Places with cheap rents and don't need a car?
February 21, 2012 11:15 AM   Subscribe

If I wanted to live in a city where a room goes for under $300/$400, and I don't need a car, where should I look? Assume USD, don't care about weather, and safe-ish. Youngish people who like to do things other than watch TV is also preferred.

I'm looking to get out of California, but I have no concept of rental markets in other states or cities. I know I can look at craigslist, but I'm hoping to narrow down the search to a range of cities. I'll be finishing school soon, and I have some capital to move, but only somewhere cheaper. Where should I concentrate my attention?
posted by shinyshiny to Home & Garden (41 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
posted by MoonOrb at 11:17 AM on February 21, 2012 [9 favorites]

In some parts of the country you can get a house for that, typically where the weather is severe at some point in the year.
posted by rhizome at 11:19 AM on February 21, 2012

city where a room goes for under $300/$400, and I don't need a car

Those two things tend to be mutually exclusive, depending on what you mean by "need" a car.
posted by downing street memo at 11:20 AM on February 21, 2012 [1 favorite]

I was going to say Pittsburgh, but only because I just moved there and am hyper-enthusiastic. FWIW, the Pgh craigslist currently has 88 rooms at $400 or less, many in nice neighborhoods with good bus service.
posted by jon1270 at 11:27 AM on February 21, 2012 [2 favorites]

If you are willing to deal with roommates, you can live for that kind of rent in Chicago though not in one of the fancier neighborhoods. I've been here for ten years and it's pretty awesome - no need for a car because public transport is pretty easy, biking is common, and for those times that you do need a car, there is not only the for profit Zipcar, but a better local non-profit version called I-Go.

It's a great town - tons of culture, really interesting people doing cool things, it's a hub city for most airlines so airfares anywhere are not usually too bad - I've found it to be an excellent home base.
posted by deliciae at 11:28 AM on February 21, 2012 [2 favorites]

You might be able to pull this off in certain parts of Philadelphia.
posted by madcaptenor at 11:31 AM on February 21, 2012 [1 favorite]

Definitely Pittsburgh. It's not nearly as un-carfriendly as it was before the big transit cuts, but if you live a pseudo-undergrad lifestyle, it should work.

I should also note that you can probably still find rooms that cheap out in West Philadelphia, in large Victorians with 4-8 rooms total; you'd want to run the actual addresses by someone with some local savvy to be careful about safety/transit access, but this is as car-optional as cities get outside of NYC and it's still pretty cheap.
posted by Tomorrowful at 11:32 AM on February 21, 2012 [1 favorite]

Define "city". My "city" has a population of 66k (greater area population of 180k), lots of rental property due to the state university in town, an award winning bus system that includes commuter bus to the train to the larger metro area. Here is an example room for rent for $335 a month. (Just the first I saw in your price range - not endorsing that particular listing)

Biking, kanoeing, skiing, snowboarding, fishing, boating, music, theater, lots of parks. I love it here, but YMMV. :)
posted by jillithd at 11:33 AM on February 21, 2012

You can (in the "it's not strictly impossible" sense) find rooms in safe neighborhoods in Brooklyn and Queens for $400. They're going to be really out of the way, though.
posted by griphus at 11:35 AM on February 21, 2012 [1 favorite]

doh. kanoeing = "kayaking" + "canoeing" #facepalm
posted by jillithd at 11:38 AM on February 21, 2012

When I moved to Saint Louis, I lived and worked downtown and did not have a car. It was doable, and there are plenty of things to do easily by walking, bus, or train. The key would be the job/living distance. There are plenty of places you can get to easily by public transportation in St. Louis (downtown, theater, concerts, clubs, museums, zoo, parks, etc.), but there are definitely areas of the city and especially the county that are underserved by public transit.
posted by hworth at 11:44 AM on February 21, 2012

I shared a couple of huge 2-bedrooms in Denver within the last several years and spent $295 at one and $350 at the other on my half of the rent. Public transportation is decent, weather is usually nice, and there are lots of active 20-somethings.
posted by jabes at 11:44 AM on February 21, 2012 [1 favorite]

I know you stated USD, but does that mean it must be in the US? If not, Montreal fits your bill - the rent is very cheap for a city of its size (although rents are increasing) and public transport makes the city very accessible.
posted by unlaced at 11:59 AM on February 21, 2012 [1 favorite]

