Help us find a place to live in Evanston, Illinois.
May 6, 2016 7:35 AM   Subscribe

My husband and I are moving to Evanston, Illinois in September. Can you help us figure out where to live?

Mr. pinetree will be starting a two-year position at Northwestern this fall, so we are moving! We are very excited (especially about the cultural and arts opportunities that Chicago will offer compared to our current small town), but we think we want to actually live in Evanston because we are used to small town life.

Here is some background about us: we're newlyweds (well, sorta... we got married about 6 months ago). I'm 32 and he is 30. We currently live in a small college town in the South where we both work full-time, make art, volunteer, ride bikes, and generally love the heck out of our little community.

Here is what we're hoping to find in Evanston:

- a short commute to work
(Currently, we live less than one mile from my job and about two miles from his job. We do own a car, but neither of us wants to drive a car to go to work on a daily basis. We're okay with walking, biking, and/or public transportation.)

- cheap rent
(Currently, we have a room in a house we share with four other working professionals/grad students around our age. We pay $390 a month plus utilities. It's shabby but we like it. We would like to find a shared housing situation with other young professionals or graduate students if possible. Where would you suggest we look if we're trying to find such a situation? If we were to rent a place on our own, I think we could manage to pay up to $600 a month total. Is that possible anywhere in Evanston?)

- a mixed zone neighborhood
(We currently live in a neighborhood that consists only of stately old houses. We are located a solid 20 minute walk from the nearest bakery, coffee shop, bar, or corner store. In the past, we have been lucky enough to live in places where a panaderĂ­a or brunch spot or somewhere to buy a Sunday paper was a short stroll away. In Evanston, it would be awesome if we could live in a neighborhood like that once again.)

- a pony
(J/K. I only added that because I know you all might be laughing at our list considering what we can afford.)

Bonus points if you can direct us to any places on the Internet with more details about various neighborhoods in Evanston, mailing lists for people look for housemates, and recommendations for, well, anything.

Thanks so much, Ask.Metafilter. You guys have always helped steer me right in the past.
posted by pinetree to Home & Garden (13 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Based on zero results from Craigslist, Zillow, and Domu, I'm gonna go with no, you cannot probably rent anything on your own for under $600/month in Evanston. I'm a little appalled that whatever position your husband is getting at NW would not support anything higher than that--Evanston is a really really pricey town. Room shares run around 600-900/month.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 7:52 AM on May 6, 2016 [5 favorites]

If we were to rent a place on our own, I think we could manage to pay up to $600 a month total. Is that possible anywhere in Evanston?

I'd wager a "no way". In 2008 I had a one-room efficiency in Rogers Park for about $680 a month. That should give you a sense of the Chicago area rents. And rent has only gone up in the area in the past 8 years.

I'm sure Northwestern has gradschool apartment resources you could look into to find a house share. Otherwise, you might want to look into renting in Rogers Park, which is a few train stops from Northwestern (although you have to switch to the purple line at Howard) but meets most of your criteria, and remains a relatively cheap neighborhood in Chicago (although I hear rumors in the air that it's becoming a hip place to live). It's especially a great commute if you like to bike. You can just head straight up Chicago Ave to Northwestern.
posted by dis_integration at 7:53 AM on May 6, 2016 [2 favorites]

Remember too that your rent may not include one or more utilities, internet, etc, in case your budget depends on that.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 7:58 AM on May 6, 2016

I'll just quickly chime in before this thread gets derailed, my husband's salary + what we assume would be my salary would indeed put us well above the median income for Evanston. However, we are currently on a very aggressive plan to become debt-free and thus we are trying to minimize the percentage of our income that we put towards rent. That's why we are a married couple that lives with four other people in a shabby house now. Our current small college town is also very expensive with a very high occupancy rate. Most people living here would say it's impossible to find a place to live for $390 a month, but we did it with some extra effort and reaching out to folks. I can search Craigslist, Zillow, and Domu and find nothing too, but I am really hoping to hear from Mefites who can talk about neighborhoods where "poor" graduate students gravitate or other solutions they themselves came up with. I know it's a tall order, but thank you in advance for brainstorming with me!
posted by pinetree at 8:07 AM on May 6, 2016

