Sensing a divide on the Lower East Side: ‘The people who stayed are not well-off’

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Ros Stone was supposed to start a new job this week.

"It's in real estate," she told me. The office, unfortunately, like her apartment, is in the Lower East Side.

Stone has lived in New York City for 16 years, with 11 of them in this neighborhood. She's always loved it, but the camaraderie she's seen from her neighbors "makes me feel better about New York City" and that "it's important for me to see that we get through this."

While we were talking on the phone, a neighbor knocked on her door and asked to put food in her fridge.

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"I still have some ice, which is unusual," Stone told me.

She's knocked on doors, delivered food and water and has been checking up on her neighbors in the Seward Park coop. It's a mixed-housing complex full of long-time residents who bought their apartments when they were unimaginably affordable; and newer arrivals, mostly financially successful young couples who walk to good-paying jobs in lower Manhattan.

(As she put it, the coop has "older residents who probably purchased their pads for $30,000, and newer residents who bought theirs for $600,000.")

One young neighbor—a "very young, 20 or something, computer-genius dude," she said—created an open internet connection so everyone nearby can check their email and connect with people online.

"All because this one guy volunteered and did it," she said with a mix of admiration and pride.

The building has a generator, so people can also charge their phones.

But in other ways, the storm has begun wedging a bigger cleave between the neighbors who, prior to the storm, easily rubbed elbows in Seward's elevators and hallways.

"A lot of the newer residents left," Stone said. "A lot more of the older people stayed. It seems like from what I was observing, the people who are staying here are the poor people. The people who stayed are not well-off."

Stone said she went to a sit-down Mexican restaurant two nights ago. It's located three blocks away and was lit by candle light. She was there with friends and the place was doing a brisk business. It sounded like a reprieve from the storm.

The restaurant drew some, like Stone, who were escaping from the storm. Others, apparently, went there for a a taste of what Hurricane Sandy had done to New York. Stone said she found that unsettling.

She said she senses a divide, between the "people [who] are struggling downtown and people uptown who don't have a clue."

Downtown, she said, people like her are "constantly worrying about getting ice to keep food from spoiling, when is their next shower and can you flush a toilet" without running out of water.

She looked at some of the people in the restaurant and said it was "clear they came from the Upper West Side" and were "happy and comfortable and just wanted to see what was going on. It's like Armageddon down here and people coming down to check it out, which doesn't make sense. A person at the other table came down from the Upper West Side by taxi," she said, "just to fuck around."

"A police officer came in," she recalled, "and said, 'You need to travel home in groups and the streets aren't safe.'" Stone said that made her worry.

Instead of walking the three blocks with friends, Stone took a cab.

Home was also somewhat less safe than before.

"Normally we have a security system with a TV system but the power is out so we don't have any of that right now," Stone said. The co-op does have security guards, which helps a lot. But there are no street lights or businesses opening, and that is "part of the reason I don't feel comfortable on the streets in the Lower East Side at night."