Bushwick summer rental: a $100 tent

Louis Frank, Emerson Brown and Simon Levy. Photos by Stefan Tonio.

Louis Frank, Emerson Brown and Simon Levy in front of their tents. Photos by Stefan Tonio.

To all those who have pondered pitching a tent someplace exotic and moving in for the summer, here are three people who are doing exactly that. In Bushwick.

NYU grads Louis Frank and Simon Levy—along with their friend Emerson Brown, a UC Santa Cruz student until recently—have moved into three one-man tents in the backyard of a friend’s duplex apartment, where each pays $100 a month for a 5-by-8 plot of land. “When we’ve just graduated without money and permanency, isn’t living in a tent the most logical, practical answer after all?” said Frank, 22. What’s more, he said, it’s a “badass thing to do.”

Levy, a preppy-looking blond from Marin County who has vague plans to go to law school some day, explains that this is not a situation of dire economic need as much as an adventure. But one might have to be a 22-year-old male to appreciate its pleasures.

On a recent afternoon, they took a break from the tents, which they bought at Eastern Mountain Sports for $170 a piece, to eat egg sandwiches and sip 50-cent coffees inside the apartment, a crowded post-collegiate array of futons, cigarette butts and curtains that function as doors. In the bathroom, mod tiles suggest a landlord who was probably aiming higher, tenant-wise.

They then crawled inside their respective cubbies for photographs. “Dude my tent stinks. It’s my feet,” said Brown. “Take a whiff.”

Brown inside his tent.

Brown inside his tent.

Frank gamely shoved his nose inside. “Whoa. You’re right!” he said, not disapprovingly. “It does stink.”

All three tents sit on slabs of plywood on the ground, or rather mud, since they initiated their outdoor stay two weeks ago during a monsoon-like stretch of almost-daily rain.

In that time, Frank, who works as  tour guide for a Manhattan double-decker bus company, says his abode has only leaked twice, both times due to rain-flap malfunction rather than tent failure.

Levy says the rain’s effect is more psychological. “It has been getting to me at times,” he confessed, but added that with his Tempurpedic mattress, the setup is more comfortable than it looks. “I actually found myself for the first time last night looking forward to going home to it.”

The backyard campout was hatched a few weeks ago. Frank and Levy had been sharing a house in Kensington with three other NYU students, when the crew dispersed after graduation and they needed to look for alternatives.

They put out an ad on Craigslist for outdoor space to rent, which was initially answered by a Brownsville man who said the idea sounded “kind of gay, but kind of interesting.”

They had arranged to visit him when Levy’s co-worker from the Grey Dog Café in Manhattan, where Brown also works, offered his backyard.

They keep their worldly goods—computers, dry clothing and the like—in a hallway jumble inside the apartment, a $2,250, two-bedroom duplex whose indoor tenants number roughly six, counting a girlfriend and someone else who just pays utilities.


Levy, Frank and Brown, inside their respective summer homes.

If there’s zero privacy in the backyard, there’s little more inside the place. Levy says he’s already seen two of his housemates having sex. “Worse things have happened,” he said. “It’s a very open environment.”

The most challenging aspect of their living situation is not sleeping outside as much as sharing a single shower among nine people.

That’s partly because none of the three is in a steady romantic relationship at the moment. But… what if? “If I had a girlfriend,” said Levy, “I’d probably stay at her place instead.”

Frank, who is thinking of ways to extend his campout beyond the summer, is looking for more of an outdoor type, it seems. “I want to meet that girl who wants to stay here with me,” he said.

22 Comment

  • I know people are doing this kind of thing in more rural parts of the country, but it seems a little risky in the middle of Brooklyn. Are others doing it around here?

  • Ah, youth. I vaguely remember it. Great story.

  • I LOVE THESE MEN! great, well-written story

  • I want to see how they like the tents in the winter time. LOL.

  • This is awesome! I applaud them. I wish I could do this. Though if I did it, I’d probably splurge for a fancy gym membership and take my showers there in the morning instead of in a cramped apartment with 9 people sharing 1 bathroom. Then I could use the gym’s shampoo, conditioner, soap, razors, deodorant, etc.

    And is it just me… or is $100/each too much to spend a muddy small plot of land?

  • Aimee–it’s probably because they get to store their stuff INSIDE the apt., and also get to use the bathroom/kitchen in the apt.

  • Emmy! Maybe you can pick up a pallate from behind a Safeway & use that for elevation…looks pretty muddy under your tents. A gym/shower membership is not a bad idea either. Take care! <3 Malena

  • It was my idea, Louis stole it from me!

  • Did you guys see all the love for our Bushwick friends on Brownstoner today?

  • you boys need a place to shower, just come on over to troutman street.

  • I too am camping out on the beachs of San Diego and spend $30.00 per month at a local health club that has hot showers and cable T.V. and lounge.
    The global/U.S. economy is going to get,”Worse.” If the Iranian pro-democracy is successful which I believe it will be, America would have a new trading partner and a pathway to economic recovery.
    “Brother can you spare a dime” ($.10).

  • I agree with the STUPID HIPSTER comments, these guys are just trust fund babies that are looking to be alternative.

    Lets see they really survive in the homeless Tent cities under the FDR or abandon MTA tunnels.

  • I think it is cool that they are taking care of themselves in a very simple way. Lighten up with the “stupid Hipster”

  • I’m getting a disconnect here…$170 tent, Tempur-Pedic mattress inside said tent…$100 per month for renting space in said tent plot…

    I suppose it *could* work, but as another commenter mentioned the windter is gonna be interesting.

    Then again, I’ll bet this’ll get old really quick. This is the sort of thing someone fifteen years younger would call fun…and do with his daddy.

    This is coming from a college student who’s paying $260 plus utilities ($20ish) for his own room in a smallish apartment right next to campus in Colorado. Land values are slightly less ridiculous, so I’m sharing the flat with two or three people, depending on the semester. Since I still get my personal space, my rent won’t go down, but the three other guys’ will…to roughly $165. It’s not NYC, but methinks conditions are a whole lot more liveable there than in this muddy publicity stunt :p

  • This strikes me a completely moronic thing to do. Looks like they’re in the mud too. At the very least I would recommend that they lay down a layer of bricks under their tents, for drainage.

  • Ian L, that’s great for you! No offense, but Colorado isn’t NYC. People will put up with all sorts of abusive or bizarre living conditions to live in NYC that we never would never willingly suffer elsewhere. That’s just how awesome this city is.

    These kids are awesome! They’re on the forefront of the Hooverville revival.

  • err… – 1st “never.”

    I need coffee.

  • dude these hipster brahs only care about the tents being pitched in their pants

  • I’m doing the same thing! I’ve been in a tent on someone’s deck in Brooklyn for 2 months now. I pay some rent.

    There are also roughly 20 couchsurfers staying every night from all over the world in our lounge. Its pretty nuts.

    Nice to know I”m not the only one though!

  • I did this in 2007 from August – November, now Joseph, the above commenter has taken over my spot!

  • HI Louis!! i hope it worked out for you the other day– with u-haul and all;) thank you for an excelent ride on the your bus! /Johan from Sweden!

  • yeah you can say they are cool but they admit that if they had girlfriends they would clearly be mooching off of them!