Moving to Chicago. Help?
April 19, 2013 8:48 AM   Subscribe

Where to live, what am I overlooking, huge step and pivotal moment in my life. I need to know where to look for apartments for rent in Chicago in a safe, student friendly neighborhood that won't cost a fortune.

I appreciate the time to read all of this, I will try my best to be somewhat concise.

My SO recently moved to Illinois to attend SO's dream school. I fell in love with Chicago and can no longer handle the LD part of our relationship, so I am making the move for us to be together. I am fairly certain SO is my life partner and "soul mate" (whatever this means to you, basically we're in it for the long haul) We are in our mid-20's and have been together 4 years so we're both on the same page in regards to the usual deal-breakers, life circumstances, kids, etc. All of that is taken care of so any advice on that aspect is not needed for the most part. We're both under the agreement at this time that we'll do whatever it takes to be together and are fairly certain that this move is the next step in our relationship.

Right now, the advice I'm needing is where to live? The beginning of August is the time frame we would like to move in to an apartment. SO is currently attending Columbia College and I will be attending the University of Illinois. I have been looking at places near Lincoln Park and the Gold Coast area, but they are pretty expensive and don't seem student friendly (but feel free to recommend if you know otherwise). I have been told of a few neighborhoods such as Edgewater and Wrigleyville or something like that, but since I am not in Chicago and SO recently moved, we're both fairly clueless. What we are hoping for is a place close to both of our respective colleges. SO currently has a job, I will hopefully have a job lined up before I move, but some savings should keep us afloat until I do.

~Preferably a location that is close to the train and bus stops. Some walking is ok, but not anything over a few blocks, a safe neighborhood is a must.

~Rent preferably around $1200 or less, one bedroom, any paid utilities (preferably heat), W/D are a definite plus! (Very important, but I would compromise for a laundry facility if the rent is cheaper) We don't have pets, or need parking spaces, or anything like that.

Looking for a reputable landlord and a location that is student friendly and safe. I am wary of the street violence and/or gangs and am concerned to be living in a neighborhood that that will not be an issue or something to be actively concerned with every time I walk out the door. I know most places advertise on the building and that is the only avenue to let people know that they are available to rent, but I would like to know from personal experience where to go that would not be shady. I know the suburbs might be nice but what would the commute look like? Any advice or help is appreciated.
posted by lunastellasol to Human Relations (25 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Logan Square wouldn't be a terrible trip to either and you'd definitely pay less than $1200 a month.

I am wary of the street violence and/or gangs and am concerned to be living in a neighborhood that that will not be an issue or something to be actively concerned with every time I walk out the door. I know most places advertise on the building and that is the only avenue to let people know that they are available to rent, but I would like to know from personal experience where to go that would not be shady.

I don't know where you live or where you're getting your information from, but these are not really problems you will encounter? "Street violence" is usually targeted and is not much of an issue on the North side (which is totally a privilege/class/race issue, but whatever). There are also many apartment services. I haven't tried, but they are advertising like crazy. Craigslist is extremely active here. Chicago also has a lot of large buildings run by management companies. I promise you this is not some dangerous Wild West urban wasteland.
posted by liketitanic at 9:02 AM on April 19, 2013 [2 favorites]

The neighborhoods around UIC are...transitioning. But cheap! And definitely student-friendly. You do NOT want a commute from the suburbs, it will eat your life.

Since your SO is in the Loop for school and you're in the south-of-Loop area for school, you probably want to look for places along the blue or the red lines. Along the blue, Logan Square is still mostly cheap and young-people friendly, though the housing stock is generally older.

Along the red line, cheap housing can be found in Edgewater/Andersonville/Uptown (Berwyn/Bryn Mawr/Lawrence/Wilson stops) but that starts to be kind of a long commute for you (not so much for your SO, just a straight shot downtown).
posted by like_a_friend at 9:06 AM on April 19, 2013 [1 favorite]

I promise you this is not some dangerous Wild West urban wasteland.

I appreciate you saying that and I'm sorry if I gave off that impression. I have just been told by many people "scaring" me off from moving halfway across the country. I guess the concern from them shines through, but I'm glad to know there is nothing to worry about in that regard.
posted by lunastellasol at 9:08 AM on April 19, 2013

If crime rates are a concern, Trulia Crime Maps has a Chicago edition. I second liketitanic: Chicago is much safer than its reputation, and the map should be viewed as additional information when choosing where to live, but not the primary piece of information.
posted by 1367 at 9:14 AM on April 19, 2013

