Landing a one-bedroom, with a little help from her friends

A photo provided by Pam McAllister shows McAllister. The power of community helped McAllister, a longtime Park Slope, Brooklyn, resident find a new home. (Photo: NYTimes)
NEW YORK — When Pam McAllister discovered that she had to leave her Park Slope, Brooklyn, apartment of 37 years in 2015, she did the only thing that she could think of: She emailed 100 or so friends, asking for help.اضافة اعلان

“I said, ‘If you know of anything, I need something affordable and accessible, and not too far from Park Slope, if possible,’ ” said McAllister, 70, who had been paying $1,300 a month for her apartment, a huge three-bedroom on the third floor of an eight-unit building that was being converted to luxury condos. “I had gone online to look, and everything was so expensive or far from everything I knew. It scared me to death.”

McAllister, a writer, piano teacher and the retired music director and organist of the Park Slope United Methodist Church, had moved into the apartment in 1978, with a roommate she met through a bookstore bulletin board. They paid $180 a month. It was her second apartment in the city; she found her first, in a Park Slope women’s commune, on a bookstore bulletin board, as well.

“We’d gone to a real estate person, who kept saying, ‘There’s this really big three-bedroom, but you don’t want to look at that,’ ” McAllister said. “We finally said, ‘Well, we would want to look at that.’ ”

It was clear why the agent had tried to dissuade them: The apartment was in bad shape. The building’s stairs swayed as they walked up to the third floor, where the floors were covered with paint splatters, the windows were caked with dirt, the walls were cracked and the smell of a recently removed dead cat permeated the space.

But McAllister convinced her roommate that they could fix the place up, and they did. Eventually, she was able to afford it on her own. She used one bedroom as a waiting room for her piano students and another as her office. The apartment was on the third floor, and her students referred to it as her treehouse, because of all the foliage outside the windows.

“I loved, loved that apartment,” McAllister said. “I got to know all the families that lived in the building. I was like everyone’s auntie. When I found out I had to leave, I kind of felt that my life was over.”

But friends who received her email forwarded it to their friends. A retired Methodist minister sent out his own email — “Our Pam needs help!” — as did a friend McAllister had kept in touch with from Majority Report, a feminist newspaper they both worked at in the 1970s. The email made its way to the members of the Brooklyn Women’s Chorus, where one of the singers passed it along to friends, a couple with a Sunset Park town house.

A few days later, McAllister received a call about the couple’s one-bedroom garden apartment. It rented for $1,500 a month, including electricity, internet and cable.

The couple had looked McAllister up on Facebook and found so many mutual interests and overlapping communities — music, writing, political activism — that they felt certain she would be a good fit for the space, which had recently been vacated by the owner’s daughter and grandson.

“I went to see it the next day, and we hit it off like old friends,” McAllister said. “It was an absolutely gorgeous apartment. When they showed me the fridge, ‘I was, like, ‘Oh wow — it lights up inside.’ They were laughing at me.”

She explained that her last refrigerator’s light — not the bulb — had been broken for years. While common areas in the building, like the swaying staircase and the hall with cracked walls, had been repaired over time, her apartment had remained a little rundown. “I loved it,” she said, “but sometimes I’d come home and the ceiling would be on the floor.”

There were other advantages to the new place, as well: Although McAllister loved living amid the treetops, she has arthritis, and it had become difficult to go up several steep flights of stairs; her garden apartment is only one step down.

“As I got slower at climbing, all the little kids would run past me on the way up: ‘Hi, Pam.’ They’d go visit a friend for a minute, and I’d still be climbing when they came back down,” she said.

The new place was a lot smaller than her old apartment, but she had started finding new homes for her possessions months earlier, when her landlord gave her notice.

“Over the years, things just reproduced in there,” she said. “I got rid of 1,500 books and kept 1,500 books. I read the Marie Kondo book. I found one thing helpful: Instead of looking at what do I have to get rid of, what do I want to take with me? It’s a very different mentality.”

She brought furniture that made sense in the new space, including her kitchen table and chairs, bought at the church thrift shop years earlier, for the pretty eat-in kitchen with green walls.

Her piano, which she has had since childhood in western New York, came, too. She retired from her position at the church last spring, when she realized that they would be singing remotely for at least a year, but she still plays her piano every evening after watching “Jeopardy!” Mostly “show tunes, old 1940s songs, jazz — it depends on my mood,” she said.

She receives texts from upstairs about the songs, which she finds delightful: “It’s like giving a concert every night.”

The bedroom is so small that there is barely space for a twin bed; her double bed went to a friend’s daughter, newly arrived in the city. But the lack of room is more than compensated for by the garden, which she adores.

“I call it the enchanted garden,” she said. “I’m a bird watcher, and I love looking at plants. It’s a little haven, an oasis in the city.”