Searching for an apartment is like sifting through mounds of dirt to find that one tiny diamond. There are so many factors to consider while looking for the right home that the search can consume your entire life. One of the biggest concerns I initially ran into was the effect of living in a safe location on rental cost. It seems like a simple and straightforward concept: safety first. I would imagine it is a high priority for most anyone seeking an apartment or house. Unfortunately, the safest neighborhoods in Washington, D.C. are the most expensive with the average monthly rent close to $1,000 per room.
Many say that the most cost-effective housing option is to live in a row house shared with several other individuals. Depending on the type of person you are, this could be a big drawback or fit in well with your lifestyle. Being the social person that I am, I don’t mind sharing space with other likeminded individuals. For someone new to town (who isn’t supported by their parents), standing on your own two feet financially is difficult, especially in a city known for exorbitant housing prices.
It really becomes a question of affordable housing or safety. Is it fair to have to consider jeopardizing my safety in order to be able to afford a living space? Or should I give more consideration to living slightly outside of my means (like so many Americans do) but being able to comfortably put my head on a pillow at night?
After a friend yelled at me for even considering living in an unsafe neighborhood so that I could afford my living expenses, I decided to tough it out and recalibrate my apartment selections. My options for housing are somewhat limited. Not only have I decided to put safety at the forefront of my apartment search, but I also rely on public transportation and need to be close to a Metro station. This puts me in the most expensive bracket of housing options, with few decent ones less than $850 per month.
According to a new report from the National Low Income Housing Coalition, a family must earn $38,355 a year, $18.44 an hour, to afford a simple two-bedroom apartment at the 2010 national average fair market rent of $959. A handful of neighborhoods in D.C. are what locals call “up and coming” areas or undergoing gentrification. They are affordable but not entirely safe, and you probably wouldn’t want to find yourself walking the streets by yourself much later than dusk, especially if you’re a woman.
Of course there are a score of apartment hunting guides to help find the “perfect” apartment, but I believe it’s all about which neighborhood makes you feel most comfortable. Some of the best advice I got from friends was to check out a neighborhood at night to see if I felt comfortable. I tried this on several occasions and quickly eliminated certain areas of the city from my potential housing locations.
Over the last few weeks I found myself riding an emotional rollercoaster. There were several rooms in large row houses that seemed to be a great fit for price, location and roommates. However, I was one of several applicants and had to literally “interview” for the room. There was one place I had my heart set on in the Capitol Hill area. I crossed my fingers and nearly prayed I would be the selected roommate. With less than two weeks until my lease ran out, I was desperate to find a decent place.
After several follow-ups with the other roommates, I found out via text message I was not the chosen one. Instead, they decided to “go with someone else.” This response rang a familiar tone to a recent unemployed person who had aggressively sought a full-time job for six months. There always seemed to be “someone else” who was better qualified or suited for the position, or—in this case—the room. I was angry and torn. Why hadn’t they chosen me? What didn’t they like? I am friendly, clean, and respectful of other roommates. I don’t smoke and I don’t have any pets to bring along with me. I felt completely rejected. I didn’t want to continue the apartment hunt if I was going to have to sell myself like this.
I decided to modify my basic requirements for an apartment, and that included how much I was willing to pay. I realized that if I was willing to pay at least $1,000 per month, the competition wouldn’t be as fierce and I was nearly guaranteed to find an apartment in a relatively safe neighborhood. Sure, it will be extremely tight to get by on my small budget now that I am willing to pay a high price, but I know I will be safe, and that comes at a high cost, at least in Washington, D.C.
As I’m writing this I am still without a new apartment and my current lease is up in nine days. With my stress levels skyrocketing, as I frantically try to arrange apartment viewings, I am hoping I won’t have to resort to sleeping on a friend’s couch at the end of the week.
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