I lived down by 16th and Wabash (South Loop) and had an amazing loft for cheap. The area has certainly become more po$h than it used to be but googling a few buildings I know got me this. The smaller loft is in your range, has lots of amenities, you'd be 4 blocks from the Roosevelt El and many major bus lines. When I lived in the area, my apartment was pretty much as far south as I wanted to walk by myself but the area has really changed. Head down to that area, drive around, and stop at the major buildings and find out what's available. I also know a ton of teachers who have great places in the Pilsen area and feel totally safe. Edgewater is a nice area but probably too far north to look - the commute would get tiring.
posted by adorap0621 at 9:26 AM on April 19, 2013

Anywhere within half a mile of the Logan Square, Western, Damen, or Division blue line stops is probably going to suit you as creative urban twentysomethings just fine. I'd wager that the majority of your SO's classmates live somewhere in that area anyway, and a good proportion of yours as well. Lots of young people, bars, shops, and restaurants. You will have lots of apartments to choose from in your price range - my wife and I were paying $1200 for a 3-bedroom in Wicker Park until last year when we bought a house. If you're in a hurry, call North Clyborn Group, and they'll drive you around and show you a bunch of places (they're paid by the landlords and really streamline this process for folks who aren't local).

The South Loop is another good option - if you can walk to the LaSalle station, you're two stops from UIC and your SO can walk to Columbia. There's stuff to do down there, but you probably won't find it as neighborhood-y as the other options, and you probably won't spontaneously run into as many people your own age, but you will have very enviable commutes by Chicago standards.
posted by ndg at 9:38 AM on April 19, 2013 [1 favorite]

South Loop seems like the most convenient in terms of where you'll both be heading every day. Plus it's cool because it's near the lake and museums (and a huge Target) if these things are perks to you. LOTS of UIC/ Columbia students live in the South Loop. If I were you that's probably where I'd aim, personally. But your other options are good, too:

Logan Square is fun, and cheaper, but your commute will be longer. Lots of good bars packed with more dudes with well-groomed beards and mustaches than you've ever seen in your life. (So, you know, hipsters.)

Wicker Park is also fun but I think it skews slightly more to the younger, drink-their-ass-off every weekend types. I think a lot of the hipsters that started in Wicker have since relocated to Logan. Ukrainian Village/ East Ukrainian Village are just south of Wicker and it's a bit cheaper and quieter compared to the craziness of Wicker, but still within walking distance of all the cool stuff. I lived in East Ukrainian Village for a couple years and I really loved it, and I had a great place within your price range.

The only neighborhood I'd avoid is Pilsen, maybe. I have friends that live there and there are cool bars and lots of people love it. But one of my friends who used to live there came home once to find a bullet had been shot through their front window. The police told her that there are gang problems right in that particular area. Again I know others who live in and love Pilsen but personally I wouldn't live there.

As far as living north of your respective schools, I find the north-south commute to be generally more crowded and slow than other commutes but that's just like, my opinion, man. I commute to the UIC area and I would not want to live in Lincoln Park (but again, I have friends that do live there and do that and love it.) Honestly, all these Chicago neighborhoods are pretty great and have their own personality. You'll see. And you'll meet friends who live in all of them, so if you discover you love another one more you can always move next year!
posted by GastrocNemesis at 9:46 AM on April 19, 2013

I lived off the Wilson red line stop (uptown) when I went to CCC and my comments was about 45 minutes. I'd guess yours would be a little longer. Almost an hour. That far north though you're almost guaranteed a seat on the train so I did a lot of reading for class so it wasn't wasted time. The worst part was walking to the train in the snow and rain so the closer to a train station you can get the better. I love the uptown/ andersonville area. Lots of delicious cheap food and not far from the lake! Lakeview housed many of my classmates and it's a few stops closer to the loop.
posted by missriss89 at 9:49 AM on April 19, 2013

Also, uptown looks sketchy (and some streets are not as safe as others) but I never actually felt unsafe even coming home late at night alone.
posted by missriss89 at 9:50 AM on April 19, 2013

I work in the South Loop and live in Logan Square so let me jump in: Columbia is down the street from where I am right now in the South Loop (13th & Wabash) so that would be super convenient for your SO; UIC is accessible via bus down Roosevelt so wouldn't be too bad for you either. This neighborhood is fine but there isn't much of a "neighborhood" vibe to it, so if that is important to you, I would definitely recommend Logan Square.

I have been in LoSq for 10 years and watched it grow like crazy; we've had more restaurants, coffee shops, & other amenities open in the past 2 years than in the whole time I've been here. LoSq is also home to what is right now the city's only food co-op, the Dill Pickle Food Co-op on Fullerton, which is a bonus if you are into good food & the community around it. (I'm the founding organizer and a former board member so MeMail me if you want to know more about it.) Great bike community here, too.

LoSq benefits for you: Blue line. 24 hour line, easy to get to O'Hare and super easy to get to both UIC and Columbia off it as well. Relatively affordable rent, depending on where you look. GREAT food/drink/music joints: Lula Cafe, Whistler, Township. Palmer Square Park is great, the boulevards are beautiful - I love this area.

