Help me move to NYC.
April 27, 2015 8:35 PM   Subscribe

I got into Columbia for grad school. Yay! But I will be at the Washington Heights campus. I'm moving from SF, and I've never lived on the East Coast. I will be moving with my boyfriend. Please help me figure out where I want to live, how much it'll cost, and also how to actually FIND an apartment in NYC (broker??).

Specific questions:

- Which neighborhoods should we be looking at?

- I'm currently planning to fly out to NYC in mid-July for a week to find something (starting school in August). Is that a good plan? My boyfriend probably won't be coming with me -- is that a bad idea in terms of signing a lease?

- How do I actually FIND apartments? I've heard of brokers, but in SF everything is Craigslist-only, basically.

These are the things I would like, in order of importance:

- Close to campus (or at least a commute that doesn't require transfers and is max 30 mins)

- Access to groceries, drugstores, places to get staples, etc. This doesn't need to be Whole Foods, and I know produce isn't ever going to be as awesome as SF, but...a farmer's market? Is that asking too much? I'd settle for a place nearby that has like tomatoes and bell peppers and peaches and tofu.

- A one-bedroom apartment for ~$2000/month. If this is ludicrously low, what is an actual realistic expectation?

- Restaurants. Idk. Places to eat that span the range from cheap to moderately fancy nights out.

- Population diversity -- racial, ages, single v. families, etc.

- Safe? I put this on here just in case there are neighborhoods that I should COMPLETELY AVOID but generally, "safe" doesn't mean "white" to me, and I'm fine as long as I can walk around by myself at night as a woman.

Anonymous because I haven't told my work yet that I'm quitting. You can reach me at if you need.
posted by anonymous to Home & Garden (20 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Columbia has a vast stock of subsidized graduate student housing in Morningside Heights. If you're happy living up there, your first and last stop should be the grad student housing office. All the buildings are safe and the vast majority have walking routes to campus and the subway that are extremely low crime.

Your boyfriend could be a difficulty factor. Grad student housing entitlements were at least until recently, and may still be, based upon family size and a non-spouse may not qualify as family in order to get a 1br for yourself (as opposed to a room in a shared apartment).
posted by MattD at 9:07 PM on April 27, 2015 [2 favorites]

Washington Heights and Inwood are great neighborhoods, and if graduate student housing does not work, you should be able to rent a one-bedroom for ~$2000 a month easily. Check out
posted by merejane at 9:29 PM on April 27, 2015 [3 favorites]

They won't be hip, but the surrounding neighborhoods are still relatively affordable. It's been a while since I was in school there, but I also had classmates who lived in Fort Lee. The bus terminal at 181st made the commute easy from NJ.
posted by mandymanwasregistered at 9:38 PM on April 27, 2015

The farmers' markets here have peaches grown in NJ. lists where and when they are.
posted by brujita at 11:46 PM on April 27, 2015

There are a SHIT-TON of farmers' markets in New York. Seriously. Where do you think the national obsession for kale started?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 2:03 AM on April 28, 2015 [1 favorite]

Definitely think about campus housing. You don't have to do it forever, just a year so you can learn your way around town. I think the Fort Lee, NJ idea is not a bad one, either, if finding something in Washington Heights/Hamilton Heights/Inwood doesn't work out.

You will be pleased to know the medical center campus has its own farmers market, Tuesdays June-November.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 3:33 AM on April 28, 2015

Upper Manhattan is a great area, beautiful parks and good restaurants and still pretty cheap, plus the trains aren't bad. Definitely check out the graduate housing, but even in the open market I'd say you will be able to find something fine for $2000 in Washington Heights or Inwood.

If you are looking at places full-time for a week, you should be fine, though I would tend to give it a little more just in case. Could you do both weekends on either side? The nice thing about apartment hunting in a dedicated block of time is that you can see things as soon as they become available, which is a huge advantage. My standard advice on the NY rental market is, "if you see a place you like, take it on the spot." But you are coming from SF so you know this. Make sure you have a good sense of comps at the start so you don't take a place out of desperation.
posted by goingonit at 4:34 AM on April 28, 2015

Inwood! That's the neighborhood just north of Washington Heights, from 200th Street to the top of Manhattan. It's an easy commute to the Washington Heights campus on the A or 1 subway lines or the M100 and BX7 buses. Still reasonably affordable, lovely parks (Isham Park, Inwood Hill Park, acres of paths in the forest that will make you forget you're still in Manhattan!), nice community. The part of Inwood that is close to the A train is probably a little safer (and generally a little pricier) than the part along the 1 line. Parts of Inwood can be loud - I would try not to live on or too close to Dyckman Street - it's kind of a SCENE and can get loud. Inwood had a farmers market on Saturdays that runs all year long - it's one of the few NYC green markets that goes through the winter. It's really nice and is very much a gathering / social spot on Saturday mornings. Inwood is pretty diverse, with regards to race, income, family structure, age. Hope this helps! Good luck!
posted by JubileeRubaloo at 5:15 AM on April 28, 2015 [1 favorite]

Don't forget to join the Metafilter NYC Google group!
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 6:00 AM on April 28, 2015

Your boyfriend could be a difficulty factor. Grad student housing entitlements were at least until recently, and may still be, based upon family size and a non-spouse may not qualify as family in order to get a 1br for yourself

This should not be a problem. You need proof of couples' status.
posted by one more dead town's last parade at 6:39 AM on April 28, 2015

If you find an apartment in NY in July, your boyfriend can sign the lease by fax or PDF remotely, though you probably should have all his information available so that a credit check can be run on him (personal information, photocopy of drivers license, etc).

