Cheap but livable Chicago two bedroom
April 2, 2007 8:35 AM   Subscribe

I'm moving to Chicago with my fiancé in August. We're looking for a two bedroom that we won't regret. Oh, and we're poor as hell. Is it even possible to find a two bedroom for less than $1,000? Inside is a list of more particular criteria.

We want to find whatever meets the most of the following criteria:

--Two bedroom, but a one bedroom is a possibility
--Allows a cat and a bunny
--Near a grocery (preferably a local one with international selections)
--As close to $1,000 a month as possible, preferably less
--As safe as possible
--Within 30-45 minutes of the loop
--Near public transportation
--Being able to bike to a park or the lake would be a bonus
--Near restaurants / cafes etc. also a bonus

Comments about what to avoid are also welcome, as we know little about Chicago aside from the touristy stuff.

The goal is to meet as many of these criteria as possible, but with our budget we're used to not finding exactly what we want.

Many Other threadshave had good answers, but nothing that quite answered my questions for me.
posted by ztdavis to Home & Garden (21 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
You need to read through the other threads in more detail and just start pounding the pavement using the resources described in those threads. Your requirements aren't that unrealistic, but it depends on what you consider "near" and "as safe as possible." And the recent CTA train troubles have made "within 30-45 minutes of the Loop" harder than it used to be.
posted by jcwagner at 8:50 AM on April 2, 2007

jcwagner: What criteria should I use to figure out what is safe and what isn't? I have a fair amount of camera equipment and one of my main concerns is theft.
posted by ztdavis at 8:59 AM on April 2, 2007

look on craigslist. You shouldn't be spending 1000 for a 2 bedroom unless you need to live near a crate and barrell or in the epi-center of hipness.
posted by bash at 9:00 AM on April 2, 2007

August can be a busy month for renting. I've had the most luck finding "good deals" with sublets, but that really requires you being in the city when the ad goes up, checking out the place that day (or at least that weekend), and deciding quickly. Usually places start showing up in listings about 60 days before the lease starts (after renters have decided whether to renew).

Become familiar with options on the express buses if you're looking at anywhere near the red/brown line due to construction. shows some statistics on crime at certain addresses, but talking to people & walking around is usually the best method.

Note: You might get more helpful answers if you asked a more specific question (e.g., I'm looking at X, what are the benefits/drawbacks?). Or what neighborhood in Chicago is similar to X in Y city?
posted by ejaned8 at 9:03 AM on April 2, 2007

ejaned8: This will probably be the first of several questions like this over the next six months. The question is kind of vague because I'm trying to figure out where, in a city as big as Chicago, to even start looking.

But what neighborhood in Chicago is similar to Bloomington, Indiana? I pay $320/month for a studio above a furniture store and two blocks from an international grocery, one block from a big chain grocery store, five blocks from dozens of restaurants and -- most importantly -- one block from the best ice cream shop in Indiana.

I'm looking for something that has most of what I need within walking distance, but with the job opportunities that Chicago provides within commuting distance.
posted by ztdavis at 9:09 AM on April 2, 2007

(and thanks for your link to
posted by ztdavis at 9:10 AM on April 2, 2007

You might (or might not) want to consider Hyde Park.

I suspect you could find a pet-friendly two-bedroom in your price range. The Hyde Park Co-op, which is a full-scale supermarket and not a crunchy, hippie-type co-op, is a local grocery store with international products. (It's expensive, though.) If you're near the Metra commuter rail, it's an extremely quick and easy commute to the Loop. Both the lakeside bike path and Washington Park are easily accessible and popular. Safety is a matter of some controversy, because people have wildly differing perceptions, but I would say that it's a pretty safe neighborhood by American urban standards.

There are two major drawbacks. The first has to do with public transit. Hyde Park doesn't have an El stop, and that means that it's a bit of an ordeal to get anywhere other than the Loop. You can get to the Loop via Metra in 15 minutes and then transfer to the El, but you'll have to pay twice, since the Metra and the CTA are two separate systems. Otherwise, you'll have to take the bus to the El, which takes a while.

