How to find affordable housing in Boston?
July 12, 2011 7:49 PM   Subscribe

My mentally/emotionally/financially unstable parents are kicking me and my brother out of their house, leaving us to fend for ourselves in Boston. We need to find a really cheap place to live in greater Boston. Trying to come up with a plan. Help!

Long story short:

My parents both have mental health problems (personality disorders) and major financial issues. Their condition, both financially and mentally, is deteriorating rapidly. Now they've just let my brother and I know that they won't be able to support us after this summer.

My brother and I are 19, and we have little savings (less than $1000). We are both in college but are planning on taking time off and working until we become more financially stable.

Basically, we have until September to figure what the hell to do with our lives, and I'm totally lost. We need to find very affordable housing in the greater Boston area (subway access a must) and secure it by September.

What's the best way to tackle this? Craigslist? Also, general advice on how to deal with losing financial support from family is much appreciated.

Sincerely appreciate all of your help — thank you.
posted by camcol to Work & Money (29 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Are you opposed at all to living in a halfway house prior to finding a place to live semi-permanently as you gain financial stability?

Wishing you luck. This sounds like a really frustrating, devastating time for you and your brother.
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 7:57 PM on July 12, 2011

The ideal progression would be to get jobs now, then find a place to live. It will be easier to find a place if you know your budget and have some money for up-front costs.

So, first things first. Brainstorm about what types of jobs you might be qualified for. Do either of you have good computer skills? Any work experience? Do either of you have a car?

Second, what colleges are you at? You could email or call the relevant offices there and see if they can help you with changing your financial aid status etc, if you are considering trying to continue in school. (It is completely ok to take a break from school, I don't mean to be pressuring you in that regard. But if you are thinking about continuing, speak to someone at the school and see if they can help you navigate that process of getting more help.)

Third, you will probably want to live in a shared house (shared with additional housemates) to keep costs low. Probably these are advertised on craigslist and in venues aimed at college students and grad students living in Boston. Did you go to high school in the area, and do you still know anyone from high school who's living nearby? You might put the word out that you're looking for a housemate situation.
posted by LobsterMitten at 8:01 PM on July 12, 2011 [3 favorites]

Is there any way to get yourselves into college housing? It may be worth it to look into what kind of aid you can get to house yourselves in school (working in the dorms, loans, grants). It's a bit late, I realize, but with a good counselor, this may be a viable option?
posted by xingcat at 8:03 PM on July 12, 2011 [1 favorite]

Call your colleges' financial aid offices and tell them that you need to be switched "independent student status" -- this will allow you to have more access to financial aid.
posted by k8t at 8:05 PM on July 12, 2011 [11 favorites]

Consider contacting older friends or family who might serve as a mentor for you and your brother.
You don't have to get into your family problems with them, but consider who might be able to advise you.

And I would start to gather personal paperwork such as birth certificates, passports, etc...
posted by calgirl at 8:16 PM on July 12, 2011 [5 favorites]

Are you working over the summer? If so, would your employers take you on full time?

If not, you can call a temp agency. I was overall pretty satisfied with Professional Staffing Group and KNF&T when I temped in Boston, though that was years ago and they both occasionally pissed me off (but they had the jobs.) You'll want to pull together a resume and call for an interview, where your office skills will be tested (and your appearance and demeanor will be evaluated.) "Perky and punctual" counts for more than you might imagine.

It's possible to make really okay money at it, and more importantly, you could start working almost immediately. However, students on vacation do glut the temp market a bit, and I have no idea how the recession has affected it. It can't hurt to try, though.
posted by endless_forms at 8:27 PM on July 12, 2011 [1 favorite]

Wow. Definitely talk to your respective college's financial aid departments, but also the Office of Student Services. They should be able to hook you up with local community-based organizations for support. Good luck--I'm so sorry for your situation.
posted by smirkette at 8:44 PM on July 12, 2011 [1 favorite]

Do take the time (it won't take long) to officially withdraw or go on leave or whatever the process is at your school. It shouldn't cost anything and will save a lot of hassle down the road, plus not having it hanging over you will remove it as a source of mental stress.

Best wishes and good luck!
posted by Lexica at 8:45 PM on July 12, 2011 [1 favorite]

Craigslist is a reasonable starting place. I realize you said "subway access is a must", but if bus -> subway is acceptable, look around Winter Hill; about 6 years ago, I shared a nice house there with 2 other guys for about $500/person. That was an exceptional deal, obviously, but it's not the only one in the entire area.

