Archive for off campus housing

Where to Live in New York

When it comes to making the big move to the Big Apple, finding a place to live can be confusing for an incoming student. Online searching can easily bring you great prices on places but you may also be an hour away from class. Or there may be somewhere close to school but the space is limited and it’s far away from the vibrant downtown life you may be looking for. Here is a guide on where to live in New York as an incoming SIPA Student and finding the neighborhood that is perfect for YOU!

Morningside Heights

Morningside Heights is the neighborhood in which Columbia University resides in. It spans from west of Morningside Park to Riverside Drive and from 110th to 125th. Some of the landmarks in Morningside Heights include Morningside Park, Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine, Mt. Sinai Hospital, and Riverside Church.

Pros: This neighborhood is great for anyone who is trying to live close to school. With everything from grocery stores to bars to classes being within a 15 minute walking distance, you’re close to the academic action, school happy hours, and classmate study sessions.

Cons: You may feel that you’re trapped within the Columbia bubble when living so close to school. Downtown can easily take 40-50 minutes to get to. It’s also quite an expensive area. You won’t get much size for your buck in this neighborhood, the grocery stores can be fairly expensive and an average meal at a local restaurant will cost you upward of $15.


Harlem, while contested where it actually begins and ends, is generally considered the large neighborhood east of Morningside Park. A historically black neighborhood undergoing gentrification, Harlem is not what it used to be but has always been a culturally rich area to live. Its major landmarks include the Apollo Theater, Sylvia’s Soul Food, El Museo Del Barrio, and the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture.

Pros: The neighborhood has a wide range to accommodate wallets of every size. There’s top tier restaurants like Red Rooster and Minton’s Playhouse and homey, cheap and delicious eateries like Lolo’s Seafood Shack and Lolita’s Mexican Restaurant. For apartments, sizes are much bigger for much cheaper than surrounding neighborhoods. The further east and north you go in Harlem, the cheaper the prices are. There’s also a lot to do in Harlem, from theaters to museums to bars. It can accommodate anyone’s extracurricular interests.

Cons: The only way to get to Columbia from Harlem is to ride the bus or to walk up the hundred stairs of Morningside Heights. Which on a day that’s too hot or too cold, can be quite miserable. Also, food in Harlem isn’t the easiest for restricted diets. Many have found it difficult to be a vegetarian or vegan in the area with many franchise fast-food restaurants and not too many options on health-based cuisine.

Hamilton Heights/Manhattanville

I’m bringing these two neighborhoods together into the same synopsis because they offer very similar vibes and blend together. Manhattanville and Hamilton Heights are the neighborhoods between 125th Street and 155th Street, bordering Harlem to the East and Riverside to the West. Key landmarks include City College of New York, the sub-neighborhood of Sugar Hill, Claremont Theater, and St. Mary’s Protestant Episcopal Church.

Pros: Hamilton Heights and Manhattanville is within spitting distance of Columbia University. Just take a few stops down the 1 track and you’re at the campus. Prices for housing are relatively cheap in this neighborhood also. Your average 3 bedroom, 1 bath will run around $3000-$3300/month with many rent-stabilized options available.

Cons: The neighborhood is very lively on the streets which can lead to a lot of noise. Also, living anywhere near the train station on W. 125th street, one of the few stations in Manhattan that is above ground, can be very loud. It may not be the ideal neighborhood for people looking for some peace and quiet. There also isn’t much to do in the neighborhood compared to its surrounding neighborhoods. Some may find it boring.

Upper West Side

Upper West Side is the Neighborhood between 59th and 110th and west of Central Park. Key landmarks include Lincoln Circle, the Ghostbusters Building, Julliard, and the American Museum of Natural History.

Pros: This neighborhood is known for its excellent food scene, proximity to Central Park, and nighttime quietness. If you’re looking for any type of food, you can probably find it in the Upper West Side. Central Park is all but a few steps away and at night, it’s usually a very quiet area in the city.

Cons: Upper West side brings a new definition of expensive, especially if you’re living below 100th street. There’s also not much of a nightlife in the area. To find your fun, you’ll most likely have to travel to Harlem or Midtown/Downtown. The area also lacks much of the New York culture one may be looking for. If you’re looking for art, museums, and exhibits, you’re on the wrong side of Upper Manhattan.


Midtown is truly the heart of New York, with neighborhoods like Times Square, Hell’s Kitchen, and Turtle Bay. Midtown is the entire area of Manhattan between 34th and 59th street and where you’ll find some of your fellow Seeples.

