Where to live in the San Rafael, CA without going broke?
January 17, 2010 10:39 PM   Subscribe

Where to live in the San Rafael, CA without going broke?

I'm considering accepting an AmeriCorps position in San Rafael, CA. I have never lived in CA and am freaking out about housing costs. I currently pay $300 for an awesome share here in Portland. It looks like a share is usually around $700-900 in the San Rafael area.

Are there any other cities in the San Rafael area that are safe with reasonable rent? Or am I pretty much screwed because that's just how much things cost there? I'm an early 20s female if that helps!

Thanks everyone!
posted by pdx87 to Travel & Transportation around San Rafael, CA (15 answers total)
Will you have a car? What's a reasonable commute to you? How do you feel about bridge tolls?

Marin county is by and large both safe and expensive. I'm not sure if you'll find anything in the greater Bay Area that is both safe and $300. Or unsafe and $300, if we come right down to it. Housing prices are ridiculous there.
posted by elsietheeel at 10:54 PM on January 17, 2010

Response by poster: I'll have a car and would prefer not to have bridge tolls. Americorps are paid approx. $1,000 a month. Reasonable commute would be around 30 min. Yeah, I'm VERY lucky right now with my living situation so I know I'm going to be paying much more than I am now.
posted by pdx87 at 11:25 PM on January 17, 2010

I'm going to take a bold position and say that $1000/month is not enough to live on in the bay area. You might barely scrape by if you share a tiny room in an unsafe neighborhood in an undesirable town, and only eat top ramen. Call the Americorps San Rafael office and ask what their volunteers usually do, because that kind of wage is terribly unrealistic in this area. Heck, 40 hours a week at CA minimum wage is 320 bucks a week.

I do understand that this is a volunteer gig, but to do it in San Rafael, you'll be giving not just your time, but spending money to support yourself as well.
posted by mollymayhem at 12:23 AM on January 18, 2010 [6 favorites]

$300 in the bay area, boy you're looking for a hard one. Even in Sonoma County, which is cheaper than Marin, all the AmeriCorps workers I know are struggling even with the assistance they get like Food Stamps. I do know there's a "bad part of town" in San Rafael, called "the canal". It's the neighborhood southwest of San Quentin, east of downtown and highway. Cheap construction, low income housing, bars on doors and windows, corner bodegas, ethnic residents (a proponderance from latin american or pacific rim nations), low english fluency. I'd place odds this is also the neighborhood you'll be serving, so your local supervisors hopefully can tell you more about that area.

I don't have any info to share on how safe it might be to live there. But I taught a weekend class in the neighborhood for a while, and every adult I encountered was incredibly kind, responsible, hardworking, considerate, and gracious. Exactly the kind of folks anyone would be glad to have for neighbors.

However, besides the red flag of all those barred windows, it's obvious that this is the part of town that the the rest of San Rafael turns its back on. Street cleaning and road maintenance were clearly neglected, for instance, while less than a mile away there are million dollar homes, an upscale strip mall, ritzy downtown shopping, etc. None of those other streets look crappy.

Other than the canal, Marin County in general is gawdawful pricey. Cheap and near (and not safe) is Richmond. You'll pay bridge tolls for that, and later this year they're raising tolls again and will start charging extra during rush hours. So what you save in rent and convenience will be consumed by the commuting. Which makes the safer neighborhoods of the east bay likewise untenable.

Going north is your next best bet, but prices don't come down much until at least Cotati/Rohnert Park. Cloverdale's inexpensive, but that's an hour or more each way.
posted by nakedcodemonkey at 12:23 AM on January 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

I'm from the Bay Area. $1000 is not enough to live on unless you have multiple roommates. If you find a room for under $500 per month anywhere in the Bay Area you should consider yourself lucky.
posted by twblalock at 1:35 AM on January 18, 2010

Yeah, that's barely enough to rent a tiny room on (~ $700) - you might be able to get by with ramen, rice, and beans but the car will definitely put you over the edge budget-wise.
posted by benzenedream at 2:05 AM on January 18, 2010

Have you asked AmeriCorps itself for advice and help in finding a place to live? Are there Americorps workers already living in the San Rafael area you could contact?
posted by Carol Anne at 6:09 AM on January 18, 2010

Here's one for $300 in Santa Rosa, which is north of San Rafael, so no bridge tolls. Terrible traffic, though, if you're driving south in the morning/north in the evening. Gas here isn't cheap, as you may know.

