After we graduate from college, some of us return home to sulk in our parents’ basements or our old room, firing off resumes and cover letters from the dim glow of our laptops, likely to no avail, given the current job climate that landed us back at our parents’ house in the first place. Others, either lucky and with a job, or dumb and without one, will strike out for new cities on their own. It’s an exciting moment in a young person’s life, and it’s also a move that can land someone deeply in debt, or just miserable if it doesn’t go right.
The problem with this dynamic is one of supply and demand: people need to live where good jobs are, and housing in these places is therefore more desirable. Because it is scarce, even in such massive cities, it is an expensive good. Some of the best job markets in the nation have the most expensive housing.
Everyone knows that New York City is outrageously expensive to call home, but so are San Francisco, Los Angeles, Washington, D.C. and Boston. With the exception of Los Angeles, all are attractive cities made still more desirable for their geographic confinement. What would San Francisco or Boston be without their hills and vistas? Washington D.C.’s geographic constraints are quite arbitrary, but it’s better to be in the District than in its sleepy suburbs. So on and so forth. And this is the problem with attractive job markets: unless your job is really attractive, you might have trouble living the sort of life you’ve come to look for in the movies and on television.
No, writers in New York who write one weekly column about their sex lives don’t live fabulous lifestyles in the West Village, and underemployed stoners don’t get to live in charmingly dilapidated Victorians in San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury. It doesn’t work that way anymore, and except for brief moments in time, it never did. So you’ll be faced with the choice of paying exorbitant rents to live where you’ve imagined you might be able to, paying a bit less to live not quite where you wanted to, or paying substantially less to live somewhere you’ve probably never even heard of.
That last bit — paying substantially less to live somewhere you’ve probably never even heard of — that’s what we’re here for. You’re young right now, and you don’t deserve to live in a luxurious neighborhood just yet. Furthermore, no one else your age lives in these neighborhoods anyway (unless they work in finance and you don’t want to live around those guys anyway, do you?). More importantly, however, as a young person you’re in a better position to live cheaply and in an unattractive neighborhood. Hopefully for your sake, you have no kids, so you don’t need to worry about school districts, and you hardly know how to take care of yourself anyway because you’re just out of college. All this points to one thing: a cheap apartment in a marginal neighborhood. Scrimp and save all you want to, rent is likely the largest variable cost in your life — control it, and you control your finances.
And in order to get it under control, you’ll need to widen your net considerably, unless you’re moving to some undesirable city with no jobs and appropriately low rents. Using PadMapper, and our extensive knowledge of American urban geography, we’ve identified the best options in or near the five insanely expensive cities you’re most likely to move to after graduating. Wherever there’s a concentration of 1-2 bedroom apartments for less than $1,300 a month in a safe area, we’re recommending you live there. Hold on to your seats, and prepare to become the gentrifiers you learned to hate so thoroughly in Sociology class.
Average Rent: $3,418 in Manhattan (source)
It’s no secret that Manhattan, Brooklyn, and virtually all of New York are expensive to the point of absurdity. A shoebox in the East Village can run a few thousand dollars a month — enough to pay the monthly note on a not-modest home virtually anywhere else in the nation. And Brooklyn is steadily gaining ground on its rival borough. There’s hardly a truly affordable and safe neighborhood left. For that you must broaden your horizons, perhaps to the point of self-parody — for that, there’s Staten Island.
In Gary Shteyngart’s novel Super Sad True Love Story, set in a dystopian near-future New York, Brooklyn gentrification has taken over the whole borough, and thus has been supplanted by Staten Island gentrification. All the hipsters live in St. George, in charming old homes with quick access to the ferry to Lower Manhattan. In a couple short years, satire has become reality — this has a tendency to happen in New York — and The New York Times Real Estate section covered the area’s supposedly burgeoning arts scene recently. Maybe the Times is wrong, but for those looking for a New York address, with quick (and free) access to Lower Manhattan, Staten Island is reliably cheaper than Manhattan, Brooklyn or Queens, and guaranteed to stay that way for some time.
