Help a Portland Oregonian expatriate to Washington, DC
December 11, 2009 4:33 AM   Subscribe

I'm moving to Washington, DC for a new job that is a huge step up for me. I'd like to have a studio apartment lined up for January 1st and I will have a week to intensively look for a place before my job starts on Dec. 21st. What are some neighborhoods, tips and resources what would be helpful for me to find my perfect place in such a short turn around? My main goal is super convenient car-free living and commuting.

My sensible ceiling for rent is about $1200. I could comfortably go decently higher, but I'm also used to spartan living and could go lower. I prefer small living spaces. Heck, I miss dorm life. My highest priority, after safety, is a sensible commute. I don't drive and in the past I've happily mixed and matched bus, light rail and bicycle commutes at my daily whimsy. My dream situation would be to be able to walk to as many day-to-day necessities as possible. My office is a stone's throw from the Teasury (Nearest Metro lines: Blue, Orange and Red) so I dunno how realistic walking to work would be but my other dreamy dream would be to have many of the daily essentials within walking-biking distance. (Can I have a Trader Joes and a neighborhood hippy co-op as my neighbors? And a Target? Kthnxbye...)

Other considerations:
* There will probably be times where I'm biking or walking home at 2 am and I want to be reasonably safe from intimidation and violence. I don't particularly care about other urban issues or inconveniences.

* I significantly prefer greenspaces and multi-use paths over nightlife, but I would utilize both.

* I've been browsing, and I've only rented from craigslist-y individuals in the past and I've had only good experiences but I have found those situations wanting in professionalism sometimes and I would prefer a good property management company.

* I will be buying all new (or new to me) furniture. Pre-furnished apartment? Even better. (Think: Dorm but with a kitchen.)

* I understand the cost-of-living sticker shock. I've crunched the numbers and I'm still sooooper psyched. But, if there's a significant tax difference between MD, DC and VA, I'd want to know more.

* Obviously proximity to Metro stops is pretty coveted, but I think all I care about is minutes spent commuting so if I could beat the market with a good bus route and bicycling, I'm all ears.

* Where should I avoid?

My plan is to stay at the HI hostel and/or Priceline hotels and/or couch surf while I'm looking for a place if I don't meet my January 1st goal. Most of my stuff will be shipped at a later date at my leisure.
posted by Skwirl to Home & Garden (18 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Columbia Heights would provide you with walkable essentials and a Metro stop. You could probably find something in your price range there. Adams Morgan is less likely to be affordable (although I haven't looked at studios there lately), but would be slightly further to the metro. The walking-distance stores are better, though. There are a lot of other neighborhoods that fit your criteria, but those are the two with which I am most familiar.
posted by OmieWise at 4:49 AM on December 11, 2009

Asking for a neighborhood hippie co-op and a Target to exist within your neighborhood at the same time is kinda difficult, but my immediate response to your question would be Mount Pleasant, which is right off the Columbia Heights metro on the Green/Yellow line. Or Columbia Heights itself. Short haul to downtown - it appears you are working right off Metro Center downtown. That'd be a quick ride down the S2/S4 bus, or the Green Yellow to Chinatown, with a switch over to metro center. You could actually walk it as well, with about 40 minutes to do it.

Also, you have the entrance to DC's biggest park (which is less a park and more of a forest) Rock Creek Park - not to mention the Zoo as well.

An older Mount Pleasant apartment (read: not luxury) will not run that much. You can find a studio for under $1000 still.

Pre-furnished apartments in this town are for people that are on short-term business for a few months. they are NOT cheap, especially in the city.

You might also like Takoma Park as well, off the Red Line - as well as Brookland. But both will have the small neigborhood, earthy feel, but not the big-box store you want at the same time. (However, there is one at Wheaton, just a few stops north)
posted by waylaid at 4:51 AM on December 11, 2009

if you look in the GWU area, you will get all that you desire. Trader Joe's, metro, (no Target, alas), late night walking unmolested, etc. You're steps away from Georgetown, Rock Creek Park and the C&O Canal. The rents in the range you want.
posted by elle.jeezy at 5:10 AM on December 11, 2009

Best answer: Mt. Pleasant or Columbia Heights, off of 16th st. Tons of bus lines going straight down 16th street, getting you close enough to Treasury, plus walking distance to Target and Harris Teeter grocery store, and a stone's throw from Rock Creek Park, and walking distance to nightlife in U St & Adams Morgan areas.

In DC, the best way to find a cheap studio is to check the websites of the property management companies - William C Smith, Borger Management, Daro Realty, and maybe I'll think of some others.

I do have to say that DC is nothing like Portland in terms of urban amenities and culture - be prepared for it to feel a little disjointed and artificial, I guess, even if it seems like you have found your ideal spot on paper. That said, you're coming here to work, that's what DC is all about! You'll be surrounded by guys in khakis discussing Turkey's accession to the EU and people reading books on trade policy everywhere you go.
posted by yarly at 6:12 AM on December 11, 2009 [4 favorites]

Avoid H Street corridor as public transit options you discuss require bus to metro.

