Everyone knows that New York City is one of the most expensive housing markets in America. However, not everyone felt the rent crunch equally. Until this March, actress Patricia O’Grady was living in a two-bedroom apartment in Greenwich Village for just $28.43 a month.
Not $248. Just $28.43.
O’Grady arrived in New York in 1955. The aspiring actress moved into a two-bedroom apartment with three friends on the top floor of a building in the village’s heydey. The women agreed to keep up the hallways and clean the building, and in exchange, their rent was just $16.00. Eventually all the roommates moved out, but O’Grady stayed. The rent-controlled apartment stayed as-is. But earlier this year, the 84-year old actress was hit by a car and killed. Soon the word was out about her incredibly stripped-down discounted apartment. A two-bedroom in the neighborhood now goes for between $5,000 and 7,000 a month.
Landlord Adam Pomerantz bought the building in 2002. The prior landlord had never raised her rent because he liked her and they were close friends. Pomerantz asked his lawyer if it was legal to pay rent that low, but a lawyer told him it was required due to the preexisting rent-stabilization laws, however, he could raise her rent $1.98 a month. Although he asked her if she would move out, O’Grady refused. Pomerantz owns Murray’s Bagels next door, and over time he also became friends with O’Grady.
O’Grady worked for 50 years, mostly Off-Broadway and studied under legendary teacher Uta Hagen. She occasionally appeared on soap operas like Another World and As the World Turns. A friend described her apartment as a “dump with character.”
Pomerantz didn’t see the interior of the apartment until 2005. That’s when he found out that she was living without heat or hot water. Although he tried to install them, she refused, telling him she wasn’t worthy of improvements because her rent was so low. Nevertheless, Pomerantz installed a heating unit that cost $12,000, but O’Grady would not used it. She used the two fireplaces instead. There was no tub or shower, so O’Grady used the YMCA every day. The director of the Metropolitan Council on Housing commented that she didn’t even know that cold-water flats still existed in Manhattan, as they are exceedingly rare. An ex-landlord once set fire to the building to try to get rid of the rent-controlled tenants.
Inside, the apartment was filled with books and scripts for plays O’Grady had acted in. The walls were crumbling and paint was peeling. O’Grady always mailed her rent checks rather than dropping them off at the bagel shop. Pomerantz will remodel the unit and rent it for $5,000.
O’Grady’s final role was in 2000, in the play “The Dora Project,” based on the life of Dora Maar, one of the mistresses of Pablo Picasso. She once said she “made a life in the theater without making a living in it,” which was possible because of the low rent.