As some of the earlier posters asked, what skillsets do you guys have? You're young, but even so, someone here might be able to assist further if we knew whether you were, say, experienced welders, or coders, or graphic designers.
posted by ellF at 9:14 PM on July 12, 2011

You could also create a joint Couchsurfing account and explain your situation. At least in the New York, the community is quite active and sympathetic to these kinds of appeals, so you might be able to snag a free place for at least a few weeks.
posted by msk1985 at 9:18 PM on July 12, 2011 [1 favorite]

Check with your financial aid office and see if they have emergency loan money. Many colleges do for just this situation.
posted by anitanita at 9:23 PM on July 12, 2011

OK. This happened to me under only slightly different circumstances at 19. The good news here is there are two of you!

- Get in GEAR! Attitude counts.

- Make a plan to (a) defer college for ONE semester if this semester isn't paid for, and (b) get jobs asap!

- Collect all of your personal papers. Organize bank accounts if you don't already have them. Position yourselves to be independent. You can start getting angry about this shitty situation, and then grieve the loss of financial and emotional support, once you've landed on your feet. For now, suck it up and get into gear.

Now. About money.

I assume you are still at home, which may or may not be near school and where you will ultimately be living.

Don't be afraid to both take crap jobs near home for a month, omit that you'll be leaving the area, and work for 4 to 6 weeks. Basically, since there are two of you, that's can be significant savings. Enough for a down payment on an apartment. On your off time, start tracking down housing.

- In your situation, I recommend living without other roommates. YMMV.

You guys are pretty vulnerable right now. Moving into existing roommate shares can be pretty dicey because you never know what the dynamic will be, but you're desperate, and are in grave danger of screwing up in this regard. You need stability right now, not crazy roommate drama.

If you can get set with jobs through college, or temp agencies, or whatever for when you get to Boston, start lining up prospects now.

I agree you should tap into your school's resources for loans, housing, and job leads - absolutely!

-Reach out to everyone you know that isn't associated with your parents. Friends (or friends of friends) may know of apartment sublets, jobs, furniture, etc. etc.


I did it. I had a GREAT job working for a vacation timeshare resort (kinda scammy, but it paid well) and I did get my life back together and get back to school.


You can do it. You can do it.

And trust me, as much as this hurts, life just did you a great big favor. When you conquer this (you will) you'll feel head and shoulders above your peers in lots of ways. Self-sufficiency and resourcefulness are great skills to possess.

You'll both be OK.

(And If you have to do a short term rental in a crappy little apartment and then upgrade your accommodations after you get settled in Boston - hey! That's OK. Stay fluid. Make money.)

Attitude counts!
posted by jbenben at 9:48 PM on July 12, 2011 [11 favorites]

You can do this!

I don't know anyone among my friends whose parents supported them after the age of 17 or 18 when they left for university. (Mine even charged me rent when I went back to visit over the summer!)

The system to some extent is designed to take into account that you might not have financial support.

The way everyone I know made this work
- Student loans
- Working up to 20 hours a week in crappy part time jobs. (Retail or fast food are worse, but sometimes easier to get; office temping or working at your university would be best).
- Shared housing with lots of roommates. This usually works out cheaper than on-campus dorms, if you are willing to live in sub-standard buildings or share with huge numbers of people.

I agree with jbenben that this experience, while scary, will set you up with lots of skills for the rest of your life. Good luck.
posted by lollusc at 10:19 PM on July 12, 2011

Something very similar happened to me. What helped: contacting the financial aid office at my school and getting switched to independent student status. Finding the university co-op, which was the cheapest housing option by far. Borrowing money from a friend until my student loans kicked in.

What I should have done, but didn't: transfer to a community (junior) college to take my general ed requirements. You can then transfer back to a four-year school for your upper-division/major courses. (At least that's the case in CA.)

This experience will definitely make you more resilient in the long term. But it may make you feel somewhat separate from your peers in the short term. Don't be surprised if you end up feeling out of step with some of your current friends, who may not understand why you can't go out and spend money as often as you used to. Of course, the true friends will understand, which is how you learn who your real friends are.
posted by chicainthecity at 10:30 PM on July 12, 2011 [1 favorite]

Something similar happened to me when I was a teenager in college - my mother had a breakdown and moved out of the state with little notice.

In addition to the previous very good advice about getting copies of vital records from your parents, I would emphasize: before you move, MAKE THEM give you each a signed letter declaring that you are independent students and they will no longer be financially supporting you. Get the letters notarized if you can. And then take them to your school financial aid offices.

