Can I just sleep in the lab?
May 31, 2007 7:15 PM   Subscribe

I'm moving to Ithaca, NY for grad school, but it's tough to find housing from a distance. Any suggestions regarding rentals and neighborhoods?

I'll be a first-year graduate student at Cornell in the fall, and unfortunately I can't afford to fly out to Ithaca again to find an apartment. I've spent a lot of time online, including at the Cornell Housing site, but I'm still sort of lost. My priorities include a safe neighborhood with good nearby bus routes (I'm female, and will likely be returning home late at night), and, if possible, the ability to bike to campus in the summertime; but I realize that would probably require living at the top of the hill, which might not be feasible. I won't have a car.
I also have some doubts about just what sort of living situation to aim for. I enjoy living with my current roommate, but I'm concerned about signing up to live with someone I've never met. I'm strongly against signing up to live with a larger group. So my preference is either for a one-bedroom apartment in a busy complex, or a two-bedroom a bit further afield. I've already been denied campus-owned housing, so that's not an option.
Any general suggestions for good realtors/websites/resources? Experience with different neighborhoods? I found an older post regarding housebuying in Ithaca, but rentals are significantly different. If anyone remembers their first year of graduate school and has advice on choosing (or not choosing) a roommate, that would be much appreciated too. Thanks!
posted by you're a kitty! to Home & Garden (17 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Downtown, fall creek, and south hill are where the grad students usually live. All have reasonable access to bus routes; downtown and south hill can be within walking distance of campus, depending on where exactly you live. I would avoid collegetown (noisy, the apartments there suck, expensive) and the apartment complexes (kind of crappy, out of the way, expensive). We found our latest place, in south hill, on craigslist and that's where I'd recommend looking first.

The roommate thing is tricky. My first year, I rented a studio downtown sight unseen, and it was fine. My second year I moved in with some other grad students. I'd live alone my first year unless I knew the potential roommate -- I know people who've gotten stuck with the Crazy Roommate From Hell and it's not fun.

If you have any other questions or I missed anything, email's in the profile.
posted by myeviltwin at 7:30 PM on May 31, 2007

When are you moving there? My little bro just signed a lease for a place starting June 1 for next year, but he won't be moving in until the Fall term starts (he'll be a sophomore). I'm sure my parents/bro wouldn't mind subletting it to you if you planned on moving there earlier, and then you'd have a place to crash while you found a real place. His apt is next to the engineering quad. Leave some contact info if you're interested.
posted by AaRdVarK at 7:35 PM on May 31, 2007

Response by poster: Good question, AaRdVarK, and thanks for the offer! But unfortunately I won't be moving in until mid-August, and I can't really afford to fly out until the fall.
posted by you're a kitty! at 7:45 PM on May 31, 2007

avoid college town - it'll be over run with frat kids and undergrads and the prices are insane.

if you want to bike to campus, you're going to want to live ontop of the hill (unless you really really enjoy going up steep inclines). i received my bachelor's at Cornell and lived my senior year in the Fall Creek area. Fall Creek is only about a 10 minute (max) walk to the commons, is extremely safe even late at night and also very quiet - a lot of families and older folks live in the area. Though if you do live in fall creek, you're going to need a roommate as the rentals are in the form of a townhouse (from what I remember).

I know several people who lived on south hill and enjoyed it. It was close to campus and bus routes and accessible to a supermarket. It had the advantage of also being on the free late night lines that Cornell runs.

I'd recommend finding a studio and living alone for the first year. You're going to want to figure out how someone else lives and handles their studies before you share living spaces with them, imho.
posted by Stynxno at 8:01 PM on May 31, 2007

Don't forget to ask your grad advisor - that's what they are here for.
posted by k8t at 8:06 PM on May 31, 2007

It's a great town to live in, very safe and green and walkable. Re: safety: there have been a few purse-snatchings in Collegetown in recent years. Otherwise a very safe city, don't worry about walking around as a woman.

