Archive for housing

NYC Apartment Hunting Tips

We like to plan early when we can, and this time it turns out that our scheduled Off-Campus Housing webinar was planned directly during a World Cup match. Actually, the webinar was right in the middle of Croatia vs England. We understand. This one’s on us. But to our incoming students, don’t worry – the webinar was recorded, and we’ll send an email out once it’s up on the Welcome Portal.

Because apartment hunting in New York City is its own unique adventure, here are three insider tips for off-campus housing:

  1. If you find an apartment you like, be prepared to commit to it that day. Apartment-hunting is extremely competitive in the summer, so be ready to commit the day of. We know our students like to prepare early, but it’s almost impossible to secure an apartment until about 4-6 weeks before your actual move-in date.
  2. Never pay cash to secure an apartment. So you’re ready, you’ve got your documents, you’re ready to put down the deposit. Make sure you leave a paper trail! Most reputable brokers and landlords accept a certified check, and in rarer cases a credit card. Just make sure they issue you a receipt.
  3. Connecting with possible Columbia roommates. There are many, many resources for Columbia students and NYC folks in general looking for housing and roommates. A 5-year Columbia student lists a couple of Facebook groups to check out in this post, while a Texas transplant lists some more resources here. And don’t forget, Columbia also has its Off-Campus Housing Assistance (OCHA) website here.

A reminder to those who want to learn more about policy school (and are ready for that NYC apartment hunt) — we’ll be at Summerfest NYC and Summerfest D.C. on July 18th and 19th. These are free mini-graduate school fairs held with four other top policy schools. Come by, say hello, and get all the info you might need from our alumni and admissions staff.

A Texas Transplant’s Take on the NYC Housing Market

Let’s be real folks, finding housing in New York can be really stressful, especially if you are not from the area. As a transplant from Texas the housing market was a completely foreign and new experience for me and honestly I could have benefited from a blog like this.

This blog will cover the 4 things you need to know on finding off-campus housing. There is no science to the method of madness except for just madness….but when you do secure your housing and sign that lease it is one of the most amazing feelings you will ever have.

  1. Timing
    Traditionally, most people do not start looking for apartments in NYC until two weeks before they are supposed to move. Yes, I said two weeks. If you are like me, that short time span may freak you out, but it is just how the housing market works here. If you are looking for housing around Columbia University there is actually a good window of time to find housing. The best time to find empty apartments around Columbia is when everyone is leaving their leases…right around end of July and beginning of August. There are a lot of apartments and room vacancies in this time frame.
  2. Options and Finding Roommates
    There are many options to finding housing in NYC. What I am listing is a short list of what is all out there but there are many, many more. Columbia OCHA is Columbia’s Off-Campus Housing Assistance site. This site is actually great and credible for finding empty apartments, as well as apartments looking for subleasers. Another NYC option that locals use is Gypsy Housing. This is a Facebook page that you can Like and people and brokers will post apartments and vacancies. I know a few friends at SIPA who found an apartment through Gypsy housing. Lastly, SIPA has a form for other Seeples to find roommates and rooms. The form is really helpful for finding groups of people to live with.
  3. Unaccounted-For Costs
    Something else to keep in mind as you are shopping for apartments is unaccounted-for costs. For starters, most people find apartments through brokers. It is common for brokers to have a fee which is a certain percentage of the annual lease. This is essentially a variable cost since it varies from lease to lease. The broker fee is something you would pay upfront when signing the lease. Another upfront cost maybe a security deposit of the first and last month rent, which is something you may pay when signing the lease. There may also be a lease application fee that can sometimes range from $100-250 per person, this varies on the landlord and agency. When you consider off-campus housing, lease agreements may also request that future tenants make 40x – 90x the annual rent or have a co-signer that meets this requirement. You should not be alarmed by this, it’s pretty common in NYC. Lastly, know that tenants in NYC do not have to pay water as a utility bill. Standard utility bill is normally electricity, which includes heating in most cases, and then internet and other leisure utilities you and your roommates decides to add.
  4. Securing the bag!
    Once you have secured your lease, you have done 85% of the work and relieved a lot of moving anxiety!! You can now start to fill your space with furniture and feel good homey things. If you want to cut costs on buying brand new furniture, there is a Columbia Facebook page called Free and For Sale for Columbia students and you can find things at a fraction of the cost or sometimes for free.

Note from Admissions: Incoming students, want more off-campus housing advice? Register for our Off Campus Housing Webinar on July 11 through the Welcome Portal!