Raleigh-Durham area. Public transit is very good, housing prices should be in that range as long as you're not too near any of the major universities.
posted by dekathelon at 12:05 PM on February 21, 2012

Seconding certain parts of Philadelphia, provided you´re ok with multiple roommates. One of my housemates here pays only $175/month for his room, which is on the small side but not a total closet or anything. Other rooms in the house range from 200something to 500. And we live in a pretty sweet neighborhood, with lots of access to public transit and good cheap food.
posted by ActionPopulated at 12:08 PM on February 21, 2012

Philadelphia and some of its suburbs definitely fit this; I live in a close-in burb with walking access to several grocery stores, many shops, bus/train/regional rail lines, hardware shop, etc. I pay slightly more than that a month for half of a two-bedroom apartment. (I would prefer the city, but this is close to my job, and it's also much better amenity-wise than West Philly.) It is very different than California, though.
posted by jetlagaddict at 12:16 PM on February 21, 2012

I live in the Raleigh Durham area, but I would not recommend a no car lifestyle unless you were living close to campus or near a rapidly running bus line, which would put you in areas that are usually over $300 a month.
posted by sandmanwv at 12:28 PM on February 21, 2012

Madison, WI
posted by sulaine at 12:41 PM on February 21, 2012 [2 favorites]

I've lived in Milwaukee for 3 years now. I rarely ever wish I had a car. I'm originally from NYC and with the exception of a few things (really good chinese food and subways to name a couple) I really never feel like I'm missing out by living in this city of 600,000.
posted by CookieNose at 12:42 PM on February 21, 2012 [1 favorite]

When I lived in Columbia, MO, there was a bunch of cheap living near downtown (it's a college town, and the colleges are centrally located), and I rarely drove my car except to go to Wal-Mart. There's definitely young-people fun stuff going on. Don't know exactly what the likelihood of getting a job is -- it's been more than a decade since I lived there -- but Craigslist shows a bunch of sub-$400 apartments in Columbia, and I enjoyed the town when I was in my twenties. The weather will also be familiar to a Californian, I'd think.
posted by AzraelBrown at 12:44 PM on February 21, 2012

this is exactly why I live in Montreal.
posted by spindle at 12:50 PM on February 21, 2012

Pittsburgh. I love it here.
posted by amicamentis at 12:54 PM on February 21, 2012 [1 favorite]

I'm so happy to see all the Pittsburgh love (I just moved here last week)!

I agree this would be a great town for cheap living depending on where you work. I am not renting a room, but a massive 3/4 bedroom house in the city for what would be about $300ish per room. I have a car, but I definitely wouldn't have to have one based on my location.
posted by tryniti at 1:07 PM on February 21, 2012 [2 favorites]

Buffalo would do it. But given the choice between Buffalo and Pittaburgh I would pick Pittsburgh.
posted by munchingzombie at 1:22 PM on February 21, 2012

Midwestern land-grant university college towns tend to be feasible to survive in without a car, and you should be able to get a room in a shared housing situation for that kind of rent: Champaign, Madison, Bloomington IN, Iowa City, etc. They tend to be funner town to live in than most towns that size, but the downside is that there is, of course, an oversupply of highly educated people and so the job market is tight and the pay often not great.
posted by drlith at 1:24 PM on February 21, 2012 [1 favorite]

Are you going to be looking for a job in this new place? In what field? Because that's going to make a big difference--cheap rent is all well and good, but cheap rent plus no job isn't so good.
posted by Sidhedevil at 1:28 PM on February 21, 2012 [1 favorite]

I have lived in St. Louis and Denver and vote for Denver when it comes to active twenty somethings. Tons of great live music, and tons of people who play outside and goes to the mountains all the time. It's a much younger, more progressive city than St. Louis. The weather is nicer in all seasons. While life is easier with a car, at least people won't look at you like you have three heads if you don't have a car.
posted by TrixieRamble at 1:33 PM on February 21, 2012

I've lived in Denver and Pittsburgh, both of which meet your criteria. I like both cities quite a bit, and will compare and contrast for you if you'd like.
posted by sugarbomb at 1:53 PM on February 21, 2012

Washington, D.C.
posted by isogloss at 1:55 PM on February 21, 2012

Definitely Chicago, if you're okay with living with roommates. I doubt you'd be able to get under $300, but under $400 is definitely what at least a couple of my friends pay.
posted by booknerd at 2:01 PM on February 21, 2012

isogloss, I don't know if I'd call Washington cheap.
posted by madcaptenor at 2:10 PM on February 21, 2012 [1 favorite]

To the person who said DC: good luck with that. I just moved out of DC. I was extraordinarily lucky to pay$300/month, thanks to living in the same house as a very forgiving landlord. However, I lived way the hell across town from most of the young people fun, and you won´t find deals like mine very often. Most 20somethings living in shared houses in more desirable neighborhoods seem to pay at least $500 a month if not more, and cheap rooms get snapped up fast because they´re so hard to come by.