Columbia heights, Mt.Pleasant, Adams Morgan sounds about right.
posted by Ironmouth at 6:14 AM on December 11, 2009

Nthing Foggy Bottom... Everything except the big box, and easy access to Blue/Orange lines.
posted by somanyamys at 6:35 AM on December 11, 2009

Foggy Bottom is relatively close to the Treasury. It is also shot through with college students and off-campus housing, none of which sounds like an issue for you. There are no big box stores there.

Asi last lived in Foggy Bottom a decade ago when I went to school there, I don't remember Whig metro line it is, but it is an easy ride toa mall in VA if you want to get to a big box store.
posted by dfriedman at 7:02 AM on December 11, 2009

I've been pretty happy with the Eastern Market area. Most of the housing in Capitol Hill is townhouses, the basements of which are usually single-bedroom and below $1200. Reasonable access to E.Market/Potomac Ave and Union Station means you've got access to 3 different metro lines, and you're close to H. Street corridor, which has one of DC's best bar scenes, in my opinion.

Eastern Market is fun on weekends, though nobody told them that farmer's markets should be cheap.

It's also pretty safe, for the most part. A touch riskier the further northeast you go, but it's all fairly tame.

Best of luck!
posted by Vhanudux at 7:14 AM on December 11, 2009

I say it in every thread: Brookland.

Nightlife is low, but we're green and the Metropolitan Branch Trail will reach Brookland by the spring thaw.

We've got a mix of houses and small apartment buildings. There is a Yes! organic market, a CVS, and a historic hardware store on the main drag.

There are several Zipcar slots in the neighborhod, convenient for when you need to run to Ikea in near-by College Park, MD.

Also just across the DC/MD line (an easy bike ride) is the Glut historic food co-op.

We're on the Red Line, but adjacent to the Green at Ft. Totten (also an easy bike or bus ride), where you can get to Target, Best Buy, and other big box retail. We're also adjacent to Rhode Island Avenue, where the Giant Foods and Home Despot are located.
posted by Pollomacho at 7:16 AM on December 11, 2009 [1 favorite]

Lanier Heights. It's actually Adams Morgan, just leafier and quieter, and right behind the 18th street craziness. Three of my friends moved there in September and each paid around the $1200 mark.

The neighborhood also borders Mt. Pleasant and Columbia Heights and is super-close to Rock Creek Park. It's quiet at night but not scary; basically, it's Adams Morgan's introverted younger sister who would rather stay home and read Dragonlance books.

Search DC's Craigslist for apartments and, if you're into it, room shares in group houses. Even if you don't find your perfect apartment there, it's a great way to find out what people are paying in any given neighborhood.
posted by harperpitt at 7:49 AM on December 11, 2009 [1 favorite]

You mentioned taxes. Yes, there is a significant tax difference between DC, MD, and VA. This chart will give you the exact breakdowns, but the bottom line is that unless you own a home (DC's property tax exemption is much more generous) you'll be paying 2%+ more of your income for the privilege of living in the District, and VA will give you the lowest state tax rates.
posted by decathecting at 8:43 AM on December 11, 2009

Sorry, this chart.
posted by decathecting at 8:43 AM on December 11, 2009

Seconding Brookland, especially if you want to be part of a neighborhood that feels like a real community.
posted by yellowcandy at 8:50 AM on December 11, 2009

According to the chart you linked, decathecting, Maryland would be the best choice before deductions, unless skwirl will be making over $1,000,000. Factoring in the deductions probably drops VA to third place as they allow for the least for single people.
posted by Pollomacho at 12:33 PM on December 11, 2009

Oh and one more thing going for the District.
posted by Pollomacho at 12:37 PM on December 11, 2009

or you could try Crystal City. Its VA - but just as close to Treasury as Mt. Pleasant or Columbia Heights and on the Yellow line. Crystal City has lots of jr. one bedrooms/efficiencies in the Charles H. Smith buildings and is near the GW parkway bikepath - a straight shot into DC. Metro is there, bike path there, 395 there, the mall there (pentagon city), Harris Teeter (grocery store), a bike ride from old town, georgetown, etc.

Try craigslist too.
posted by dmbfan93 at 5:44 PM on December 11, 2009

My vote is for Mt. Pleasant. Cheaper rents, more of a "neighborhoody" feel, but close to plenty of public transport options and the only Target in the District. My personal opinion is that it is close enough to the "city life" but still has some neat neighborhood restaurants and bars that make it feel less business-like than the downtown area of DC (closer to the orange/blue line i.e. mcpherson square, etc.). If you go farther north (just one stop past Columbia Heights is Georgia Ave/Petworth) rents are far cheaper but of course your commute would be longer, and the neighborhood is not very populated with bars/restaurants/shopping if that is your thing (although I keep seeing condos pop up in that area, so it is probably just a matter of time - for better or worse).
posted by koselig at 8:20 PM on December 11, 2009

as someone who just left DC id say you are in good shape @ any of mt pleasant/columbia heights or foggy bottom

that said, i lived in southwest, very near (less than 2 blocks) from the metro and had no problem coming home late from most of DC or walking from L'Enfant metro stop home (not a short walk but pretty safe)

if you have any questions about DC feel more than free to mefi me and i will gladly share any info i can. craigslist is a good place to look, and as one would think, yelp is awesome in DC for many/most things :)
posted by knockoutking at 1:37 PM on December 27, 2009

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