They have buses that you can take your bike up the hill on, and then bike down. Generally I would just say walk or bus to campus, and bike around the flat part of the city (downtown).

If you're determined to bike, Cayuga Heights is a possibility. It's a rich neighborhood north of campus where a lot of professors live, but there is some rental housing there and it's a flat bike to campus.

The hill is a pain, but not that much of a pain. IMO it's best to live downtown (ie at the bottom of the hill) to be close to the restaurants and coffeeshops. Collegetown, at the top of the hill, is mostly an undergrad area and consequently loud, overpriced and often incredibly crappy quality of housing. (some exceptions of course). Fall Creek is a great neighborhood downtown, some of the houses are crummy and it will generally be a housemate situation but still a great place to live. The housing stock in Ithaca is very mixed (some well-maintained and some very badly), so you might get unlucky your first year but you will be able to do much better in subsequent years by finding the nice places that acquaintances are moving out of.

Cornell's housing website, Craigslist, and Housing Solutions (a for-pay company; ie you pay a fee and then get to see their listings) are the places to look. Also send an email to your new department asking if anyone has leads on good places available -- often this is how you find the best places in town.

If you send me an email (click on my name below this comment, which will take you to my profile containing the address) I will forward you a longer email I just sent to another incoming first year grad student.
posted by LobsterMitten at 8:32 PM on May 31, 2007

Love your username. :) I'm an undergrad at Cornell, and I've only ever lived in campus housing. I can't really be of much help there except to echo the general "stay away from Collegetown" advice. You could check out Cayuga Heights and the area above North Campus. It's fairly close to the mall.

If you're wondering about bus schedules, check out TCAT's website. On weekdays, there's a very convenient route, the 10, that goes between the Commons and central campus every 10 minutes.

Cornell also has a new office for off-campus housing affairs. If you haven't already spoken with them, I'm sure they could give you some advice.
posted by liesbyomission at 8:45 PM on May 31, 2007

I'm not sure if your adviser will be of any use, although it certainly doesn't hurt to ask (you never know -- they may have a colleague who needs a housesitter, for example). But your department certainly has a list-serve, and asking for help that way can produce good results. If you are not yet on the departmental list-serve, the departmental secretary or admin person, or any current student, could post your request for you.
posted by Forktine at 9:28 PM on May 31, 2007

I'm just finishing my first year grad here. It sounds like you're not aiming for walking distance. The buses mostly don't run well past 1 or 2am, so if you will stay at the school later than that then you'll either have to get a car or be able to walk. I personally choose to live within walking distance.

Since the campus is pretty big, the walking distance depends quite a bit on which you're going to work in, so keep that in mind. I also think your advisor likely won't be much help, and you could try asking the more senior students in the group. Ask your department if they will assign mentors (upper year students), and if so, can they do it earlier for you, so you'll have a reliable contact person.

I don't know how much of a cyclist you are but biking from downtown is pretty tough. It's certainly doable, but that is one of the steepest hills in town and it goes straight up. On the other hand, (almost?) all the buses have bike racks and the buses run pretty frequently from downtown to the school, so you could bus up and bike home.

And I think Comrade_robot was talking about Maplewood? I'm there right now, and I'm moving out. It's not too bad though, just small rooms.
posted by bread-eater at 9:51 PM on May 31, 2007

We just signed a lease out near Triphammer Mall, wherever that is. Kim from the aforementioned off-campus housing office was incredibly helpful.
posted by zamboni at 10:14 PM on May 31, 2007

Actually, yeah - living a bit further out, toward the malls, might be a good bet for you. There are a few complexes out that way -- generic apartments, so you can be guaranteed of them being at-least-not-too-bad, and within range for a flat bike ride. They should be very easy to find on any Ithaca rental site. Looking on this Google map of the area north of campus, if you stay to the east of Cayuga Heights Rd, you will have a relatively flat ride to campus.
posted by LobsterMitten at 11:49 PM on May 31, 2007

I've lived in collegetown in the early nineties. It is loud and probably overpriced but it is in the thick of things in some ways.