Baltimore´s nearish by and a lot cheaper if the greater DC area appeals to you, but good luck dealing with the public transit there.
posted by ActionPopulated at 2:10 PM on February 21, 2012 [1 favorite]

With roommates, 300 - 400/month is do-able in a lot of places. In Portland, Maine, you have to make sure a rental includes heat, or budget for it, but it's a walk-able town. I think you might do well to narrow your options a little. What kind of activities do you like?
posted by theora55 at 2:30 PM on February 21, 2012

Try a city that's less glamourous- and the nice parts of Chicago, meaning those that aren't slums, remote, industrial blighted shitholes, or all three, are very expensive, and definitely "glamourous" to somebody between jobs- but one with a hip area and move there. There are really cool parts of Louisville, Milwaukee, Indianapolis, Cincinnati, Buffalo, Des Moines, St Paul...
posted by ethnomethodologist at 2:41 PM on February 21, 2012 [1 favorite]

If you're outdoorsy at all, you can get a house in Kalispell for that. And then you can go hiking in Glacier National Park all of the time. Watch out for bears, though.
posted by Ostara at 2:49 PM on February 21, 2012

Providence, RI. You can cross town on a bike in about 15 minutes, plenty of young people culture. With a roommate or two, $400 could get you a really nice place.

....don't ask about the unemployment rate though.
posted by supernaturelle at 3:08 PM on February 21, 2012 [2 favorites]

Yeah, nthing Chicago if you're good with living with roommates. When I lived there a few years ago I paid $300 with roommates, although you might be looking at 400 if you are more concerned with neighborhood safety. $400 probably wouldn't get you a super trendy area, but if you look you could definitely find a safe area with good access to public transportation.

Also, seconding Providence, I'm paying $300 right now with roommates, whether or not I live in a "safe" area has been a lively topic of debate among my friends, but you could definitely get a good place on $400 with roommates. I have a car, but if you worked within Providence proper you wouldn't need one, it's pretty walkable and the bus is okay.

Really though, I think for the most part outside of the East and West coasts, $400 and roommates is doable. I can't think of a city in the midwest that has rents higher than that (well, I'm sure there are upscale suburbs, but not whole cities). I would guess the same thing was true of the South.
posted by geegollygosh at 3:49 PM on February 21, 2012

Nthing Pittsburgh. You do want to pick your neighborhood carefully to maximize bus-friendliness, though - they cut bus service every year or two, so if you're in an area that only has one bus route and it gets axed, you're in trouble. Best to have multiple bus options.
posted by Stacey at 4:09 PM on February 21, 2012

Portland, OR fits your criteria, if you are willing to enter into some potentially interesting housing arrangements. Lots of rooms available for under $400. If you're willing to sacrifice the stability of having a lease in your own name, most cities will have housing shares/roommate situations like this.
posted by baniak at 4:39 PM on February 21, 2012 [1 favorite]

I think you are going to be hard pressed to find a room under $300/$400. I am pretty much in the same position as you, so your question helps. For awhile I've scoured craigslist, etc. and looked at cities that interest me but even I have set my max to $500 or so. No car, either.

To all those nthing Pittsburgh - what about the proposed service cuts to its public transportation system? That worries me. Otherwise, I'd be there.

Have you taken a look at Albany, NY? About as cheap rent as you are going to get, and extremely compact and walkable.

Some other cities I've considered besides Pittsburgh and Albany are Minneapolis, Philadelphia, Portland, and the others that have already been mentioned here. Any of the big cities that aren't places like NYC or D.C. will do.

But besides cheap, they should also be an easy place to move to.
posted by signondiego at 5:17 PM on February 21, 2012

Pittsburgh and Baltimore both made it on this list.
posted by forkisbetter at 10:59 AM on February 22, 2012

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