A 5-Year Columbia Student’s Take on On-Campus Housing

Columbia’s location in Morningside Heights has, inevitably, shaped the neighborhood and its development. Over the recent years, the University has acquired a number of apartment buildings in the Morningside Heights vicinity, as well as in Harlem and the Manhattan Valley. In 2008, Columbia even acquired the Arbor, an admittedly nice apartment complex located in Riverdale. In the Bronx. (Don’t worry. Columbia offers a shuttle between the Arbor and both the Medical Center and Morningside Heights Campi. Pick your poison). Here’s a quick overview of the pros and cons of pursuing University Apartment Housing (UAH).


It’s lowkey your best bet to stay close to campus. As noted before, Columbia has acquired, and continues to acquire, many apartment buildings in the Morningside Heights neighborhood. From my experience, SIPA students who pursue UAH are placed within a ten-minute walk to the International Affairs Building (IAB). In fact, SIPA students who live on 118th Street, between Amsterdam Avenue and Morningside Drive live right across IAB. Geographically speaking, students may be placed within the rectilinear domain bounded by 106th Street, Riverside Drive, 120th Street, and Frederick Douglass Boulevard/Central Park West.

Path of least resistance. Perhaps the least work-intensive housing search can be found with UAH. If approved for UAH housing, students indicate their preferred price point, fill out a personality questionnaire, supply additional documentation, if needed, and done! Students are notified once they are placed, and the contact information of their potential roommate/suitemate is passed along. Upon arrival to campus, residents pay a visit to the UAH office (near the corner of 119th and Morningside) to sign a lease, and off they go!

‘Tis the season for sublets. School’s out for summer. But you’re not! UAH leases last for the entire duration of your student status. That means the apartment remains yours for the summer. If you’re interning or working in New York, you’re free to remain in your apartment. However, if your research sends you to Rome, or your internship places you in Iqaluit, you have the ability to sublet your apartment. The transient nature of the neighborhood means that someone would be more than happy to sublet your space. You’re also allowed to charge your subletter a premium, a rate higher than your rent, within reason. UAH has rules for that, but that discussion is best left for if you survive your first year a later time.


UAH is not guaranteed. There is no way for the University to provide housing to its close to 20,000 postgraduates. That said, the various schools are allocated housing spaces; in turn, each school has its own process to determine which students received UAH. At SIPA, the Office of Student Affairs facilitates the UAH process, approving students throughout the summer. A number of factors can determine UAH eligibility including geographic distance away from New York, ability for a student to produce a credit report or credit history, among other things. If you pursue UAH, be sure to pursue other housing options until you receive an offer from UAH.

UAH is (relatively) expensive. Going with UAH means paying for convenience. To quantify it, UAH offerings price between $850 to $1,500 per month, ($2,300 for couples/family spaces). Depending on the placement and contract, this price may or may not include utilities. The premium you pay relieves the stress of finding a place, using a broker, etc. That said, it is possible to find cheaper housing, with rooms in Morningside Heights going as low as $700, even $600. If you don’t mind venturing two or three stops north on the 1 line, you’ll surely get more for your money.


Make friends with a Columbia person who knows what’s up. They’ll be able to let you into various Facebook groups for housing (some pending activation of your UNI and email).

Use OCHA! The Off-Campus Housing Assistance site can be a happy medium between an expensive UAH while still staying within the Columbia community. OCHA compiles a list of spaces posted by Columbia affiliates. Check them out!

Bits of advice:

Morningside Drive and Morningside Avenue are two different streets! Morningside Drive is the western border of Morningside Park, closer to campus. Morningside Avenue is the Park’s eastern border.

Live where you want. Wanna live right next to school? That’s cool. All about the Chelsea life? That’s cool too. As bad gal Riri once said, “Ain’t got not time for no haters, just live your life.”

Don’t mind a 30-40 min. bus ride? Check out Astoria in Queens. Great food, affordable places, and it’s an easy trip straight to the campus gates with the M60 Select Bus Service.

Note from Admissions: To our incoming students, don’t forget to register for the Housing Webinar tomorrow through the Welcome Portal!

NYC housing advice from a SIPA alumna and real estate agent

*This has not been edited for content. SIPA does not recommend one real estate agent, salesperson, representative, or company over another. This is not an endorsement of the agent or company’s services.

By Melissa Amin Diaz:

As a SIPA alum, I had to go through the painful process of renting an apartment in New York City. I knew I wanted to live in a central location off campus that was not too far from SIPA or the attractions in Midtown and Downtown, but I was not fully aware of the rental process. When I arrived to New York I immediately realized that my expectations were far from reality.