Above collegetown a couple short blocks near where Dryden meets up with oakwood is a lot quieter.

I also lived over near Cuyuga Heights. It was nice, a little further out, no restaraunts, quiet, etc...

Get a bike, stay above the gravity well if you can, at least for the first year.

Ithaca is a great little town with some amazing beautiful areas right next door.
posted by bottlebrushtree at 12:05 AM on June 1, 2007

I graduated with my BA from Cornell in '06. All the advice everyone's given here already is wonderful.

One place you might look into is "upper collegetown" -- up the hill from Bryant Ave, say. I lived on the corner of Bryant, Harvard and Delaware at one point and it wasn't too nasty/noisy. A friend of mine had a cute little studio/guest house apartment further down the hill on Delaware, and she liked it.

There are a bunch of good rental properties off of Honness Lane, which is off the Route 50 TCAT bus. The bus only runs once per hour so you need to plan your schedule somewhat carefully, but if you need to walk, the East Hill Recreation Way terminates about half-way along Honness, and it's about a 1.5 mile hike into campus. If you email me, I can try to get you in touch with my old landlord, who had a bunch of grad-student-suitable properties out there and was always good to us as tennants.

(PS: While you're at Cornell, make sure to rock out Cornell Cinema. They play freaking awesome movies and the greek crowd is always trying to get the SGA to cut their funding because "nobody uses it." x.x)
posted by Alterscape at 2:57 AM on June 1, 2007

I lived in the downtown area (north tioga street) for a few years and loved it while I was an undergrad. I rented from Peter Peniman and had a good, fair experience. I could have walked to Cornell but it was up the aforementioned giant hill. I could walk to the commons and everything in downtown which was great.
posted by irisell at 3:27 AM on June 1, 2007

We just signed a lease out near Triphammer Mall, wherever that is.

You can bicycle that in about fifteen or so minutes; the bus takes about the same (because it goes slow and stops often).

Bread-eater is right -- it really depends where on campus you will be, to know what neighborhood is most convenient. The arts quad and some of the engineering departments are convenient to downtown and Fall Creek, for example; if you are all the way over by the Vet school then you could just as easily live on the road that goes out to Varna. (And of course, what department you are in will affect how late you are coming home -- English Phd's don't stay later than the library is open, and can do their reading and thinking in a cafe just as well, while Chem Phd's are tied to the lab, and are sometimes in there all night -- as does whether or not your department provides amenities like nice office space.)

Finally, if you do end up on the phone with a landlord, or with one of the for-profit housing brokers, the words you will want to emphasize are "graduate" and "quiet" -- a lot of housing in Ithaca is segregated not by race, but by graduate/undergraduate status (well, there is plenty of racial segregation, too, but that is a different issue, and not so much one that graduate students face). And the last thing you want as a first year grad student is to be in the same building as a bunch of sophomores and juniors having their first taste of freedom! beer! parties! excess! all night long!
posted by Forktine at 5:29 AM on June 1, 2007

Fall Creek is lovely (ok, I'm biased, lived there the first 10 years of my life.)

The biking/bus thing is totally possible from anywhere... I worked in a lab one summer while living on West Hill (that's down the valley and up the other side again.) Took my bike on the bus in the morning, biked down again in the afternoon (whee!).

It's true that being within walking distance of your lab makes a huge difference in how willing you are to go back after dinner or whatnot. So that's definitely something to consider. But don't you have to take classes for a year or so before you join a lab? I wouldn't stress horribly about the housing location for this first year; you can move in a year if you need to.
posted by wyzewoman at 5:36 AM on June 1, 2007

Contact me (email in profile). My aunt has been a realtor in Ithaca for twenty years; I'm sure she'll be able to give you some help.
posted by dmd at 11:06 AM on June 2, 2007

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