A close personal friend of mine, if I may insert an illustrative anecdote here, lived in St. George for years while waiting tables — we all made fun of him — and he is now part owner of a trendy restaurant in Williamsburg. He lives just down the street from his restaurant, and he and his wife love their new life in the trendiest neighborhood in Brooklyn. But it took them years of saving, by foregoing the glitz and glamour of an overpriced apartment in a downtrodden but expensive Brooklyn neighborhood, in order to get there.
Alternative: Ridgewood, Queens
Average rent: $2,386 (source)
San Francisco hasn’t been cheap for decades, but the social media bubble in nearby Silicon Valley certainly isn’t helping. These days, most decent neighborhoods are flooded with paper millionaires who have been jacking up home values to extraordinary levels, looking for a slice of life in what is arguably America’s most beautiful city. So you, young intrepid college graduates, in a few years, will likely not be able to live in the Mission District anymore, it will have become so expensive.
But who wants all that fog and wind anyway? San Francisco plays a tremendous joke on San Franciscans every year by messing with their notions of seasonality, and by forcing them to never be far from a sweatshirt. It’s truly unpleasant. But the East Bay won’t do this to you, nor will it charge you all that much money to live there. Go move to North Oakland or South Berkeley to see a different side of the Bay Area. It might not be so charming and hilly, but it’s affordable and the ice cream truck might actually stop by. You’re only a short ride on BART away from the city. Check out Temescal, near the Macarthur BART station in Oakland or the parts of Berkeley around Ashby BART.
Alternative: The Excelsior/Outer Mission
Average Rent: $2,289 (source)
Boston, the old city that it is, has a relatively limited housing stock which makes it quite expensive to call home. But, following Boston’s streetcar lines out to the older, more worn-in suburbs, you’ll find some good deals. Specifically in Allston, which is at the city’s western fringes. There’s plenty of cheap housing there, albeit of less charming stock than you might find in the North End, or one of Boston’s trendier neighborhoods. But Allston is conveniently located close to Boston University, making it something of a student ghetto — perfect for those of us not yet ready to put our college days behind us. There’s plenty of cheap restaurants and bars just stumbling distance from the Green Line stop. And guess what? Because you’ve given up on your dreams of trendy city living, you’ll actually be able to afford to be a regular.
Average Rent: $2,035 (source)
Washington D.C. has a huge, obelisk-shaped problem: the Washington monument. In order to preserve the monument’s place in the city’s skyline, there are strict height restrictions on development in the District, which has, in tandem with booming jobs growth, helped make housing especially expensive in the capital. That charming Dupont Circle townhouse you have always pictured yourself in simply is not accessible when you’re working an entry-level job at some NGO — sorry. You’ll have to look further afield, but not too far, because D.C.’s bad neighborhoods are tougher than most city’s bad neighborhoods. Crime rates are higher in D.C. than any other city on this list, so it warrants a bit more caution. That said, Mt. Pleasant and Petworth are both quite safe, inexpensive (considering), near the metro, and have plenty going on for young people. Maybe you’ll even find people in D.C. who want to talk about something other than work — but we doubt it!
Alternative: Near Northeast/H Street Corridor
Average Rent: $1,628
Los Angeles County is made up of about 100 or so incorporated and unincorporated communities, making the question of where to live in Los Angeles or just outside of Los Angeles quite geographically confused — you could travel for miles, through hours of traffic and never really get off the beaten path in L.A. But we do know this: you won’t be able to afford the Westside, with its beautiful beaches and people, and the trendy neighborhoods in and around Hollywood like Silverlake and Echo Park are likely to get more and more expensive as more families will move in, and it will no longer be the cool, young neighborhood you were looking for.
Instead, look to nearby Koreatown, which is close to “cool” parts of town, and close to downtown, but still surprisingly cheap. It even has access to Los Angeles’ tiny, tiny subway system, which, when combined with a bicycle or skateboard, could make the city’s infamous traffic a complete non-issue for you. Also: Koreans have one of the healthiest diets in the developed world. For all the bagging we do on Los Angeles, this actually sounds like the healthiest and most pleasant option of all — and it’s probably the cheapest.
Alternative: Long Beach