In this blog I wanted to share a guide on what you need to know and what you will need to do to find the right apartment, for the right price, in the smoothest way possible. Hopefully this will help you avoid the stressful moments I had to pass through.

Before starting your search, prioritize your wants and needs. Determine what is important for you. The three main variables when choosing an apartment are price, location, and size. Prioritize them in order of importance for you and keep them in mind when you start your search.

Determine your Financials
Having your financials clear is a critical preparatory work. Many landlords require an income of 40 to 50 times the monthly rent. They will also do a credit check on you and expect it to be above 700. This means that to rent a studio apartment for $1800 a month, you must prove an annual income of at least $72,000 a year ($1800 X 40) and have a credit score of around 700. Another way to determine how much rent you can afford is by determining 30% of your income. Real Estate professionals say 30% of your annual income is  an appropriate amount to spend on rent.

After determining how much rent you can afford, consider the upfront and ongoing monthly expenses that come with renting an apartment. The upfront expenses include: application fees, broker’s fees, first and last month rent, and security deposits. Rental application fees  are between $65 to $100. Brokers usually charge between 12%-15% of annual rent or a one-month rent. The security deposit is usually a one-month’s rent, but it’s refundable at the end of the lease if no damages are incurred in the apartment.

This is a good example of your upfront expenses for a $1800 studio apartment in Upper West Side.

First and last month Rent $3,600
Application Fee $80 ($65-$100)
Broker’s fee $3,240 ($1800 x 12×15%)
Security Deposit $1,800 (1 month’s rent)
Total $8,720

The ongoing monthly expenses are your utilities and cable/internet bills. Electricity and gas are your usual charges and will vary depending on the building and zone you decide to rent. Water is usually included on the monthly rent.

Regarding monthly ongoing expenses, utilities vary depending on the building and usage. Cable and Internet can be $80 approx.

At this point you might be asking, what if I can’t prove I have an income of 40 times the monthly rent? What if I have no credit history or have a poor credit score? There are three options to consider:

  1. Find a Guarantor
    A guarantor is someone who guarantees payment on the lease. They need to prove an annually income of 80-100 times the monthly rent and will have to sign paperwork plus provide financial documents such as pay stubs and tax returns to the landlord. Lets say you want to rent the Upper West Side studio apartment for $1800 per month., Your guarantor has to prove an income of at least $144,000 a year showing his or her tax returns and personally guarantee your lease. Guarantors don’t need to be relatives, but most landlords prefer that they be from the Tri-State area (NY, NJ, CT).
  1. Pay for a Guarantor
    There are institutions that provide the guarantees for renters that do not meet the lease terms landlords require. Insurent is one of the biggest companies in NYC. The average Insurent guaranty fee for non-U.S. parties without U.S. based credit and social security numbers is 110% – 115% of one month’s rent. For international students, Insurent qualifies them based on their parent/father being a Responsible Party solely on the Agreement. The parent will just need to have an annual income of a minimum of 50x the monthly rent in their home country or have cash liquid assets at banks/marketable securities at banks/brokerage firms of a minimum of 80x the  monthly rent in their home country or elsewhere. The application is free of charge. The required documents are Copies of passport and Visa  and School ID, copy of passport of parent acting as the responsible party to Insurent, and Copy of letter from accountant confirming the parent’s funds.
  1. Bigger Security Deposit or Upfront Rent
    Committing to a bigger security deposit with the landlord or paying your rent upfront might also be the solution. These options vary depending on the landlord and what information you can provide in the process.

Incoming students: Don’t forget to review the Welcome Portal for tips from the Admissions Office on house hunting (such as the webinar), and the on-campus housing application form.

Determine Living Style
Now its time to determine the living style you want. These styles have an economic impact as well. The three most common options are: Finding roommates, living alone, or subletting.

Sharing an apartment with roommates allows you to afford a bigger place in a neighborhood you like more. They help cut monthly rent and up front / ongoing expenses. If you decide to have a roommate, make sure you find someone who is compatible with you.

Living alone is the most expensive option, but gives you complete privacy.

Subletting an apartment or room can be the cheapest and easiest option. You don’t have to pay a broker’s fee, you usually don’t have to submit paperwork and financial requirements leases ask for, and you just move in with no need to buy furniture or set up utilities.

Find your Neighborhood
New York City is made up of five boroughs, including Manhattan, the Bronx, Queens, Brooklyn, and Staten Island. Within them, there are different neighborhoods, each with their own mood and vibe, as well as different price ranges and public transportation methods.

