I’ve found has either not panned out because of terrible roommates or we had to move because the building was going to be demolished and they were going to put a condo up, and every time I’ve had to move I find myself sitting on Craigslist trying to find something decent to live in. I would sit on Craigslist just looking at really expensive, tiny or dark or just awful places and I would just laugh at them seeing how much people were charging for such deplorable spots,” Nethery says, explaining the inspiration for his Tumblr.
What’s worse is that Nethery explains his standards aren’t too outlandish. He was looking for a place with a window and for the place to be somewhat of a home since he does a lot of editing in his bedroom. Coming from the “hospitable South,” he’s looking for more than just a place to put his head down.
There seemed to be something about Craigslist that allowed such pathetic excuses for homes to be advertised.
“I think there’s something to be said for remaining anonymous. I don’t see how some of these people even have the balls to put the ads up. The first image I found that made me want to make the blog was a basement room with no windows, the walls were painted gray, it had a futon mattress with dirty sheets on it and pipes everywhere. It said, ‘Williamsburg: $1,100 a month,’” says Nethery.
Though Nethery finds the photos from perusing Craigslist, the blog really speaks to everyone who has ever tried to find a place in New York.
“I think the reason that it caught on was that everyone who has ever tried to find an apartment in New York has seen these ads and scoffed at them. The sad truth is that people rent these places out and people live in them, and paying these high rents in these awful places. It just perpetuates the norm of awful living situations.”
Nethery says that he uses the blog as a means to shame the people who are trying to pass them off. So while he meant for people to laugh, he also wants to try to reverse the cycle of squalor in New York.
Since The Worst Room went viral a few months ago, and with all-things Social Media related, it was a matter of timing. Nethery thinks that since it hit in May when a lot of recent college grads were moving, that’s why it got popular, but he also has a feeling that it would have peaked any time.
He explains it as in that special category of “Wow, I can’t believe I didn’t think of that”-oriented ideas, validated since by the site’s success. He attributes most of its popularity to just how many people are in the same situation as him.
“It’s so relatable and funny and shocking and sad all at the same time. On one hand, you’re like, ‘Oh my god, these people…’ and then on the other hand, you’re like, ‘Yeah I know. When I was looking for an apartment, those are the types of places I was seeing.’”
Since creating the blog, the most shocking consequence of the postings is that people will e-mail Nethery about the original listing of an apartment. Basically, the listings he advises his followers not to seek out, are reasonable enough to some people — an unexpected phenomenon of the site that only highlights the problems with New York City real estate.
This all leaves one last question: what is the actual WORST room that Nethery has come across? He listed two. The first was a 5×7 closet in Union Square for $1,000. The second, and his personal favorite, was a room in Lefferts Garden with a bunk bed, the top bunk renting for $500 and the bottom for $600.
For anyone wondering, Nethery has since found a room in a brownstone in Fort Greene with four roommates. With his luck though, his next blog venture could be “The Worst Roommates.”