For what you're looking for, you'll want to check Wildcat Pad (though I haven't used it myself--we own a condo here). And second Rogers Park, if that doesn't work out--in general, the rule of thumb around here when looking for cheaper rents is to go south and/or west from Evanston.
posted by carrienation at 8:22 AM on May 6, 2016

I'd look at the bike/transport routes to start if you don't want to drive. I lived in West Rogers Park on Devon about 10 years ago. There was a Devon bus for public transport.. though not much else. It was cheap but not the quickest commute going to Chicago. The yellow line isn't popular so rent may be cheaper near there (Skokie) but it is technically public transport. The yellow line/Skokie swift was out of service fora while though so I'd talk to people to make sure it is reliable again now.
posted by typecloud at 8:44 AM on May 6, 2016

In 2008 I paid $400 a month for a bedroom in a 3BR in Evanston and my husband paid less than that for a room in a big ol' Victorian, so a housing share should totally be possible for under $600; nthing that you can't get your own place for that. We lived a bit northwest of campus, not far from the Noyes station; if you want to be closer to downtown it'll cost you. Our neighborhood was totally walkable though - there were convenience stores and falafel within a five-minute walk.

Like others here, I have friends in Rogers Park (who work at NU) who pay ~850 for quite nice 1BRs near the Metra station. (I bet you could find a studio *somewhere* in Rogers Park for $650-700, but make sure you're comfortable with the immediate neighborhood; I really like RP but parts of it are not for the faint-hearted.)

Also know that Evanston is not going to feel like a small town - most of it (esp parts near campus) is just as dense as the city neighborhoods to the south. Given your interests, I kind of wonder if you'd actually be happier in the city; Evanston is sort of...weird and dead. I have known many, many NU grad students, and literally all of them left Evanston for Chicago within a year or two.
posted by goodbyewaffles at 8:47 AM on May 6, 2016 [1 favorite]

The general solution for cheaper rent and being transit-accessible to Evanston is generally to go south (west is also cheaper, but aside from Skokie on the Yellow Line there are no CTA rail lines which I think makes it a bit more difficult though by no means impossible.)

I didn't bike when I lived in Chicago so I can't speak to that, but you want to be quite secure in your willingness to bike through the winter and in inclement weather if you're going to make that your primary form of transportation.

I'd also echo goodbyewaffles and consider living in Chicago. Evanston isn't so much a "small town" as it is a "wealthy North Shore suburb tempered by the presence of many Northwestern undergrads," which doesn't really translate to "cute college town" in my judgmental opinion. It's certainly a very nice place to live but not really like, say, Ann Arbor (which is my frame of reference as quintessential college town.)

Rogers Park is immediately south of Evanston and should be much cheaper. It is also very ethnically diverse and can be a bit shabby around the corners if you're not used to urban living -- if you are going to do this I would walk around the neighborhood at night and see if you feel comfortable.

Edgewater is just south of Rogers Park and I think actually would be a great fit (especially the Andersonville parts in terms of feel), except that the rent would be more than Rogers Park and the commute gets correspondingly longer.

There are a whole bunch of neighborhoods obviously stretching south along the lakefront to downtown Chicago, but south of Edgewater is Uptown, which I don't think makes sense (in terms of price I think it'd be similar to Rogers Park, but is 2x as far away) and once you get to Lakeview and points south you're both looking at a long commute to Northwestern + expensive rents.
posted by andrewesque at 8:52 AM on May 6, 2016

Nthing Rogers Park. I live in Edgewater, which is the next neighborhood South. As everyone else has pointed out, it's probably your best bet of hitting your budget unless you looked at Skokie, and I have no idea what's up over there but it might not be commute-friendly.

