On what was once a quiet stretch of city streets, ragged, muddy trenches have taken root in the ground, clouds of dust rise overhead, and the roar of huge subterranean explosions rumbles through the walls around you.
Welcome to Second Avenue in Manhattan, where the subway construction projectmakes it feel as if angry monsters are battling it out below ground. And when you wander down to 72nd Street, it looks as if they’ve brought along places to stay: Two impossibly large metal trailers that stand five stories tall and span almost the length of a city block.
“If I look directly out my window, I look right into it,” Ashlee Reilly, 22, said.
But Ms. Reilly is not complaining. When she signed the lease for her studio apartment, the bones of the massive structure outside were already up, and she knew what she was in for — but she also knew she was in for a bargain. She pays $1,450 per month in a neighborhood where the average price for a studio, according to the brokerage firm Citi Habitats, is $1,800.
New Yorkers are willing to look past all manner of unpleasantness if it means a little extra space at a price they can afford. The construction along Second Avenue has opened up a new corridor of opportunity — especially for younger people who may spend more time out with friends and less time at home worrying about the truck labeled “explosives” parked on the corner.
“I would stay here forever if I could,” Ms. Reilly said.
Ms. Reilly had only one strict requirement when she began her apartment search in August: She wanted enough space to fit both a full-size bed and a small blue sofa in the apartment. (New York’s market being what it is, that list is both a bit sad and a tall order.)
She looked at about 10 apartments with her mother and her real estate agent, Joe Lui of Citi Habitats, but her requests proved impossible downtown. So she was delighted to find a 500-square-foot studio, with a separate kitchen and 10-foot ceilings, even if it was just a dozen feet from a muck house.
Setting aside its unfortunate name, a muck house is, in fact, a dirty place of business. It is where the rock and debris from down below is hauled, loaded onto dump trucks and carted away. An angry boom can often be heard echoing inside.
Through the flurry of dust and noise, some residents are content to sponge off their glasses and take the long view. Eager for the easier commutes and increased property values that a new subway will bring, they accept that they must live with the ruckus.
Others are less patient.
“It’s disgusting,” an elderly woman said on a recent afternoon as she walked by a muck house, raising her cane and giving it an angry shake. “It looks like a war zone.”
The muck houses near Ms. Reilly — the one directly in front of her building is between 69th and 70th Streets, and the other three blocks north — were constructed late last summer. Kevin Ortiz, a spokesman for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, said they should be in place until fall 2013. Blasting, Mr. Ortiz said, will continue until the end of this year. The entire subway project is scheduled to be completed in 2016.
But it isn’t just in the shadows of these muck houses that a deal can be found. Rentals all along the construction corridor are in the bargain bin.
An analysis of Upper East Side rental prices conducted by Jonathan Miller, president of the Miller Samuel appraisal firm, found that median rents fell near the subway construction from 2010 to 2011, while the rents in the rest of the neighborhood rose. The median rent west of Third Avenue, between 64th and 96th Streets, rose 3.2 percent, Mr. Miller found, and east of First Avenue, the median rose by 2 percent. But rents in the construction-heavy areas in between fell year over year by 1.7 percent.
“This is an opportunity, especially for people who maybe don’t have a family yet and aren’t in the apartment that much,” Mr. Miller said. “If you work a little late, then go out to the bar and bend an elbow. When you come home, you might not hear anything.”
Marisa Berman, 23, and her sister Dana, 22, signed a lease in October for a railroad apartment on Second Avenue and 83rd Street that overlooks what appears to be a makeshift parking lot for construction equipment and some holes in the ground. But they were delighted to find a one-bedroom apartment for $1,900 per month that they could comfortably use as a two-bedroom. The sisters dismiss the construction as a minor, noisy inconvenience.
“Sometimes, you may have to cross over to the other side of the street if something is closed off,” Dana Berman said, “but it beats paying $1,200 per person to live in a studio downtown.”
Not everyone, of course, is willing to make the sacrifice.
“Some clients call up and say, ‘I don’t want to be on Second Avenue, I don’t want to see it, I don’t want to hear it,’ ” said the Bermans’ real estate broker, Kristina Capron of Citi Habitats. “But some people, when they’re looking for a great deal, are open to it.”
Ms. Capron, however, is not among them.
She and her fiancé moved into an apartment on 95th Street between First and Second Avenues in 2010, thinking they had found an amazing deal.
“We got a one bedroom for $1,250,” Ms. Capron said. “Then in a couple of weeks, we knew why.”
The next year, the couple packed their bags and moved out.