How much is rent in New York City?

An interview with TikTok’s Caleb Simpson on the wealth disparity within New York City communities.

How Much is Rent in NYC?

An interview with TikTok’s Caleb Simpson on the wealth disparity within New York City communities.

An illustration of TikToker Caleb Simpson. He has brown hair and is wearing a navy Yankee hat and pink hoodie. Simpson is standing in front of two brownstone buildings.

Influencer Caleb Simpson posts tours of New York City apartments on TikTok and YouTube. (Illustration by Susan Behrends Valenzuela)

Julia Diorio, Contributing Writer | Nov 23, 2022

NYU’s price tag is almost as notorious as its rigorous academic standard. This shouldn’t come as a surprise, since it’s located in one of the most expensive cities in the world. Students who live on campus pay around $78,440 per year for tuition and university housing, and that’s not even counting the expense of day-to-day living — those $7 iced coffees and bodega snacks add up faster than you might think. So what happens when students want to trade in their dorm and twin XL bed for an apartment of their own off campus?

Rent in New York City has skyrocketed in the last year. The age-old question of which is cheaper, to dorm or to rent, is once again relevant. The median rate for a Manhattan apartment is over 18% higher than it was just a year ago — if you can even get an apartment. Listings are flying off the market within mere minutes of being posted online.

Influencer Caleb Simpson is no stranger to making a New York City budget work. He has been living in the city for seven years, and has posted videos on YouTube and TikTok for just as long. He is most well known for his “NYC Apartment Tours,” in which he asks strangers on the street to show him their apartments — a series he’s dubbed “this generation’s MTV cribs.” What started as a lighthearted series quickly turned into a discussion about wealth disparity in the city.

Simpson has been inside apartments big and small, from a tiny studio without a bathroom to a giant loft with a “Doctor Strange” window. I sat down with him to ask him about the series and his advice for those currently apartment hunting.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

WSN: How did your “NYC Apartment Tours” series begin? What was the thought process behind it?

Simpson: I was building a startup, just at home working by myself and not really getting human interaction. I was craving more human interaction. I was also looking at what was working on the internet at the time, and I was seeing these three interviews, and they were “How much do you pay for rent, what do you do for a living and what’s the most expensive thing in your apartment?”

I thought, “What if I ask them to go into their apartment?” No one would ask to do that, and would they say yes? It was kind of two birds, one stone. One, I wanted to interact with people, and two, this could go really viral. 

WSN: Is it easier for you to get into people’s apartments now that the series has gained more traction? 

Simpson: For sure. The first day I went out and did it, pretty much everyone said no because I didn’t have any proof of concept yet. It’s so much easier to be able to show somebody, like “Hey, this is what I’ve done and this is what it’s going to be.” Everybody has seen the series now, so it’s much easier to just be like “Have you seen these videos?” It’s very helpful for the series.

WSN: How has your understanding of the wealth disparity in the city changed as you tour more of these apartments?

Simpson: I don’t think it’s changed at all. I think I just have more respect for how New Yorkers can adapt and evolve within the changing climate of New York City — what they’re willing to put up with and how to utilize a space creatively. 

WSN: Why do you think rent is so high right now? Do you see any patterns?

Simpson: Rent in New York has always been high. I feel like that’s a thing everyone always forgets — it was high when I moved here seven years ago, and it’s still high. It’s still hard to live in New York and it’ll always be hard to live in New York, so I personally try not to think of New York City as “The rent’s so high, it’s so hard to live here,” because it has always been that way. It shouldn’t be the thing that holds you back because it has always been that way.

WSN: What has been your favorite way that New Yorkers have revamped the space and made the most out of their money? 

Simpson: That’s a great question. Some people are extreme thrifters — they find stuff in the trash when they don’t even have to because they think it’s more fun and they don’t want to spend money or contribute to buying more things.

Some of the apartments I’ve seen in which people have done that look nicer than other people’s apartments. In New York, you can recycle nice things quite easily because people don’t want to move things around. They’ll have a $5,000 couch and they’re just like, “I don’t want to deal with moving this so if you come take it, I’ll give it to you for free.”

If you’re willing to put up with that stuff, you can decorate your apartment pretty nicely. 

WSN: A big issue within the NYU community right now is finding off-campus housing, because within the radius of campus, rent has skyrocketed even more so than elsewhere. Would you recommend putting up with that, or are there different neighborhoods that you think would be easier to live in? 

Simpson: That’s a tough question. There’s always give and take living in New York City, especially NYU. I used to live down there. If you’re an NYU student, you’re just not going to find anything affordable near campus — you’re going to have to make a sacrifice. If you want to have cheaper rent, live further in Brooklyn or live in Queens — maybe even live uptown cause rent seems to be a little cheaper there. There’s always give and take. Even if you’re at the highest wealth in New York, there’s always going to be give and take. 

WSN: Would you have any advice for students who are struggling to find off-campus housing? 

Simpson: Practical advice would be to find a roommate or some other students looking to live off campus, and don’t be scared to be further away. If saving money is the primary objective, don’t look at it as a negative. You’re going to get a brand new experience in a brand new neighborhood, and it’s going to be completely different from everybody else, but it’s going to contribute to your life in a positive way somehow. It’s all mindset. You can still do all the things, you’re just going to have to live somewhere else. 

WSN: You’ve obviously been in the smallest of the smallest apartments and also the huge lofts and penthouses. What are the biggest differences between the people you meet who have those huge lofts versus the tiny closets? Can you tell when you go up to them, or is it just a gamble?

Simpson: It’s impossible to judge someone based on their appearance or how they carry themselves when they’re walking. When I’m asking people on the street, I kind of just fire away. I just ask, ask, ask, because you never know what someone’s situation is. 

WSN: Do you have a favorite apartment? 

Simpson: There are so many unique apartments I’ve been in that have been really cool, but the one that sticks out the most — which I think sticks out the most for everyone — is the Sports Illustrated model’s apartment. It was insane. It was the biggest I’ve been in. Anyone would not, not want to live there, you know?