In 2021, Chi Ossé, 24, a former Manhattan party promoter and activist against police brutality, pulled off an impressive win to become the youngest member of the New York City Council. Now, he faces a new test: moving out of his mother’s townhouse and finding an apartment.
Over the past two months, in between City Council meetings and conversations with constituents, Mr. Ossé, a Democrat, has hunted for a suitable one-bedroom apartment within his district, which includes parts of the Crown Heights and Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhoods in Brooklyn. But, as he recently complained on Twitter, the futile search — he has seen almost 20 places so far and applied to about five — has been “tiring, treacherous, and competitive.”
Sometimes, Mr. Ossé said, he has been outfoxed by people moving faster than him. In other cases, he said apartments had floor damage or water damage or were still in the process of being renovated. Or there was a washer and no dryer.
“Some of these apartments are like someone told an alien to draw their idea of what an apartment is,” he said. “They’ll have the fridge in the living room.”
Mr. Ossé is the son of a prominent hip-hop lawyer and podcaster, Reggie Ossé, better known as Combat Jack, who died in 2017. Mr. Ossé acknowledges his privileges. As a city councilman, he earns close to $150,000 a year, more than double New York City’s median household income, meaning he does not have to make difficult choices between eating, keeping the lights on and paying his rent. He has a safe, stable place to live as he searches.
That the hunt has been frustrating despite all those advantages reflects the depths of New York City’s housing crisis. The median monthly rent for new leases in Brooklyn was $3,400 in February, according to the brokerage firm Douglas Elliman, up nearly 10 percent from almost $3,100 in February 2020.
What to Know About Affordable Housing in New York
A worsening crisis. New York City is in a dire housing crunch, exacerbated by the pandemic, that has made living in the city more expensive and increasingly out of reach for many people. Here is what to know:
Mr. Ossé said housing was the top issue among his constituents. Many are grappling with double-digit rent increases, and others feel as if they are being priced out of their neighborhoods. Last year, Mr. Ossé and a handful of other council members voted against a city budget agreement negotiated with Mayor Eric Adams, a Democrat, in part because it did not invest enough in affordable housing.
Mr. Ossé said he began his search about two months ago. His brother and his brother’s girlfriend were moving into the townhouse with his mother. Mr. Ossé felt it was time to leave and find his first place so he could have some more space and privacy. (His mother, he said, wants him to stay.)
He began by searching the listing site StreetEasy for a one-bedroom apartment that would rent for $1,500 to $2,000. He quickly realized he was “delusional,” he said. He adjusted the price range upward to $2,500. Even then, he could find only a handful of apartments that were of decent quality and in his district.
“And those five would be off the market in 48 hours,” he said.
He raised his limit to $3,000. He started contacting friends to find out if they knew of any available places. He followed brokers on social media. He also began to wonder if, because he was a councilman, landlords were avoiding renting to him because they were not fully complying with city rules.
Over a recent weekend, he saw a place on Halsey Street and Lewis Avenue. He thought he connected with the landlord, who worked in politics and attended the same high school as Mr. Ossé.
“Monday came by and I didn’t hear from him,” Mr. Ossé said.
His exasperation prompted his post on Twitter last week, which also took aim at broker’s fees — one-time charges that can run thousands of dollars. He may draft a bill that requires landlords to share the cost of the broker’s fee when renters find an apartment themselves.
He said his search had also sharpened his understanding of the city’s housing crisis, which he attributed to a housing shortage decades in the making. His district is one of the most rapidly gentrifying parts of the city. Mr. Ossé said developers should include more homes that rent below market rates, especially in neighborhoods like Bedford-Stuyvesant and Crown Heights.
Many developers and landlords say regulations, taxes and the cost of land drive up the cost of operating a building, making it all but impossible to charge below-market rents and keep a building solvent. The mayor and other city officials have argued that imposing too many conditions on new development could force builders to abandon projects entirely and worsen the housing crisis.
Mr. Ossé’s search, however, may be nearing an end. On Saturday, after seeing a two-bedroom apartment listed at close to $3,000 a month, he walked to an older building.
He had found the broker, Omar Thomas, on Instagram. He liked the apartment’s older style of wood floors and crown molding, which contrasted with some of the newer buildings he had seen. The monthly rent, $2,250, was also attractive, even though he would have to pay a broker’s fee.
On Monday, he applied.
“I am hopeful,” he said. “But the last time I was hopeful was last weekend. I’m really not trying to get my hopes too high.”