The second is that the neighborhood doesn't have the wide variety of restaurants or retail. There are some decent restaurants and cafes, and you'll never starve, but if you're looking for fabulous quality or a lot of variety, you'd do better elsewhere. And while there are several wonderful bookstores, other than that it's a bit of a retail wasteland.
posted by craichead at 9:17 AM on April 2, 2007

Sounds like Roger Park may be the best area for you. I say that because finding a good two bedroom in Chicago for under $1000 requires a bit of luck and fast response time when you find one. A cursory search here reveals some pretty good deals in the Rogers Park/Lincoln Square area. I live in that general area and can speak to the relative safety of the neighborhood. There is the usual big city fuckery that happens but I've been here for seven years and like it better than any of the other neighborhoods I've lived in.

If you are able to, be sure to actually see the apartment. When we were apartment hunting, "2 bedroom" meant "one ok-sized room and a large closet/pantry converted into a bedroom." Roger Park has great access to public transportation, markets and nightlife.
posted by KevinSkomsvold at 9:24 AM on April 2, 2007

The best thing to do is come and visit. Drive around the neighborhoods on the north side and see what you like. I have a three bedroom in Ravenswood and pay 800 a month. I live a block away from the Governor, his wife wouldn't let his family move to the mansion in Springfield. There are many apartments that are just advertised by signs in the window, there are two on my block now. So if you come and visit a couple of times in June and look around, you can find some good deals. You should though look in The Reader online to get an idea of pricing and neighborhoods etc.
posted by lee at 9:28 AM on April 2, 2007

Bloomington, IN. Do you have a car? Will you be bringing it?

I went to the Chicago Reader and looked through what came up with your price constraints. I can comment on some of the neighborhoods.

Finally (boy I'm wordy) I did a search and can comment on some of the neighborhoods that came up:

Rogers Park: My neighborhood. A large range of nationalities. (Devon Avenue is one of the most interesting streets in Chicago (IMO)). Nearer the University, it feels Younger, but is more run down (darn college kids!) You'd likely want EAST Rogers park as it is near the El. WEST Roger's park is kind of Public transit poor.

Jefferson Park: Its on the Blue Line (so not many train delays and easy to get to OHare). It is very family friendly. Not much to do, it seems, when you're younger (at least it didn't when I lived there). Easy to get to the loop. Feels almost like a suburb. Far from the lake, but Portage Park is wonderful and large. Lots of parking if you have a car. A short EL train ride to Logan Square / Wicker Park (for entertainment)

Logan Square: Lots to do here. I like Logan Square quite a bit. It does have some very sketchy areas and likely for the money you want to pay you'd be near them.

Wicker Park: Similar to Logan Square, but more to do and more pricey. (ie if you're paying a very low rent, I'd be a bit concerned).

Humbolt Park: My sister & one of my friends lived here, I'd avoid it.

Finally, when looking through the Reader I saw this listing seems like it might fit the bill, though it isn't terribly near a large grocery).
posted by Wink Ricketts at 9:29 AM on April 2, 2007

The answer to your question is an easy "yes." You should be able to find a decent two bedroom apartment for less than $1000 in any neighborhood in Chicago.

- There are many neighborhoods with easy access to public transportation, and any of those will get you to the loop in under an hour.
- There are quite a few parks in Chicago, so you should always be within walking distance of a small park or biking distance of a big one.
- If by "international" you mean an aisle or two for ethnic foods, then you'll find that even the large chain groceries meet your criteria. If you mean a serious Asian or Mexican market, you're going to have to go somewhere that you might not consider "as safe as possible".

All in all, Chicago is big enough that you can probably find what you're looking for in any number of neighborhoods. You can try to hunt for apartments all over the city, but my recommendation would be to find a couple neighborhoods you like, and then hunt within those to limit your scope. A weekend trip to explore neighborhoods could save you a lot of headache in the long run.

