If you are moving to New York City, you will want to find a place to live before you begin classes. As SIPA students, you may apply for Columbia University housing or you may explore the city and find a place on your own (or with the help of a broker).
Looking for housing can be a daunting experience in New York City, but don’t panic – you will be able to find something! It is very possible to find affordable housing near campus. Although it may take a few intense days jam packed with appointments, every SIPA student finds a place to call home at a price that they are comfortable with.
The map below gives you a good guide to the neighborhoods in Manhattan.
Columbia and SIPA are located in the Morningside Heights neighborhood. Inevitably, many students end up living in Morningside Heights and Manhattan Valley, which spans from roughly West 96th Street to West 125th Street, between Columbus Avenue and Riverside Drive, and is within walking distance of the SIPA building on 118th and Amsterdam. In general, expect to pay around $800-$1200 for a shared apartment in Morningside Heights or Manhattan Valley.
Some students also live in the Upper West Side, which tends to be a little more expensive. Others live in Harlem, East Harlem, Hamilton Heights, and Washington Heights which are a little cheaper, but also a little farther from SIPA, which is something to keep in mind.
Along those lines, other students choose to live outside of these neighborhoods and even further away from campus in areas such as Chelsea; Clinton; the West Village; the Upper East Side/Yorkville; Astoria, Queens; Brooklyn Heights; and Williamsburg, Brooklyn. This is completely an individual preference. It can be great to get away from campus everyday and enjoy and explore other neighborhoods. Be sure, however, to consider how much time it will take you to travel to school and how often you will be at school, as well as how much you will be spending on the subway, taxis, and/or buses. Most students are on campus at least Monday through Thursday, and sometimes on the weekends to meet for group projects or study.
When looking for housing, Craigslist (www.craigslist.org) and Street Easy (http://streeteasy.com/) are good places to start. Be prepared, however, for a very busy market—many times apartments on Craigslist are rented shortly after they are posted. If you see something that you like, be proactive and contact the broker or building immediately.
Another quirky fact about New York City’s rental market is that it can be very difficult to find an apartment without using a broker, which is basically like a real estate agent. Using a broker has great benefits—they have many listings, know what is available, and can help you find an apartment within your price range and in your desired neighborhood. The downside is that many charge a fee, and that fee is usually around one month’s rent. Depending on the broker, you may have some wiggle room in negotiating the precise fee. It is possible to find some that do not charge a fee though, so when looking at listings on Craigslist or other sites, search for “No Fee” apartments if that extra cost is something you hope to avoid.
Regardless of where you decide to live, you should give yourself at least a couple weeks to find a place. The New York City rental market is tight and can be cutthroat. Therefore, it is important to be proactive and even somewhat aggressive. Most good apartments will rent within a few days of them being listed, so be ready to take an apartment right away if you like it. Important documents to have handy include: a copy of your Columbia acceptance letter (building management companies usually ask for proof of salary but obviously as students you do not have this) and your checkbook. It also helps to have a bank statement and/or other proof that you are able to pay the rent (a copy of your financial aid statement showing that you will be receiving loans might work for this purpose). Be sure to look at a few places. Nonetheless, if you really like the first place you see, don’t be afraid to take it.