I did a search on craigslist by selecting SF bay area, then narrowing it down to the North Bay ("nbay" in craigslist parlance) and then plugging in the maximum rent. Looks like most places that are less expensive are a good 40 minutes to an hour from San Rafael (although there are a couple of possibilities in Kentfield, which south of San Rafael) Here's the search. Good luck.
posted by rtha at 7:44 AM on January 18, 2010

Just a note, my ex-girlfriend did AmeriCorps, and she and her co-workers ALL had special situations. She, for example, lived with her parents, as did many others. So room and board was paid for and it was still a challenge. Others lived with aunts and uncles, friends, etc for free or cheap. It was my impression that, in the Bay Area at least, it's simply impossible to survive on the AC stipend without some sort of arrangement like that.

One woman did do a thing where she found a room for a few hundred bucks in exchange for doing work for the landlord, which seemed to work - maybe you can find something like that.
posted by ORthey at 9:16 AM on January 18, 2010

I'm from Marin and it is super-duper expensive. Parts of San Rafael are less expensive. However, please avoid the "Canal" area as it is not safe (this is probably where you will be stationed, but I wouldn't be hanging out there at night).

Going North is your best option. Try Terra Linda (technically part of San Rafael), Novato, Petaluma, Santa Rosa.

Where are other Corps members living?
posted by radioamy at 9:41 AM on January 18, 2010

Oh also you might find something in Southern Marin - parts of Corte Madera and Mill Valley are more affordable. Please avoid Marin City however as it is not safe.
posted by radioamy at 9:42 AM on January 18, 2010

Novato, Petaluma, Santa Rosa

I've never been able to find rents that affordable in Novato or Petaluma. Not to say you couldn't get lucky, but I wouldn't pin hopes there.

Santa Rosa, yes, maybe -- though you'd need at least two roommates plus some good luck on pricing. Careful about the south side of town, especially southwest. There's some gang activity.

Parts of Santa Rosa's downtown/Railroad Square area have a high concentration of homeless, runaways, and some prostitution. Friends in that area have voiced no major complaints about home safety. However you'd want to think carefully before walking off the main drags (3rd Ave, Mendocino Ave, College) at night. Even in daylight, people get mugged while walking/riding along the railroad tracks. With those few exceptions, Santa Rosa is pretty safe/pleasant generally.

Golden Gate Transit runs buses between Santa Rosa and points south as far as SF. Not cheap, but the seats are comfortable and stops are in nearly every town along highway 101 including San Rafael. Possibly that'd make the commute more reasonable...?
posted by nakedcodemonkey at 11:01 AM on January 18, 2010

I live in San Rafael, and love it. But without 'special circumstances' you definitely won't be able to afford to live anywhere in the Bay Area on $1k a month. If you live further away, you'll spend in gas money what you're saving in rent; there's just no way to make it work without living for free/nearly free somewhere. But best of luck finding a solution, it's a wonderful area.
posted by wzcx at 6:03 PM on January 18, 2010

Check with some of the local churches, even if you're not of that religion. Just start cold calling the church secretaries, say that you're going to be working with AmeriCorp, and ask if they can put a notice for you in the church bulletin. "Early 20's female moving to SR for volunteer work with AmeriCorp needs cheap room to rent, in partial exchange for babysitting/housework/etc". Just might work.
posted by math at 7:24 PM on January 18, 2010

Please update the thread when you figure your situation out. It will help people in similar situations in the future.
posted by radioamy at 10:19 AM on January 19, 2010

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