Finding a place to live – a place you can afford – can be tricky in DC.
I knew from the start that I wanted to have a room of my own, instead of finding housing in student apartments with shared rooms. I did not want to live alone however, because coming to a new city can make you feel alone enough. Therefore I started looking for a sublet or a room in a shared house or apartment. The easiest way to find a place is either via Craigslist or the housing groups on Facebook, so there are I also started my search.
Quite soon it felt like I had run into a wall. I found very, very few short-term or month-to-month leases, which for me was a prerequisite, as I’m only in the city this fall. A 1-year lease seems to be the standard in this city, and almost all posts I could find required signing a lease for the whole year. Apart from the length of the lease, I also wanted a furnished room – I didn’t want to spend a lot of money on a bed and some furniture for such a short time living here. But, as I soon found out, furnished rooms are not easy to find, either. This felt quite disheartening in the beginning – would I ever find a roof over my head for only 5 months?
Apart from the length of the lease and finding a furnished room, the third issue in this city is the level of the rent, which is quite outrageous from a Finnish point of view. This city is not cheap. If you live in Virginia or Maryland you can find rooms for less than $1000 a month, but within the District and roughly within a 45-minute commute Downtown, you are extremely lucky to find something for a price with less than four digits. There are some, of course, but at the time I usually laid my eyes upon these posts (mostly due to the time difference, as I was asleep when most people were awake and posting on Facebook in the US), there were already 25+ other people who had messaged the renter, so it felt like I wouldn’t even have a chance to be heard in that crowd.
However, my criteria for finding housing were not only related to length of lease, some furniture and rent level.
One very important thing you need to think about when you are searching for a place to live in DC is location. I’ve been told that around 10 years ago, this city was much more unsafe than it is today, that there where several areas just a few blocks away from the government buildings which would be shady and even dangerous. Today the situation is much better, but there are still some areas which are better to be avoided. Quite early on I received advice that neighborhoods in the very south-east of the city, and especially in Anacostia on the other side of the Anacostia river, are no-go zones. These are areas where the rent is also considerably lower, and therefore I’m thankful for knowing not to check rental postings in these areas from the very beginning. For a foreigner moving to a new country advice like this is very valuable.
I spent what felt like endless hours scanning Craigslist and Facebook for housing. How did I then finally find a place? Connections.
I feel very lucky for how things turned out for me. Through a friend of a friend, I was put in touch with a girl who rents out rooms in her house on short-term basis, and very fortunate for me, she liked me when we talked, and I was offered a room and a move-in date that suited my schedule perfectly.
The house is in a beautiful area, and it checks all my criteria, too: I have a room of my own, and share the rest of the house with four other housemates. The area is safe, and the metro connection to work is convenient. As a plus, there is a grocery store within a walking distance from the house, and there is a Farmer’s market nearby every weekend. Every time I take a walk in the neighborhood I feel lucky to live here!