There are some forms of financial aid for school that you can only get if you can prove you are an independent student without parental support. Plus, if you're recognized as an independent student you do not have to get tax returns or financial information from your parents in order to apply for federal student loans. I did not have such a letter and could not convince my mother to remember to send me one for some time, and it made negotiating for financial aid much more difficult for me.

Also, do not be ashamed to ask for help from friends who are in a position to help you, if anyone in your life right now fits that description. Helping each other is what friends are for. Ask your friends if they know of a good place to stay. See if anyone you know can give you a reference for a job. Someday you will be in a position to return favors.

If you can find a way to stay in school part time, I would do it. I myself managed to work and go to school at the same time. It wasn't easy and I had to live in crappy places and I didn't eat very well and I lived with some crazy people and I got in bad relationships because I was stressed out and lonely and I wasn't very happy all of the time. But I DID finish my degree. In four years, even. And I'm very glad I did it.

But even if it takes you five or six years to finish school, that's okay. Just don't give up on yourself. You can do this.
posted by BlueJae at 11:01 PM on July 12, 2011 [3 favorites]

Definitely ask around amongst friends. My parents had a couple of friends of my sister's live with them short term when home life got impossible. Even now, if I knew someone in your situation in my home town, I would totally ask my folks if they could put them up for a couple of months.
posted by kjs4 at 11:52 PM on July 12, 2011

All I have to add here is that, while it was once the case, "independent student status" in the U.S. no longer actually means what it says on the tin. I had no financial support from my parents in college and yet was ineligible for independent status. My situation however was different from yours, and the other answerers who mention it seem to suggest that this is a viable option for you, so certainly discuss it with a school counselor. Best of luck.
posted by brightghost at 12:53 AM on July 13, 2011

Thirding BlueJae and brighthost about "independent student status". I had no financial support from my parents either (despite them promising it, and also claiming me as a dependent on their tax returns). Absolutely, speak with a financial aid counselor as soon as you can, and spell it all out. It can feel a bit dizzying to lay out everything to someone you don't know very well, but with any luck, it will help.

I sincerely hope that your parents will be reasonable/rational enough to give you the written proof you'll probably need for independent status. I could be mistaken, since my case dates from 1994-1998. In any case, my parents not only refused any proof, but, as I said, claimed me as a dependent (I remember seeing somewhere that parents might not be able to do this anymore, but there again, go speak with an aid counselor to get all the relevant details!). Like BlueJae, I had a very rough time scraping up enough financial aid as a result. I didn't qualify for most of it since my parents earned quite a lot more than their constant complaining (the more appropriate term turned out to be "lying") had made me think as a kid...

Regarding jobs, if you really get stuck, you can also look into working at National Parks, there are private companies who have the right to operate on parks and who hire workers, generally minimum wage, to do seasonal jobs. Although it is minimum wage, you very often also get housing and a food allowance, which means that everything you earn is savings. I was able to pay for a "quad" apartment (the cheapest type available in my uni city) and a chunk of university fees after four months working at Crater Lake, for instance. I knew people who'd come with their significant others, so you and your brother could feasibly do that together too. Something to look into, in any case.

I'd also like to echo what jbenben says – this experience will be harrowing, but it will also give you some great life skills. I'm 35 now and just so dang happy at having built a life for myself. Now I'm able to look back on the grueling university years and I can really see how and what they taught me, and how well it's served me in life. Chin up, do the best you can, stay true to your values (<- extremely important, that), all the best to you both.
posted by fraula at 1:32 AM on July 13, 2011

I'm just going to throw this out there, even though I think I'll be struck by MeFe green and yellow lightning as soon as I press Post:

Visit your local military recruiting office. Take what they say with a grain of salt, of course, but ask them about your options to finish school on their dime. You're not signing up just by talking to them. You can check out their stories independently afterwards if anything sounds intriguing.
posted by ctmf at 3:11 AM on July 13, 2011 [2 favorites]

A lot of people have suggested going through your school's for help with this, but under the circumstanced, I'd also look into state assistance:

How to Obtain Housing Assistance


I would try to get in touch with a social worker to help you navigate this. School support is great, but you may find you'll need additional support. Also, it may be helpful to have something about your situation on file with one as further documentation for financial aid purposes that you are not receiving assistance from your parents.

I recommend that you file your taxes really early and claim yourself so if your parents claim you as dependents, your records are on file first. You definitely don't want them to claim you as people mentioned above.
posted by zizzle at 3:18 AM on July 13, 2011

Wow. This sounds eerily familiar. The good news is that so many of us have done the same, and you can see we've survived, in many cases thrived, and come out on the other side. I was eighteen, had zero documentable job experience (had only worked for my dad and his friends), no driver's license, and not even enough presentable clothes to wear to get a non-manual-labor job.