Pros: In Midtown, there is quite literally everything to do. It’s a vibrant part of the city with endless options of fun. The nightlife in Hell’s Kitchen is incredibly LGBTQ friendly. There’s also many popular food and shopping options in Times Square. The location of midtown is also perfect for anyone who wants to make a quick ride to Brooklyn or uptown.

Cons: The area is tourist central so expect it to be incredibly packed and people stopping every few feet to take pictures. Because of the amount of tourism, the area is incredibly loud. Lastly, rent in the area is sky high as it’s near so much. You won’t find any housing for cheap in this area.

The Housing Hustle

If finding a place to live in NYC has you feeling like the focus of an Edvard Munch painting, do not panic because I’ve got you covered!

As a SIPA student who didn’t get university housing, renting in NYC was the only option for me. I currently live at 113th and Frederick Douglass Blvd., in a tiny two-bedroom apartment with a roommate. While it is small, the rent is affordable, the neighborhood is great, and I love it!

This post is designed to go over some tips and tricks to navigating the off-campus housing hunt in NYC. Finding an off-campus apartment in NYC truly brings new meaning to the phrase playing it fast and loose, so here are a couple of things to keep in mind when searching:

  1. Timing: In New York is it completely normal to obtain an apartment five days before you need to move in. This sounds stressful, but it is very common for apartments and sublets to be advertised a month or less in advance of the move-in date. If you’re on the hunt for an apartment for the fall I recommend checking out Facebook groups like New York Sublets & Apartments and Gypsy Housing, as well as Columbia’s Off-Campus Housing Assistance (OCHA) website (also check out their video here). You can also try hunting on Craigslist, but be wary of scams. Furthermore, you can do it the old-fashioned way by going through a real estate broker to find you a place. I myself used Bohemian Realty because they specialize in the upper west side, but note there are brokers fees associated with it. When you find an apartment you like, I recommend putting your application is as soon as possible because the market moves fast and you don’t want to lose it!
  2. Location: When looking for off-campus housing it’s important to know what neighborhoods you want to live int. Most SIPA students live in Morningside Heights, Harlem and the Upper West Side because they are within walking distance or just a short commute away (the 1, B and C subway lines are close to campus). However, there are plenty of students who live in other NYC neighborhoods like Brooklyn, the Lower East Side, and Queens. I encourage you to explore them if you’re interested because hey, this is NYC, and you can always commute to school.
  3. Roomies: Deciding on if you want to live with roommates is a big decision, however, most SIPA students live with roommates. Having a roommate is a great way to cut costs, and is really common in NYC. So, how do you find roommates then? If you’re searching for a roommate I recommend filing out a profile on the OCHA Find a Roommate. After creating a profile you will be able to search for potential roommates within Columbia, although you will need a UNI to access it. Additionally, most students find their roommates through the incoming class Facebook and Craigslist.
  4. Be Vigilant: Always beware of scams! I recommend reading this article about how to avoid scams. Never give out sensitive information over email unless you can verify the listing. This should go without saying, but always read and review the lease agreement, you want to make sure you are getting a fair deal, and that there is nothing wonky included somewhere in the text. Never pay in cash as most legitimate landlords and brokers will accept a certified check to hold your security deposit and first month’s rent.
  5. Rent: Rents vary here in NYC, and greatly depend on location and the number of roommates you are living with. I recommend a rent range of $900-$1600 a month depending on your financial flexibility. If you want to live close to Midtown the rents will be significantly higher, however, the farther uptown or into Brooklyn you go, the cheaper it tends to get. In New York most landlords require you to demonstrate that you have around 40x the rent before you sign. If you cannot meet these requirements, then the landlord will ask for a guarantor to co-sign the lease with you. If you are an international student I recommend taking a look at the International Students & Scholars Office website (ISSO), which will give you more information on the housing process.
  6. Other Expected Costs: If you use a broker, there will usually be a broker fee attached. This can get pretty pricey, so I recommend being conscious of the broker fees when searching for your apartment. Furthermore, many apartments have an application fee. This varies from place to place, but I’ve seen them anywhere from $25 to $200, so be prepared to cut a check on the spot when you are applying for an apartment.

Okay, I know that may have been information overload, but these are things I wish I had known before doing my first apartment hunt two years ago. While the search can be stressful, do not worry — I promise you will find something! I hope you find this helpful. (Incoming students, keep an eye out for information about SIPA Admission’s Housing Webinar taking place in early July 2019.)

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!

"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

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