To rent in NY, you are generally required to show proof of income, and the annual income needs to be 40x the monthly rent (i.e., $2000/month apt requires an income of $80k between the tenants). Usually you can show this by the previous 3 month paystubs or by a letter from an employer with salary included (or both - in NY rental, when in doubt, bring multiple forms of proof). Will your boyfriend have a job in NY already lined up? If not, you might face some obstacles because, presumably, you won't have much, if any, income as a grad student, and the landlord might require that his income source be from a NY position.

If you can't show 40x the rent, most landlords allow you to sign with a guarantor, who is required to show proof of income of 80x the rent (so that guarantor now needs to show $160k in income for that $2000/month apartment). Again, if you decide to go this route, you'll want to have the documents lined up in advance, and the guarantor available to sign a lease and fax or pdf it in.

If you can't meet either of those income requirements - and you opt not to go with Columbia grad housing - you'll face a tougher search. I know of friends who have had good luck with smaller buildings or renting from individuals, who might waive the income requirements. If you have to do this, it would be much easier if you and your boyfriend both have great credit, so it may be worth finding out your credit scores in advance (from myfico - I think it is about $15 to get your score), so you know where you stand.

I haven't apartment hunted in NY in a while, but I believe my friends who have more recently are still using Craigslist/Streeteasy/broker in some combination. I don't know much about Morningside Heights, but I have a few friends living in Washington Heights, and $2000/month for a one bedroom sounds very reasonable for that neighborhood. Again, if your boyfriend already has a job and will be commuting, you'll want to consider his train situation when you're looking at apartments. You can play around with hopstop or the mta website to see what trains are convenient and how long they might take/what transfers are required. Assuming that your boyfriend will work somewhere in midtown or lower Manhattan, you should be able to find a place in upper Manhattan for a commute of one transfer or none - try to stay away from more than one transfer (and none would be ideal), because it just increases the likelihood of delay or problems.
posted by Caz721 at 7:52 AM on April 28, 2015 [2 favorites]

I am finishing up my degree on the med campus right now, and I know that I will be leaving my one-bedroom and several of my friends will also be moving. In my experience, landlords are pretty happy when tenants do the legwork of finding someone new. Are you Mailman? Are you in the Mailman groups, particularly for the classes before you? Lots of postings about apartments (short-term and renewable) there right now.

I in West Harlem / Hamilton Heights / Sugar Hill. I'm one A train stop away from campus at 145th; I share a 1-BR with my boyfriend. It's fine; produce and restaurants are lacking, but we have the least expensive rent of anyone I know in NYC (including Brooklyn) and are on top of an express stop. I generally do my grocery shopping via Fresh Direct or biweekly trips to Trader Joe's on the UWS. There is a grocery store two blocks from me, but it's really shit and I avoid it whenever possible.

I can't think of anywhere in NYC where I've felt unsafe, but I was coming from DC. Wht

As you probably know, student housing is only at CUMC for med center students. I found it overpriced and shoddy. (Like, right now, there is no water in the towers from 10p to 8a.) The med campus in general is kind of shoddy. I do not know anyone who's living as a couple in campus housing.
posted by quadrilaterals at 8:24 AM on April 28, 2015

You should really just use the graduate housing. Its cheap, easy, close to campus, etc.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 11:23 AM on April 28, 2015

Inwood even has a CSA!
posted by merejane at 1:46 PM on April 28, 2015

Putting my vote in for Inwood, if graduate housing is not available to you (there's a waiting list, etc). I did a long distance move to Inwood last summer. I sublet a place for two weeks while I searched for a more permanent place and eventually found a room via craigslist. I recommend padmapper since it combines craigslist and brokers and it's easy to search by location. You should have no problem finding a nice 1br for $2000 in Inwood/WashHeights (Morningside has considerably less available since much of it is Columbia-owned). Let me know if you'd like more particulars about Inwood 'cause that's my hood! Good luck!
posted by la_rousse at 1:50 PM on April 28, 2015

Mod note: From the OP:
Thanks all! This has been very helpful. And thanks for setting me straight on the produce. :)

Just to clarify, I will indeed be at Mailman. I don't yet have a school email address, but the Mailman groups (you're talking Facebook? Or something else?) are definitely on my radar.

As quadrilaterals pointed out, I only have access to CUMC grad housing (not the normal Morningside Heights housing), which seems terrible, so I don't want to go that route. My boyfriend and I also don't have proof of couples' status (we're not currently living together), so it's a no-go on that front as well.

Additional question: How do I actually find a broker?
posted by restless_nomad (staff) at 5:31 PM on April 28, 2015

My boyfriend and I also don't have proof of couples' status

I wouldn't rule this out before asking them if you'd qualify. My then-girlfriend and I did not technically live together, but we were still approved. But if the housing is terrible, maybe it's not worth it.
posted by one more dead town's last parade at 10:08 PM on April 28, 2015

2k is very possible for Washington Heights, Inwood and West Harlem, all of which are great places to live, and you can also look in the West Bronx in Riverdale, Van Cortland Park and anywhere else on the 1 train!
posted by Potomac Avenue at 3:32 AM on April 29, 2015

Additional question: How do I actually find a broker?

Search for apartments on Each listings will have a link to the broker handling that apartment.
posted by merejane at 7:16 AM on April 29, 2015

Also, if you are thinking about Inwood, I recommend New Heights Realty. We used them on a co-op purchase, and they were great. They also have rentals.
posted by merejane at 8:58 AM on April 29, 2015

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