Friday, June 16, 2006


Apt Hunting in DC

My job in Washington DC starts on June 26th. I drove up there last week to look for apartments (and hopefully sign a lease) but it was so much harder than I thought it would be.

First of all, it is not obvious from Google Maps that the building where I will be working is basically at the end of the good side of town, and that walking to work from the North side of Union Station would mean being begged for money about four times daily, probably getting shot at if I ever walked home late. No one from recruiting told me this, either. The first apartment I saw was in said crappy area and there was a homeless (either dead or just very close and sleeping) man lying on a couch on the sidewalk just outside the building. Bad first impression of DC.

Next, everything is ridiculously expensive. If it's in a good neighborhood in DC or close to the Metro in Virginia, a 1-bedroom apartment usually costs about $1200-$1800 a month. For a comparison, my girlfriend lived in a really nice 1-bedroom in Raleigh for about $615 a month. So my salary in DC looks worse and worse the closer I come to accepting that I can't really avoid this price difference. Efficiencies are getting more attractive.

I think apartments are so expensive because there can be no highrise apartments in DC. Don't take this as fact, but I've heard that there is a height restriction for any building in DC so that nothing competes with the sight of the Washington Monument. I suspected there was some legal barrier to height because the first time I went to downtown DC I noticed all the tallest buildings were exactly at 13 stories tall (12 if the lobby had a really high ceiling). Naturally I think this kind of law, if it's real, is egregiously wrong. Politicians want DC to look cool while everyone who works there is miserable because the apartment situation is so backward. Thanks guys. I can only imagine that office space is similarly artificially scarce.

If an apartment is nice and inexpensive, it's unavailable. Some places have waitlists of up to 6-8 months. These are the places that I like and can afford, but how can I move into them now? No dice. Why do they even have waitlists that long? Can't they just raise rent and whittle down the wait? (Wouldn't this make them more money?) I don't know if this is from more legal barriers or just strange private sector stuff.

Then there's "Affordable Housing" or "Section 8" or "Vouchers." I hate them all. I found an apartment I really liked (in Arlington, VA, mind you--not DC) and I couldn't live there because that particular unit is reserved for "Affordable Housing" and my salary was just a touch too high to live there. Meanwhile, I watched two perfectly capable young people apply for this affordable housing. I was sad and angry that Uncle Sam told me to stay away from the apartment I liked. It got even worse when I considered that I could have lived there (earned under the salary cap) had I not continued on to get a Master's degree. I felt punished for bettering my education while I watched people just like me but maybe less motivated apply for this "Affordable Housing." The other two things I hate (Sec. 8 and vouchers) are varieties of housing welfare that allow very sketchy people to afford to live in places that would otherwise be too expensive for them. For this reason, I may never feel safe in the DC area.

This post turned out to be a bit too long, but this is pretty much the whole story. Living in DC will probably be a nice shot of practical system-gaming for me. As my boss at my last job (a hardcore libertarian) told me, "This is the real world. All you can hope for is to get yourself and your family through before the whole thing collapses." Sad but true.

I'll respond to any comments.

I have a close friend moving away from Annapolis in a month or two. Interested in finding out if his apt is open?
I don't even know how far Annapolis is from DC. Is it close enough to commute?

Future reference: I'll be VERY interested in any apartment near DC until I get one. I'll post a comment to let everyone know when that glorious day arrives.
49 minutes according to Google. Too far?
I think that's too far. For right now, I'm placing the commute cap at around 30 minutes.

Thanks for looking out for me, though.
Have you thought about Alexandria at all? There's a metro stip at King Street and the area right around there is nice. As I recall, the trip on the Metro is about 1/2 hour into town. (I don't know how long it would be to get to your office.)
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