  1. Convenience in transportation
    Living close to the metro, preferably a station that has an express train stop or a location that doesn’t need to change trains or bus line, would make your life easier and save you a lot of time. For example, Red line trains go north to south direction through eastern Manhattan. If you choose a location close to the red line you can get to downtown Manhattan or upper Manhattan much faster and cheaper than taking a cab. Make sure you choose a neighborhood that public transportation is convenient and fast to get to class.

2. Price
Manhattan is expensive. However, prices will vary depending on the neighborhood you choose and the time of the year. You can find better deals in Bronx, Queens, Brooklyn, and Staten Island, but make sure you follow the same rule of living close to a metro station that offers a convenient way to get to class without too many complications.

3. Moods and Vibe
New York has something for everyone. They don’t call it the capital of the world for nothing! Visit the neighborhoods that you think you will like to live before starting your official search. Make sure the mood and vibe of the area is what you are looking for and will be happy  with.

Remember to start your search 30-60 days ahead of time. If you search too soon or too late, you may not see the best of what’s available.

Apply and Sign Lease
Once you find the apartment you like, move fast. New York City is a competitive city and desirable apartments come on and off the market quickly.

These are the documents you and/or your guarantor will need:

  1. A letter from your employer stating your position, salary, length of employment and opportunities for bonuses
  2. Your last two pay stubs
  3. Your last two years of tax return
  4. Your last two months’ bank
  5. Contact information for previous
  6. Verification of other assets, if a
  7. Photo ID (Driver’s License, Passport, )

Revise the lease before signing it. Make sure the terms of the lease, the rent payment, security deposit and all clauses in the lease are right and clear  to  you.  Remember  this  is  a  long-term commitment.

Congrats, you got accepted!
Once you get the keys to your new apartment, get creative. Give it your personal touches and make it feel like home. Learn how to live in a small space and take advantage of every inch of your new apartment or room. If you have any questions, please contact me at

*This has not been edited for content. SIPA does not recommend one real estate agent, salesperson, representative, or company over another. This is not an endorsement of the agent or company’s services.

a city of shining lights: an inside look at urban and social policy

SIPA’s location in New York City provides an ideal opportunity for students to learn about the workings of one of the most dynamic cities in the world. The Urban and Social Policy (USP) concentration attracts a very diverse group of students from the public, private and non-profit sectors who are interested in managing city governments and non-profit organizations, and designing and analyzing policies across a variety of sectors. USP students enter SIPA with backgrounds in teaching, immigration law, non-profit program evaluation, urban transportation systems, public health, and many more areas.

USP classes are taught by faculty members with extensive academic and professional experience. Mayor David Dinkins, the former mayor of New York, offers a unique perspective in the two courses he teaches to USP students every year. Professor Ester Fuchs, the Concentration Director, served as Special Advisor to the Mayor for Governance and Strategic Planning under New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg from 2001 to 2005 in addition to her many years of teaching experience at Columbia. A number of other full-time and adjunct faculty members draw on their experience as city planners, high level officials in city government, and executive directors of non-profit organizations. They are experts in immigration, organizational management, housing policy, social movements and several other fields.

Students can choose between the Urban Policy and the Social Policy track. Both tracks equip students with strong skills in policy analysis, program management and evaluation. The Urban Policy curriculum offers focus areas in the following fields: Urban Politics and Governance; Management in Urban Public Sector or Not for Profits; Urban Social Policy; Urban Economic Development, Planning and Land Use; Sustainability and Environmental Policy; Housing Policy; Education Policy; Health Policy; Crime, Safety and Security Policy; and Employment and Labor Policy. The Social Policy track provides students with the analytical tools, management skills and knowledge needed to design, implement and evaluate the outcomes of social policies that aim to increase access to economic opportunity in marginalized populations and manage economic and social risks, such as unemployment, poverty, social exclusion, crime, recidivism, homelessness and sickness.

The concentration hosts The Global Mayor’s Forum each semester, featuring mayors from cities in the U.S. and around the globe. USP also hosts a series of roundtables, panel discussions, and brown bag events offering students the opportunity to hear from leading practitioners in the field. Additionally, USP hosts field trips for students to local museums, organizations, and historic sites.

USP graduates pursue careers in leadership levels within city, state and federal government, political campaigns, non-profits and NGOs, think tanks, philanthropic foundations, social enterprises, and academia. During their time at SIPA, many students pursue internships with the New York City government as well as with leading non-profit organizations, consulting groups, and think tanks coming up with innovative solutions to urban and social challenges. A sample of employers who hired USP graduates is available here


"The most global public policy school, where an international community of students and faculty address world challenges."

—Merit E. Janow, Dean, SIPA, Professor of Practice, International and Economic Law and International Affairs

Boiler Image