Thirty years ago, a woman got a $250-a-month, rent-stabilized apartment in Inwood. She says the neighborhood has defined not only her life but her life’s work.

The last time Arlene Schulman went looking for an apartment, the internet was only in its infancy. “I did what everyone did 30 years ago,” Ms. Schulman said, “I asked everyone I knew if they knew about an available apartment.”

Like most other apartment hunters in the 90s, she also rushed to grab a copy of The Village Voice on Thursday nights to thumb through the classified ads. “I remember being very aggressive because I knew my income wasn’t increasing as fast as the rent.”

A co-worker tipped her off to a one-bedroom in Inwood. “She said, ‘Can you afford $250 a month?’”

At the time, Ms. Schulman was working for ABC News, thinking about going out on her own as a freelance photographer and writer. She was paying $1,000 a month for a studio on the Upper East Side. She understood that the opportunity to slash her rent so dramatically would completely reconfigure her life. “That $250 represented a great deal of freedom,” she said. “For someone from the artistic economic class of people, your income fluctuates. You can be doing really well one month and not so well the next. That $250 was something that I could afford no matter what.”

Many items in Ms. Schulman’s apartment have been bought at secondhand stores or recovered from the street. One prized possession is her Marimekko-lined barbershop chair.Katherine Marks for The New York Times

And the freedom could be enduring because the available apartment in the six-story building was rent-stabilized, which meant her rent increases would be measured and predictable. So, she took the A train to the final stop at the northern tip of Manhattan and never looked back.

She did upgrade to a one-bedroom on the top floor about five years after moving in. “I’m in the penthouse,” she said, laughing. “There’s no one above me.”

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