Starter recommendations: Andersonville and Lincoln Square. Both neighborhoods have relatively low proportions of poor people, yuppies and hipsters. If you want an eerie small town feeling complete with frozen custard, I'd also check out Roscoe Village.
posted by tsmo at 9:41 AM on April 2, 2007

I second what Lee says: You'll need to be able to react very, very fast to find an apartment on Craigslist or in The Reader. There are a lot of people checking those daily, so if a listing is more than a couple days old the apartment is probably rented or there's something wrong with it. Or you've gotten lucky (which does happen).

I've had pretty good experience checking listings daily, pounding the pavement for "for rent" signs, and putting in an application the moment I found a place that I liked.

It may also be worth knowing that in Chicago, tenants have to tell their landlord that they're moving out within 30 days of the end of the lease, so apartment hunting is most ripe within 3 to 6 weeks of your move-in date.
posted by tsmo at 9:48 AM on April 2, 2007

Wink Ricketts: We will be bringing one of our cars. How big of a deal is that?
posted by ztdavis at 9:51 AM on April 2, 2007

The link is great; I have used it a lot and it is very useful for seeing what kinds of things happen in different places. You have to also somewhat consider population density and the extent to which the kinds of crimes you are concerned about (violent crime, property crime, whatever) happen at times you are likely to be about (or not about). I think that you also need to consider how you plan to get around and when you will be doing so. Finally, it's subject to gross stereotyping, but I think that you really need to consider the "feel" of a neighborhood. I still feel a little bit skeeved in parts of Uptown and the South and West Loops (especially at night), but don't really ever feel uncomfortable in parts of Lincoln Park. Ukranian Village falls somewhere in the middle. I generally don't feel comfortable in Hyde Park, but that's mostly because I don't know it that well and haven't spent much time there. Whether all my feelings are justifiable based on actual crime statistics is open for debate, but you really need to visit neighborhoods you are considering and decide how you feel in them, after you've reviewed the statistics and considered your lifestyle and risk tolerance.

If you are trying to prevent burglary, you are much better off looking at buildings where burglaries would be difficult (e.g. good locks on the doors, no easy access to balcony, sliding doors, ground-level windows, etc.) than you are concerning yourself with specific neighborhoods, within reason. And get renter's insurance.

I could never live in Hyde Park, because I think that there's nothing or not much to do there, and not that much that you can walk to or get to easily without a car. Without getting into the safety thing too much, you have to be very careful about how far that you stray in certain directions, more so than in other Chicago neighborhoods.

Anyway, your question is difficult to answer because there are many different places to live in Chicago, with many drawbacks and benefits. Just as much as some people are happy with a dingy, nasty two-bedroom well under $1000 in a neighborhood I would consider unsafe and sketchy, others would not be.

Overall, you're not going to be able to decide very much until you spend some time in Chicago and figure out what is important to you, and you can't really rent apartments more than a month or two in advance, anyway. So come visit in the summer, with an eye towards signing a lease in June or July. You find better places my
posted by jcwagner at 10:08 AM on April 2, 2007

Ztdavis: Some of the neighborhoods are tough parking situations. Usually no matter what, you'll find parking within a few blocks, but in the more Hipster neighborhoods of Wicker Park it will be hard. Some neighborhoods near the lake are tough as well...when I used to live in Edgewater, it was darn near impossible. It also expands the "near a grocery" for me. I could tell you several great specialty groceries in Rogers Park / Edgewater for Asian / Indian foodstuffs that are accessible by train or a quick drive. (Though, as tsmo says, even our chains have pretty good ethnic food sections)

I also agree with those saying to come in and try pounding the pavement. The Reader is Great (have found many apartments through it) but driving around with my cell phone and call numbers in the window has produced my favorite apartments. Just west of Lincoln Square, (Ravenswood, as Lee mentioned above) is cool. It is hard to get to by car (lots of one ways and dead ends, and one way dead quiet and pretty secure), near the Brown Line, and by the River (I like rivers).
posted by Wink Ricketts at 10:09 AM on April 2, 2007

Should say: "You find better places by walking through neighborhoods and looking at posted signs anyway."
posted by jcwagner at 10:16 AM on April 2, 2007

I live in Hyde Park and I am in favor of it.