If you want to live in a small-town feeling place, Evanston probably isn't your best bet--it very much feels like more Chicago (what andrewesque said). Downtown reminds me of Berkeley (I don't mean this as a compliment) if you've spent any time out west. Rogers Park actually has a much more homey vibe to me, and if you found something around Howard (the last CTA stop before Evanston), then you would be within walking distance of all kinds of bakeries, coffee shops, and restaurants. You would also be ~30 minutes or less of a bike from NW or you could just take the purple line (Howard=no line switching, another plus). BTW cycling is no big deal except when it ices over or snows, and it surprisingly doesn't do that much. It is indeed gentrifying a bit, but it's a fascinating area with a really interesting history. Check out this great essay. I also highly recommend the Curious City Podcast, and especially this episode on the late-19th century "cabbage war" between Rogers Park and West Ridge. I think there's an episode somewhere about why Evanston didn't get incorporated into Chicago when lots of other cities like it did.

Edgewater is awesome too--I really love it--but for your purposes I think Rogers park is better. It's closer and cheaper, and probably a big more fun and cool to live. Andersonville is the small-towniest small-town neighborhood in Chicago, but it is about a half-mile walk from any El stop (probably not a coincidence, that). You can easily roll or walk over for lunch though, and you should because you'll need to go to to this place as much as you can.

Good luck! Chicago is the best in so many ways, I'm sure you'll love it.
posted by Stilling Still Dreaming at 10:17 AM on May 6, 2016 [1 favorite]

If you look at Rogers Park (which will be cheaper than Evanston), I'd stay close to the Howard el station. If you're any further south, you'll end up losing the benefit of easy access to the Purple Line Express which will make for a long commute if you end up getting a job in downtown Chicago. Also it will be much easier to get to downtown Evanston as well.
posted by Brain Sturgeon at 1:12 PM on May 6, 2016

Evanston isn't really a small town. It's more like an extension of the north side of Chicago which blends into the wealthy north shore suburbs, so you get a nice mix of people. The south part of Evanston is cheaper but a little dicey in parts, similar to Rogers Park. If you're used to a small town, Evanston will feel like a gritty urban neighborhood by comparison. It's a nice area with lots of cultural amenities around the university, but don't go in expecting to escape the bustle of the city completely.

So here's my embittered spiel about Chicago transit (and Evanston, by extension):

Chicago (and the close suburbs like Evanston and Oak Park) are relatively easy to get around without a car. There is even a free bus line in Evanston, I believe. The Metra/CTA is right there if you want to head into the city. So yes, it's entirely possible to live in Chicago/Evanston without a car, but you have to be tough. The problem isn't that the transit system is broken. It works okay. The CTA is horribly out of date but it works. The problem is that it forces you to stand outside, in nightmarish weather conditions, for up to 30 minutes at a time. You will wish to the old gods and the new that you had a friend with a car during the deep part of winter, January through March. I actually bought my car in early January as I contemplated another year standing on the train platform in -10F weather to go get groceries and just noped out of that whole business. Ditto with biking. Chicago is an ideal city for biking. No hills, pretty dense, logical street layout. Plenty of people ride to work. But unless you are tough as nails you won't want to ride from November through April.

So speaking of winter. This is one thing to take into account when you look for an apartment. Heat will be a significant portion of your monthly costs, sometimes on the order of rent. So think about how hard it will be to heat a certain space that you're renting. I know friends who rented a big cool industrial loft but it turned out to be incredibly expensive to heat. If you have roommates figure out how you want to split up and pay the heat ahead of time so it doesn't become a point of contention.

That's about all I've got. I would start by looking for postings on craigslist for a room in a house. I lived in a rented house with five roommates and it was my favorite place that I've rented. You get really nice amenities in a house that are hard to afford in an individual apartment.
posted by deathpanels at 4:42 PM on May 6, 2016

All that and a pony, too.

The Glen Grove Equestrian Center is about 5 miles from Evanston and can be reached by public transportation. My daughter took riding lessons there about 15 years ago—very reasonably priced at the time.
posted by she's not there at 12:21 AM on May 7, 2016 [1 favorite]

Thanks so much, everyone! We wound up settling on a one bedroom place within walking/biking distance from Northwestern in Evanston (but also very near the train). We decided that being able to walk or bike to work on a daily basis was our first priority since that's a big part of our daily life currently. Oh and everybody was right that we needed to up our budget big time. Nevertheless, we're really happy with what we wound up with and we're looking forward to exploring Chicago this autumn!
posted by pinetree at 3:22 PM on July 23, 2016

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