A good place to get a feel for D.C. neighborhoods is 4WallsinDC. Most posdocs live in Northwest, D.C., on or near Connecticut Avenue in the Van Ness/Chevy Chase, D.C., area. This is within walking distance to DTM. D.C. is known for high rent, and the closer to the metro you go, the higher the rent. Both areas are within walking distance to buses, the Metro, grocery stores, great shops, etc. Some popular rental buildings have websites: Connecticut Heights, The Kenmore, The Chesapeake, La Reine, and The Albemarle.
Nearby hotels include Courtyard Marriott, Chevy Chase, Days Inn on Connecticut Avenue, and the Embassy Suites at the Chevy Chase Pavilion (intersection of Military and Wisconsin Avenues). There are also a few boarding houses in walking distance to the campus. Contact anyone in admin for more information.
The helpful following comments regarding housing options were provided by our very own Irish Fellow Paul Byrne!
Deciding Not to Live at the Train Station
Settling on where to live is a personal choice, but some obvious questions to ask include:
1.) How much do you want to pay?
2.) What kind of accommodation do you want — studio/efficiency (a small apartment in which the living and sleeping space is joined with the kitchen area), a one-bedroom apartment, or something larger?
3.) Do you want to live close to DTM, in downtown D.C., or somewhere in-between?
4.) What neighborhood amenities are important to you, such as a nearby Metro station, a supermarket, or access to D.C.’s Rock Creek Park?
5.) What apartment amenities are important to you? Do you want to have a washer/dryer in your apartment, or must the apartment block feature an indoor pool?
There is a myriad of websites with which you can start to address these questions and ultimately find somewhere to live, including apartmentguide.com, craigslist.com, 4wallsindc.com, and apartments.com (I found the last site particularly useful). Realistically, your final choice of apartment will reflect a compromise of all of these questions. The first, how much you’ll want to pay, is perhaps the most important, and is at least partly a function of how much your take-home pay will be each month. The tax system in the U.S. defies my understanding (here’s the Internal Revenue Service [IRS] website, and if you feel like tackling it yourself, then more power to you), but you can expect to pay between approximately 28% and 35% of your gross monthly pay in federal and district taxes, and in healthcare insurance premiums (obtaining and keeping personal healthcare coverage is one of the requirements for maintaining a J-1 visa status).
So depending on your salary/stipend, your decision on where to live, and the type of accommodation you select, a guide for the cost of rent is somewhere between $1,500 and $1,800 per month. Also keep in mind location: While the public transport system in D.C. (more on that below) is very good, you might not want to spend an hour commuting each way if you can find somewhere to live closer to DTM. Connecticut Avenue, one of the city’s main thoroughfares, runs quite close to the Department, and is host to many apartment blocks and residences, so is a good place to look.
Certain parts of the U.S. have “rent control” programs that are designed to moderate how much a property management company or individual landlord can charge for a given residence (specifically, how much a property owner can increase that residence’s rent: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/rent_control). A key feature of rent control is that the utility costs associated with an apartment are often contained in the rent, including gas, electricity, water, and refuse collection. Thus what may seem a significant expense could ultimately prove to be better value that what you could pay in your home country. Rent prices that include utilities are very common in the District, though are not ubiquitous. You can expect to budget between $60 and $100 per month for electricity, particularly in the summer months when D.C. gets very hot, but consult with your prospective landlord to find out how much other utilities could cost.
When it comes to moving into your chosen apartment, ask what payments you’ll need to provide up front. Requirements vary from place to place, but it’s not uncommon to have to pay a security deposit (typically one month’s rent) in addition to your first monthly rent payment, while those apartment complexes that have amenities such as fitness centers, communal gardens, or pools, often levy an additional, though once-off, “amenities fee” on top of other payments. So before moving in, you may have to shell out up to $3,000. The good news is that many management companies waive some or all of the additional fees, depending on the time of year you move in, and the availability of apartments in their building, so it could well work out quite a bit cheaper.
ApartmentList (approved by the U.S. Department of State, under housing) provides a free rental search service that can be of help when searching for a place to live. Click here if you are interested in the Van Ness/Connecticut Avenue area.