Start with craigslist and I think someone else mentioned North Clybourn group - they are ok but I found they didn't pay a lot of attention to what I told them I was looking for and took me to a lot of places that weren't entirely appropriate for me. Probably your best bet: come to the neighborhood and walk around; if you see a For Rent sign, call the number immediately.

Heads up: if it's an M.Fishman property, good luck getting a call back. But know that if you do talk to them and you make an appointment to see a place, they will stand you up. Has happened to me every time I've tried to work with them, so I just skip them now.

I moved to Chicago from New York City 12 years ago and have never looked back; this city is fantastic and it's possible to find basically whatever you are looking for if you put the time in to making the kind of life you want for yourself. Best of luck, & welcome.
posted by deliciae at 10:03 AM on April 19, 2013 [5 favorites]

I would go with South Loop or University VIllage.

I live in University Village, just north of Pilsen and it's quite safe (especially the 0.5 mile radius around 14th and Halsted). I wouldn't go further south than 16th on Halsted or west of Racine. Stay away from Pilsen itself...there is still a lot of gang activity and I would never venture past 18th on foot.

For the South Loop, I wouldn't go further south than 19th or further west than Clark. The South Loop is more walkable than University Village, but University Village is within walking distance of UIC.

The only caveat is that for $1200, you're likely going to be in a very small 1-bed room or studio.
posted by parakeetdog at 10:30 AM on April 19, 2013

Nthing everyone above that the South Loop area is nice, but it's much less "neighborhoody" and more "downtowny". If that doesn't bother you, then go for it--the apartment adorap0621 linked is a bargain.

You're definitely not going to find what you're looking for for $1200 in Lincoln Park. You may be able to find something on the northern end of Lakeview (N of Belmont), and if you're near Halsted, the #8 bus will take you straight south to UIC faster than the train. I lived in Lakeview for years and generally loved it, but the party atmosphere gets old after a while. Any further north on the red line (Uptown, Andersonville, etc), and the commute gets pretty long.

I'm not as familiar with the neighborhoods on the blue line, but others have given good advice.

A few other things to consider:
--Frequently, heat included = radiators = no AC. Water is almost always included.
--Laundry in-unit is pretty rare at that price point, in my experience.
--There will almost certainly be buses within a block or two of any apartment you find, but I've had no luck finding good apartments in that radius from train stations (although surely they exist). However, if you live 3 blocks from the train station, you'll get used to walking 3 blocks to the train, I promise.
posted by gueneverey at 10:58 AM on April 19, 2013

One thing I will recommend in light of this week's weather events: be very careful about garden/basement units! They are often far far cheaper, even when renovated with amenities, but I have lots of thrifty ground-floor dwelling friends who are flooded out at the moment...
posted by like_a_friend at 11:38 AM on April 19, 2013

I'm chiming in to say anything along the Blue Line would probably work really well for you guys. I currently live in Wicker Park and find it rather expensive but Logan Square is where all the cool kids are moving because the rent is still cheap. I take the Blue Line to the loop everyday and it's pretty quick and painless. Plus it runs 24 hours. I spent some time at CCC and the commute was easy from the Blue Line. It also drops you off right at the UIC campus, so it's a win-win for you guys. Maybe I'm a snob but I really, really prefer a direct commute without having to transfer to a bus or another train. The Blue Line would eliminate that problem for you guys.

So yeah, I vote for Logan Square. Or Wicker Park if you like hipsters and can find a cheaper place.

Also, I just remembered how much I miss having a U-Pass. Sigh.
posted by smeater44 at 1:34 PM on April 19, 2013

when I moved into the city, I used I like them because they actually have maps and you can search via neighborhood.

also, your relative safety is much higher than crime reporting about Chicago might lead you to believe.
posted by garlic at 2:11 PM on April 19, 2013

(thanks for tipping me off to the thread, garlic!)

Hey! So I am basically a finding-cheap-places-to-live-in-Chicago genius. I currently live in a 3 bedroom that costs me $675/month (that's for the whole thing all together, not just one room). I live in a neighborhood called Little Village that, honestly, does not have an awesome reputation, but I've been living here a year now and have not had a single stitch of trouble.

Where you live and where you feel comfortable is a personal choice, but here is the history of where I've lived in the city and the approx. cost of those places so you can get yourself a frame of reference:

Hyde Park - $1400 (huge, crappy) 3 bedroom and a $1200 (VERY nice) 2 bedroom
Pilsen - $1050 (very nice, awesome) 2 bedroom with converted attic that became a 3rd bedroom
Irving Park - $800 middle-of-the-road 2 bedroom
Albany Park - $700 middle-of-the-road 2 bedroom
Little Village - $675 3 bedroom

Personally I think you'd be pretty happy in Pilsen. You're serviced by the Pink Line (Pilsen and Damen stops), close to UIC (is that where you're going to school?), less than 30 mins from the Loop, neighborhood with a lot of young folks.