Nthing the "get your records NOW" recommendations from above. Set up bank accounts for yourself and your brother. DO NOT leave your bank account info around where your unstable parents (or similarly dysfunctional friends) can have access. Don't tell them you need a COPY of your birth certificate and social security card, tell them you need the cert. and card. Try NOT to leave them with a copy of your birth certificate and social security number.... you're an adult, what do they need them for? I'm not kidding, and I'm speaking from bitter experience. Get the notarized letter for your school (now and future) saying your parents don't support you, but be prepared that you may still need to get them to sign paperwork annually stating that if you're applying for financial aid. Try to remain in contact with them if you can ... I had such a hard time tracking my dad down every year, and it made getting financial aid really much more of a challenge than it should have been.

If you find housing before your parents' deadline, see if they will let you take basic household items with you. Can you take your beds (or at least the mattresses), linens, towels, with you? Unless they're taking boarders, or counting on cash from a massive garage sale, presumably they won't need the items the two of you have been using. Extra pots & pans, utensils? I'm thinking of whatever you can do to reduce your startup householding costs.

Also, if you don't know how to cook quick, cheap and healthy meals, please learn now. Beans, rice and a bag of frozen veggies will get you far. My primary regret from my own grueling first-years-on-my-own college years is the long-term impact poor diet had on my health (and teeth). You can cook healthy meals at home with little effort and much less expensively than eating out if you know how. Also, cooking can be a great thank-you if you're couch surfing. Alternately (or additionally) food service jobs often include a free or discounted meal as part of compensation.

Do you have a friend (or friend's parent) who would let you store a box of stuff in the event you don't find immediate private housing? You can live without the stuff you accumulated in your childhood, but having even a single box of fav books/ photos/ yearbooks/ memorabilia/ that model you slaved over all summer when you were 10/ can help you feel more grounded and less lost when you do land somewhere. Prioritize. What do you really really want to hold onto? Try to narrow it down to one box each, and work out storage plans should they become necessary.

If the housing you come up with is unfurnished, check out your area freecycle network. Dishes, furniture, etc. can all be picked up gratis. Also check out your area's bulk pickup days (although don't pick up upholstered furniture). You can totally furnish an apartment if you're willing to be patient.

If you are able to re-enroll and your college offers low-cost student insurance (and you don't have it through a job), TAKE IT.

It'll be hard, but taking life in your teeth and running with it can be the best thing you've ever done.

Good luck to you, and keep us posted!
posted by theplotchickens at 3:53 AM on July 13, 2011

I don't have any specific advice, other than that I'm sorry this has happened and that it's good you two have each other.

You seem to be pretty clearheaded about the reality of the situation. Just by asking this, and by the way you asked it, I can see you have really good problem-solving skills. As sad and horrible as this is, it's your chance to gain some real mastery in life.

Bright blessings.
posted by tel3path at 5:56 AM on July 13, 2011

There are some really good deals in Somerville, as ellF mentioned. I had a room last year for $500 within close walking distance of Porter and Union squares (so not even as far as Winter Hill).
posted by threeants at 7:20 AM on July 13, 2011

Do you have any friends whose parents would be willing to take you in for a while?

My parents took in my friend Izzy when she was kicked out of her house by her aunt (the kicker for Izzy was that she was in the US on a student visa and thus unable to work.) I was away at college so she just took over my room and it wasn't a huge burden for my parents. I think it was enough of a cushion for her so that she could get her visa situation figured out and save the money she did make working under the table. 25 years later, she's still living in the US (and is a US citizen.)
posted by vespabelle at 11:43 AM on July 13, 2011

I'm sorry about your parents. Don't worry about figuring out what to do with your life - Figure out what to do with your fall. If college is feasible (go to your financial aid office, as per above, to find out) you might continue your studies. If you do decide to take time off, try to enjoy it. With $1000 plus a few months to save up you should be able to find a bedroom on Craigslist and still have a little money for food.

Contact Community Legal Services and Counseling Center in Cambridge. They provide free or low-cost legal and psychological assistance to low-income people. Ask for help with housing and finding a job. Ask them to help you qualify for Medicaid and nutritional assistance. Consider seeing a counselor for help with the psychological challenges that come with losing your home, looking for work, and adapting to a new (and I hope saner) living environment. If you don't like the idea of formal counseling, at least try to identify trustworthy local adults who can help you when/if you get confused.

Get passports and driver's licences if you don't already have them.

Learn to cook if you don't know how to do it.