*It's cheap (2 bedrooms can be found for $800, nice ones like mine for under $1000). In fact, the apartment below mine is currently being spruced up and should be available soon. Pets allowed.
*The metra ride to downtown is about 15 minutes, although getting elsewhere by CTA can be sort of iffy.
*It's a pretty quiet neighborhood. Not the most fun but also (unlike many places in Chicago these days) not overly "scene"-y and not overrun by drunk white people on a Friday night.
*It's right next to the lake, which is lovely in warm weather.
*I am happy with the assortment of restaurants and bars. Not as many as some northside neighborhoods, but they are all very friendly, neighborhood spots and they are all highly affordable.
posted by mai at 11:43 AM on April 2, 2007

I am a big fan of the Ukrainian Village and East Village neighborhoods. Both meet all your criteria nicely.

* You are close enough to the gigantic Humboldt Park to enjoy it during the day, yet far enough away that its after-hours sketchiness is not a factor. I feel perfectly safe at my place on the border of the two neighborhoods.

* Two bedroom apartments under $1000 are plentiful. Just keep up with craigslist and the Reader classifieds.

* There is a big new Dominick's under construction at the intersection of Chicago and Damen avenues.

* I bike from the above intersection to the loop every day. It takes less than 20 minutes. It's even quicker to the lake from there. Public transportation takes about 45 minutes. (It used to take under 30 on the blue line, but the train system is severely strained. Expect commute times to double, starting today and for the next couple of years (!) if you rely on the red or brown lines.)

*The East Village in particular is getting better all the time. New bars, restaurants, and shops are sprouting everywhere. Plus you are very close to Bucktown and Wicker Park, which I assume is what was meant by the epicenter of hipness. Basically you get all those places have to offer, minus the expense and the snobbery.

Oh yes, to calculate travel times on public transportation, use this site.
posted by Fred Mars at 12:23 PM on April 2, 2007

Some sites I found helpful when I was first moving to Chicago:
- Centerstage virtual L
- off-campus housing guides (note: example dated 2005)
- rent ranges and map from apartment people (note: commision-based, so apartments through them tend to be more expensive)
- community areas of chicago via wikipedia

Neighborhoods have a pretty definite personality that's hard to grasp in print. Most of the people I know go out/socialize in the area surrounding where they live, rather than going downtown, & in my experience you see people close to you more. YMMV
posted by ejaned8 at 12:38 PM on April 2, 2007

Andersonville! I live in a one bedroom for $700, heat included. Two bedrooms are pricier, but it's no where out of the question to find two bedrooms for your price range.
posted by agregoli at 1:10 PM on April 2, 2007

Might be worth checking out the answers to this survey over at Gaper's Block on Chicagoans' favorite intersections.

Once you have it narrowed down to a few neighborhoods, come eat and shop in them over a weekend. Then ask hereagain with the neighborhoods you liked, and we can give you the local ins-and-outs.

It's a big city and there're many spots that pretty much fill your needs; I don't think you're going to find the right answer right now.

Still, sounds to me like (on the North side at least) Andersonville or Ravenswood would be nice gateway options that meet all your criteria. Ravenswood tilted more towards the economy of living, Andersonville a little more towards the stuff-to-do.

And I'll also add that the lakefront is amazing and being close to it for the summer is worth sacrificing for.

Okay, one final note... The city is strangely segregated but diverse. Its most infamous public housing projects are one or two city blocks from its biggest shopping epicenter outside of Michigan Ave. There are sub-neighborhoods with little crime within main neighborhoods with high crime rates. You can literally turn a corner and have a totally different level of comfort. Your best bet really is to do some reconaissance to understand some of the dividing lines and to understand where you feel comfortable starting out.
posted by pokermonk at 3:55 PM on April 2, 2007

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