All of the places I've seen in Gold Coast are huge ripoffs (and you're surrounded by wealthy old folks and tools). Lincoln Park is bland and full of young catalog-looking families. (If you're into old folks and/or bland people, by all means go ahead, no judgment.)

Keep in mind that with a little bit of gumption one can rent a fabulously amazing 1 bedroom in a luxury high rise in the Loop for less than $2000/month, and use that as a point of reference.

Chicago is extraordinarily affordable and pretty darned safe despite all the crime you hear about. It took me 8 years of living here before I was able to convince my family (who live in small cities in the south) of those things, but damnit it's true.

If you have any questions about specifics, please feel free to memail me!
posted by phunniemee at 2:53 PM on April 19, 2013 [2 favorites]

Hi all, everything so far is really great and I'm trying to search through all of these, but I was hoping for a bit more specifics? Neighborhoods are great but because I won't actually be up there to look at these places, I wanted specific apartments to narrow down so my SO can visit in between work and classes. I should have specified that in the original post and some mefites have me-mailed me so that's fantastic. I'd really like the transition to be as smooth and painless as possible and since we've lucked out the only other 2 times we've rented, we're pretty much clueless at this apartment hunting thing.

I am thinking right now Logan Square seems to be the general consensus. So far I've tried and the Chicago Reader. I'm sorry if this seems a bit of hand-holding but I'm trying not to get too overwhelmed as I am moving halfway across the country. (for love! :) )
posted by lunastellasol at 4:57 PM on April 19, 2013

All of the best apartments I've lived in have been through single-owner small building listings on craigslist, not through a management company, which would be complicated to arrange given your situation.
posted by phunniemee at 5:01 PM on April 19, 2013

Agree with phunniemee- I found all my best places through Craigslist. But you have to be willing to say yes to a great apartment on the spot, they don't last. If you see an ad for something good, see when the first showing is, ask if you can get an earlier one, and bring your checkbook. That's how I got my amazing place, and when I had to move the new tenants signed the lease within 20 minutes of the first showing. And I also agree with the above advice to avoid garden apartments... I've been flooded. It is not worth the money you save to risk that happening.
posted by GastrocNemesis at 8:58 PM on April 19, 2013

I wanted specific apartments to narrow down
Good, affordable apartments don't last long once they're posted. I usually try to see it the day it's posted and sign right away. Be careful when using placement services (apartmentfinders, Domu or whatever), as they always show Humbolt Park apartments and try to convince you're they're Logan Square. There's great places in Humbolt, but they're not close to the L. Anything 2 blocks from the L in Logan will be pricey - I would be open minded to anything within a 12 minute walk of the L instead.

The properties owned by management companies in Logan I've seen (I'm on my 3rd Logan Square apartment in 5 years) have been overpriced and small compared to privately owned units found on Craigslist. You're going to have to do some legwork, sorry.

At least 5 people I know have mentioned moving to Logan in the last month because so much is going on here. Demand is up and rents are rising, so even if it's cheaper than Wicker Park it's not a new frontier of cheap rent unless you get far away from the L. Most units don't go up for rent until 1 month before move-in so if you're looking for an August 1st move-in date start looking midway though June, knowing most places will be posted closer to July 1st.
posted by Bunglegirl at 7:52 AM on April 20, 2013 [1 favorite]

Logan Square really isn't cheap anymore, at least the parts convenient to the Blue line. To contrast, University Village is still pretty affordable and the growing concentration of destination bars/restaurants there indicates to me it is where Logan was a couple of years ago.
posted by melissam at 9:12 AM on April 22, 2013

like this?
posted by garlic at 11:34 AM on April 22, 2013

like this?

I know exactly where that is and I'm telling you right now you don't want to live there. It appears that that photo was taken sometime long ago back when that building had all of its windows.
posted by phunniemee at 11:50 AM on April 22, 2013

Longtime Logan Square-ite chiming in to say that the neighborhood sounds like a good fit for you. Try Craigslist or Padmapper for your apartment search. Good luck in your search. Feel free to memail me with any questions you may have about the neighborhood.
posted by smich at 10:36 AM on April 24, 2013

Thank you so much, all the suggestions were great. I think Logan Square or Rogers Park are the neighborhoods I liked so far. Now I feel a lot more comfortable moving, thanks again Chicagoans! It's a beautiful city and I can't wait to move :)
posted by lunastellasol at 6:12 AM on May 20, 2013

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