Get a storage locker if you can afford it. Otherwise ask a stable older person for storage space. Buy two waterproof plastic bins - one for yourself and one for your brother. Put your treasured mementos in them. Make photocopies of any official documents you can find (transcripts, credit cards, passports, licences, old pay stubs, and medical records, for starters), put them in the bins with your treasures, and put the bin in storage. Scan the documents them and email them to yourself as digital backups.

Get a Post Office box.

Make sure your vaccinations are up to date.

Get free phone numbers from a service like Google voice. You can use this for official business even if you can't pay your mobile phone bill.

As for general advice, well... watch out for fear, anger, and drug dealers. Stay close to your brother even if it gets hard. Don't be hard on yourself if you don't know what to do. Try to breathe through the anxiety and find a sense of adventure.

I'm not sure if one more semi-inspirational anecdote will help, but here goes: At 19 I too was broke in Boston. I was 1100 miles from home, commuting from a share in (pre-gentrified) Porter Square out to a (shudder) Bennigan's in Framingham, where the GM workers tipped pretty well. When my (ancient, horrible) car died on the Mass Pike I found myself with $14 and no way to make rent. I was not in a position to ask my parents for help. I walked to Harvard Square, got a job at Au Bon Pain, and volunteered to work every shift so I could eat for free. My manager was named Jihad, and his kindness meant a lot to me. Spent the $14 on laundry and a six-pack, if I recall correctly, and made friends with a kid named Eric, who was house-sitting in plush digs by the river. No booze in the house except a large bottle of Framboise, which we drank late at night smoking hand-rolled cigarettes and talking literature. The hangovers were wicked but we finished the bottle. I got my first check after a few weeks and managed to pay the back rent. I dated an earnest, pretty Harvard girl, who was going to save the world but now works for the Federal Reserve. I had a water bed for the first and last time in my life. We had what we called an "orphan's Thanksgiving" that year, and I learned something important about humility and generosity. It was fun. When I went back to college I felt more adult, I had some survival skills, and I'd read a lot of poetry.

You can do this. Stay sane, stay hydrated, eat plenty of fruits and vegetables, and good luck.
posted by jcrcarter at 1:01 PM on July 13, 2011 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks for your outpour of advice and positive thoughts, everyone — I truly appreciate it.

I will carefully review all of your advice and do my best to stay positive. I'm taking this one step at a time — I know it will all (hopefully!) work out in the end. I will be sure to post to MeFi if/when any specific roadblocks/hurdles pop up.

I'm humbled by your support; thank you so much!
posted by camcol at 5:05 PM on July 13, 2011

Basically, we have until September to figure what the hell to do with our lives, and I'm totally lost.

This is a big deal, but don't make it out to be bigger than it is. What you do this summer won't determine the rest of your life. Reminding yourself of that will help you deal with this one step at a time, rather than getting lost under the crushing orb of worrying about The Rest of Your Life.
posted by pollex at 5:16 PM on July 13, 2011 [1 favorite]

If you do go into the military (which I actually recommend), be extremely careful about signing up since recruiters can lie. In the Army, you can sign up for a specific MOS (job). If it is in your contract, they will give you that job, even if it costs them money. If it is not in your contract, you there's no guarantee you're getting that job, no matter what your recruiter tells you. There are many non-combat jobs you can get and some lead to employment straight out of the military. Anything with healthcare (avoid 68w unless you don't mind being in combat, although you'll become an EMT as part of the training) will lead to a paying job, even in this economy. For example, a Radiology Specialist (68P) can easily become a Radiologic Tech. Study for the ASVB and be firm about signing a contract only for the exact job you want.

If don't decide to go into the military, then I suggest getting a bunch of roommates and working as many jobs as you can find in order to save up money. File for financial independence from your parents. This is what I did when I was about your age. I headed back to Community College as soon as I could and ended up getting a full ride to the Uni of my dreams. Dropping out was the best thing that ever happened to me and it can be the same thing for you.
posted by avagoyle at 5:48 PM on July 13, 2011

Another option for housing may be (either now or down the road): scout out neighborhoods you've identified as being cheap-ish, and take down the number of every management company you see. For a building with multiple units (not sure what the situation is like in Boston, but in NYC these are plentiful), management companies may allow you to live there at a reduced rate in exchange for acting as the superintendent. Give them a call and pitch yourself -- obviously this will be more successful if you have some repair/fix-it skills. Or, lie and learn them. . . my super can't do sh*t!!

Nthing suggestions to look into public assistance. Even $100 in food stamps will be a load off your mind.

Best wishes.
posted by sideofwry at 6:10 AM on July 14, 2011

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