Julian Abeleda was tired of feeling scared. It was the summer of 2021, everything had gone wrong and it was time to take a risk.
He had quit his job after discovering the person he was training made more money than he did, and a fight with a roommate prompted him to move back in with his parents. “I was very depressed,” he said. “I didn’t know where I was going with my life and I pretty much hit rock bottom.”
He was in Sacramento, living in the same area where he’d been all his life. But he had another place in mind. “I always dreamed of going to New York,” he said. “I storyboarded it on a whiteboard but never really made that push because I was scared of taking risks — until it couldn’t get any worse. I was already depressed and broke. So why not?”
He bought a one-way plane ticket and arrived in New York on Oct. 1, 2021. He didn’t have a job lined up and came with only $7,000 in savings, $3,000 of which immediately went to a short-term Airbnb rental.
“My game plan was to survive,” he said, laughing. “It was a pretty impulsive move to go to New York during a pandemic. I had enough money to stay for a few months, and I was determined that I was going to make it work because I didn’t want to live the rest of my life with regret.”
With experience as a specialized data analyst, he sought out every job for which he was qualified and busied himself with online courses to gain more professional certifications.
Soon, he started getting interviews. “It was a thrilling experience because I knew I was competing with some of the smartest people in the world in New York,” he said.
But any offers — or even follow-up interviews — remained elusive, and his time in the Airbnb was running short. “I’m not going to lie, I did get scared a couple of times, I did cry a couple of times,” he said. “But I realized everyone does that every now and then. When I realized that, the shame was gone. And once the shame was gone, momentum started to build up.”
In November 2021, he landed an interview with PwC, an audit and tax services firm, and by the end of the month, the company offered him a job. “When I saw the email,” he recalled, “I remember looking up at the moon and across the landscape of New York and thinking, ‘I belong here. I made it.’ That is a feeling no one can take away from you.”
He found an apartment in Harlem and was excited about living in the neighborhood. The place looked decent online and during a brief visit, but once he settled in, it proved to be a hard space to live in. There were cockroaches to welcome him on the first night and, as he soon discovered, a host of persistent maintenance issues, including a shower that worked only intermittently. Package deliveries routinely went missing, and there was no air-conditioning to get him through the summer.
He needed another place but doubted he’d be able to find anything better in his price range of $2,000 to $2,600. Then he saw a TikTok video alerting him to NYC Housing Connect, a city-run online portal for connecting low- and middle-income renters with affordable housing through open lotteries. According to The City, a review of 18 million applications between January 2014 and March 2019 revealed that for every unit designated for income-restricted lotteries, there were, on average, 314 eligible applicants.
“Everyone told me that a lottery would never work, it’d take years,” he said, “but I thought what do I have to lose? Let’s just try.”
$2,490 | Williamsburg, Brooklyn
Julian Abeleda, 29
Occupation: Data Analyst
On finding community: For Mr. Abeleda, whose parents both moved to the United States from the Philippines as teenagers, it didn’t take long to connect with a Filipino community in New York. “I made one Filipino friend, and they introduced me to an entire community that welcomed me with open arms,” he said. “I made a lot of friends that helped me when I had nothing.”
On eating in the neighborhood: “I love the neighborhood,” Mr. Abeleda said. His favorite haunts include Roberta’s for pizza and Mission Sandwich Social. “Also,” he added, “Trader Joe’s has been so clutch.”
Mr. Abeleda applied to the lottery in April 2022. Three months later he was notified that he’d been selected for a studio at One South First, a development in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, with just over a quarter of its units reserved for low- and middle-income- residents. He moved in on Sept. 16 of last year.
“Moving in was a breathtaking experience,” he said. “I saw the view on the balcony and immediately started texting my mom.”
There are plenty of thrilling features in the unit itself — the washer and dryer, the dishwasher, the AC unit — but there are other things about the building as a whole that really won him over. Mr. Abeleda said that maintenance reliably responds to requests within an hour and the concierge desk makes sure he gets all of his packages. “I’m never going to take this building for granted,” he said. “I use all the amenities.”
There’s a movie screening room in the basement for his “House of the Dragon” group viewings on Sunday nights and a pool on the sun deck for the warmer months; a work-from-home lounge and three private conference rooms. Most importantly for Mr. Abeleda, there’s a sense of community. His neighbors not only say hello but some extended invitations for Thanksgiving last fall.
“I’ve met some of the brightest individuals in the building,” he said. “It’s a pretty smart and compassionate community. People from all over the world. There’s something about the building that’s special, something about the space that makes people want to come together. I’ve never felt so included.”
Residents in the building are encouraged to join a WhatsApp group chat, which spawns many interest-driven spinoffs. Mr. Abeleda joined one group that led him to a chess club that meets in the resident lounge. From there, he was a bit taken aback when he got an invitation to play polo. “At first I thought he was talking about water polo, but, no, he was talking about horse polo,” he said, laughing. “I’ve never played that in my life.”
His new apartment makes New York — once a vision on a whiteboard — feel like a home. “I came with absolutely nothing and now I’m here. I want more people to feel empowered to go get an opportunity, to take a risk.”