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Making the Most of Housing in New Haven

February 24, 2014

M.C., 1L

So you’re coming to Yale. Now let’s find a place to live.

I remember that finding housing was one of the most stressful parts of getting ready to come to law school, so the purpose of this post is to help provide as much information as I know as clearly as possible. I’ve only been here for one semester, so there is a lot I don’t know. This is not meant to be totally comprehensive. But it will provide a good place to start.

This entry will cover the following: 1) the different neighborhoods of New Haven; 2) the different options for finding housing; 3) general advice aggregated from fellow students.

1) The different neighborhoods of New Haven

First, you need to know that there are several different neighborhoods around Yale. Law students usually live in East Rock, Wooster Square, or everywhere else—open up Google maps and draw a perimeter along Sachem St., Dwight St., George St., and Church St./Whitney Ave. This generally comprises “everywhere else.” People also refer to “downtown New Haven,” which is a smaller subsection of “everywhere else” ranging, in my highly unscientific determination, from the Elm St. area to the Crown St. area.

The different neighborhoods have different kinds of housing, businesses, and atmospheres. East Rock is suburban, but with the added bonus of lots of charming cafes, bodegas, and delis on every block. It is comprised almost exclusively of houses, and many students with families choose to live here. Most houses will have a place for parking, so it’s a good place to live if you know you’ll have a car. It can be, however, about a 20-minute walk from the Law School (depends on where exactly in East Rock you live)—so unless you have a bike or don’t mind taking the shuttle, it may feel pretty far in the winter or when there’s lots of snow. However, the perk of living very near a real park and a beautiful hike can be worth it for many. Because so many graduate students live here, the shuttles are frequent and reliable.

Wooster Square is even further out than East Rock, but has a lot going for it, too. Wooster Square will also have actual houses, as well as some truly famous New Haven pizzerias and bakeries. In the spring, pink and white cherry blossoms coat the neighborhood, making it a truly beautiful place to come home to. Many students who live in Wooster Square have cars, although many also do just fine without them. Wooster Square has a farmer’s market for part of the year.

“Everywhere else” can range from a 5-minute to 15-minute walk from the Law School, and will generally be close to at least one grocery store (Stop & Shop in the north/west; Elm City Co-op in the south/east), as well as many restaurants and bars. You can find a house, apartment, or school dorm, whichever you prefer. “Everywhere else” is generally closer to the Law School than East Rock is, which can make it particularly convenient to make it to your early morning Torts class or run home in between classes. Personally, I might recommend that students with families lean toward looking at homes in East Rock or Wooster Square. The downtown areas can get noisy at night with many students coming and going, and the East Rock and Wooster Square homes offer much more space for kids to play outside. However, that’s just my personal recommendation; everyone will have their own preferences.

2) The different options for finding housing

Now that you know a little bit about the different neighborhoods, here are some places to start looking for your own house.

Yale’s Off-Campus Housing search site: this website posts rental opportunities from Yale-affiliated people. This is where many private landlords who prefer renting to Yale affiliates post their offerings.

Real estate agencies: Though this is not comprehensive, a quick survey of my friends revealed that Elm Campus Partners, Seabury Hill Realtors, and Pike International are some popular ones. Disclaimer: I found my house using Elm Campus Partners, which rents out Yale University-owned property to Yale affiliates only. It’s very easy to apply—you just submit an application that indicates your preferences (How many bedrooms? Maximum rent you’re willing to pay? What neighborhood?) and they help you find a place that fits your needs. A friend went through Seabury Hill Realtors, which primarily rents places around Wooster Square, more “high end” East Rock properties, and a few properties downtown. Pike International was also a relatively popular pick.

Apartments: Many students also live in studios or 1-bedroom apartments, which are usually located within one larger building. Apartments seem to cluster around two different price points. Those at the higher (by New Haven standards) price point, such as The Eli, The Taft, and 360 State Street, are all in the downtown area. Those at the lower price point are a little bit more spread out throughout the Yale area. There are many of these, including 70 Howe Street and New Haven Towers (which owns Madison Tower, Crown Tower, and Crown Court), and they seem to be particularly popular with law students, as are Chapel Street apartment buildings such as 1184 Chapel and 1275 Chapel. There are definitely more than just these, but these are the ones I am personally familiar with.

