Except for her years in college and graduate school, Patrice Fenton always lived in Brooklyn.
After receiving undergraduate and graduate degrees in education, she taught at a middle school in Fort Greene. She was living nearby in a two-bedroom rental with her son, Jair, when she met Ra’id Bey four years ago. He was a barber who worked at the salon where she got her hair cut. Originally from Trinidad, he was renting a one-bedroom in Crown Heights, Brooklyn.
Soon after they met, Ms. Fenton, a graduate of Temple University in Philadelphia, decided to pursue a Ph.D. at the University of Miami. So the three of them moved there, most recently occupying a two-bedroom in a large apartment house for $925 a month.
Last December, the family, which now included a daughter, Haile Masani, came home for the holidays. Ms. Fenton, her coursework done, accepted another job at the school where she had worked, Fort Greene Preparatory Academy. While they apartment-hunted, they stayed with Ms. Fenton’s parents in Clinton Hill, Brooklyn.
Knowing they were priced out of Fort Greene and Clinton Hill, they didn’t even bother hunting there. Their neighborhood would be nearby — either Crown Heights or Bedford-Stuyvesant.
They aimed for a two-bedroom rental in a new building, or at least one with a renovated interior. Their price range was “as far below $2,000 as possible,” said Ms. Fenton, who is now 35. She knew a three-bedroom would be out of reach. “Storage space was important, but is not something that you come across very often, so that was one of the things we were willing to let go of,” she said.
She went on the hunt without an agent, while Mr. Bey, 40, wrapped up their affairs in Miami. “I was well familiar with Brooklyn and knew what I wanted and where I wanted to be,” Ms. Fenton said. Besides, she felt that the usual broker’s fee, 15 percent of a year’s rent, hiked the price uncomfortably.
Ms. Fenton had grown up in the Ebbets Field Apartments, a large complex opened in 1962 in Crown Heights on the former field of the Brooklyn Dodgers. A renovated two-bedroom rented for $1,900 a month, including all utilities except for air-conditioning.
Growing up, she said, “we had a good experience in that building, but the apartments were, at that point, running down.”
“The quality was kind of shifting and in order for me to go back there, changes would have had to be drastic,” she added. “The grounds still weren’t very well kept, but the apartment was renovated and that was the draw.”
Still, “the agent fee was the barrier,” she said. “You couldn’t get into the building without the agent.”
She preferred a smaller building, however, and checked out an intriguing open house in Bedford-Stuyvesant. The four-story building had been gut renovated, and the two-bedroom model apartment on view was brand-new inside. “It was perfect,” Ms. Fenton said.
“When people saw the model apartment and finishes, they were thoroughly impressed and weren’t seeing anything like it in the neighborhood,” said the listing agent, Claire McFeely, a saleswoman at Compass real estate.
But Ms. Fenton learned there was a broker’s fee and an income requirement of 40 times the monthly rent that the family didn’t meet. She told herself, “This is out of my reach, so I might as well let it go.”
Another renovated two-bedroom, in a small walk-up building on MacDougal Street in Bed-Stuy, was $1,950 a month. The place was across the street from her godmother’s home. “She is like an aunt to me,” she said. “It’s just as good as having a blood relative across the street.”
But the interior was “extraordinarily small,” she said, and the bedrooms were on opposite ends of the apartment, which wasn’t ideal.
Every place was “missing one too many things,” Ms. Fenton said. “We would have had to settle on too many of our wants to take any of them. I became disgruntled with what I was seeing.”
So she contacted Ms. McFeely to ask how rigid the income requirements were on the four-story building in Bed-Stuy and whether the management company would accept her mother as a guarantor.
Ms. McFeely was surprised to hear from her. At the open house “she didn’t say a peep,” Ms. McFeely said. The company, New Holland Residences, would indeed accept the proposed guarantor — and, moreover, had decided to pay the broker’s fee rather than having tenants pay.
“That changed everything,” Ms. Fenton said. She gathered her paperwork. “I started scanning away and created a PDF package to send to Claire,” she said. “It took quite a bit of corresponding. Claire and I corresponded 87 times.”
The couple selected a place on a lower floor. With two free months on a 16-month lease, the $2,160 monthly rent worked out to be $1,890 a month. “With the little one, I didn’t want to have to walk up so many steps,” Ms. Fenton said.
The family arrived in early spring; Ms. Fenton and Mr. Bey were married shortly thereafter in Harlem.
The children’s bedroom, currently occupied by 2-year-old Haile, is conveniently next to the master bedroom. Jair, 11, is away for the summer with his father in Atlanta.
“In Miami, there was more space, so I could carve out a home office,” Ms. Fenton said. Now, she works on the couch. She is writing her dissertation, which is on black men in the field of special education.
“There isn’t a lot of space for storage, so I still have a ton of stuff I have to get rid of,” Ms. Fenton said. “My husband said if it’s sitting there for months, I don’t need it. I’m not against getting rid of it. It’s just another thing to do.”