Craigslist! A mainstay. A large number of students use Craigslist to find roommates and housing. The upside of New Haven is that most people searching for roommates and homes here are usually graduate students. If you prefer not to live with other law students, and you’d like to live with students from other schools, then Craigslist is likely your best bet.

Dorms: Yes, dorms. Helen Hadley Hall (HHH) is a graduate student dorm, as is the Hall of Graduate Studies (HGS). However, law students are excluded from living in HGS despite its literally-a-30-second-walk-from-the-Law-School location. Apparently about ten years ago, due to a lack of law student participation in graduate student government, they voted to exclude law students from living at HGS so that more graduate students could live there. You may have also heard that YLS recently received a $25 million donation to create law school dorms at 100 Tower Parkway, which is currently undergraduate swing space. However, law students will be able to begin living there in 2019 at the earliest. All this means that HHH may be your only dorm option. From what I understand, you get a furniture set (bed, desk, drawers), laundry facilities, and inclusive utilities. There is also an indoor gym. You may have to use communal bathrooms and kitchens, so just make sure you know exactly what you’re getting before you sign a lease.

Finally, graduating students create an “Available Housing” Google doc each spring, which is shared with incoming 1Ls. This Google doc will list various house listings that 3Ls are leaving behind. You might find a house you really like, so keep an eye out for this link!

3) General advice

The most common piece of advice fellow students had to give was to start early. Start identifying various housing options as soon as you decide to come to Yale. That decision might take a while—and that’s OK. You WILL find a great place to live! But it’s easier if you start as soon as you’ve committed to Yale. The Admitted Students Program in April is the most common time for people to find housing and roommates—and that means that landlords and real estate agencies will all be extremely busy at exactly the same time. Realistically, if you want to meet friends at ASP who will become roommates, it makes sense to wait, and many students do. But if you have roommates already in mind, and you can make a short trip to New Haven, it makes sense to come to New Haven early and look around at some houses. That way you can make a bid for the house you want early, and maximize your chances of getting exactly what you want. Many real estate agencies ask current tenants to renew their leases for the following year by late February—so late February or early March is a great time to start looking, if you can.

If you work abroad right now, as I did before coming to Yale, then it’s obviously impossible to visit homes. It is a risk to sign a lease sight-unseen, but you can definitely minimize your risk by going through Yale-affiliated landlords, real estate agencies, or dorms. You can also link up with a future roommate who is based in the US, who can go look at houses in person and report back (this is what I did). Many places will also be able to share floor plans and photos with you. Make sure to ask for multiple photos of every room, taken from various angles.

If you need parking, make sure you ask what the parking policies are. Some places (especially suburban homes) will provide garages; others will require a monthly parking fee. Some areas may also require you to buy a local zone-parking permit, depending on where your apartment is. Just make sure you know exactly what the parking policies are, if that’s important for you.

It is much cheaper to live with roommates. Of course, many students decide it is worth the extra money to live alone. Others live alone during their first year and then decide that they’re too lonely and want to move in with roommates. There is a fair amount of reshuffling and moving around among the 1L class; it is not unusual to reevaluate your housing and roommate options after one year.

Living close to the Law School (which also means living close to the gym, as the two are just 5 minutes apart) may be worth it. I live about a 7-minute walk from the Law School and just across the street from the gym, and I’m really glad I do. I can run home and take a nap, or zip across the street to work out even in a snowstorm. A few extra minutes mean a lot when it’s December and you have an 8:20 a.m. class three days a week. It’s a lot easier to discount the small discomfort of living a 15-minute or 20-minute walk from the Law School when it’s warm outside. Also keep in mind that I’m writing this in February, so my perspective is probably skewed! Some people really don’t mind living far away, and are comfortable biking around in bad weather. Figure out what’s important to you in a housing situation and prioritize the most important factors. Things will fall in to place. Good luck!