Post by: Mikaela Allen, MTS 2019, HDS Office of Admissions Graduate Assistant
For the second post in our series on housing at HDS, we decided to cover not only the resources available to find off-campus housing, but also to give our best tips and tricks for finding housing in the greater Boston area. We hope this information will prove helpful to you as you begin your housing search this summer.
Editor’s Note: Please note that this article was last updated in March 2022 and reflects accurate information as of that time.
Off-campus housing is a great option for students, though finding housing in the city does carry its own unique challenges. Rather than facing these challenges on your own, I want to offer you advice based on my own off-campus housing experiences at HDS.
When deciding on where to live, one of the most important questions to ask is whether or not living closer to campus at a higher price point is a must for you to take full advantage of your time at HDS or if you are the type of person who can live a little further out but still reap the benefits of your HDS education. Many HDS students decide to live within walking distance from campus, either in Somerville or Cambridge. However, housing in Cambridge and Somerville is more expensive than other areas of Boston, so you should also consider extending your search into other neighborhoods depending on your desired price-range. For example, Brighton and Allston are good choices on a budget (though usually have a longer commute). From talking to my fellow students and from my own experience, I learned that some students find that living closer to campus is a necessary ingredient for their success while others thrive even while living an hour or more away.
Generally speaking, most leases in the Boston area begin and end on September 1st.
In addition to location, it is important to research the average cost of housing in your desired neighborhood so that you can budget realistically. As you likely know, housing in Boston is expensive and most students live with roommates to reduce costs. You need to consider not only the monthly rent, but also the upfront costs of renting an apartment. In Boston, this usually consists of a Broker’s Fee, first month’s rent, last month’s rent, and a security deposit, especially if you or your roommates are looking to find a vacant apartment. One benefit of living with roommates is that you can split these fees, making your transition to Boston much more affordable. Another way to reduce cost is to find a room in an already established apartment rather than trying to find a totally vacant apartment with a set of entirely new roommates. Many graduate students in the area also post room openings on Craigslist as well as in certain Facebook groups like Harvard University Housing, Sublets, and Roommates. Moving into one of these apartments will likely reduce your initial move-in costs, even eradicating the Broker’s Fee, and give you the opportunity to ask about other expenses such as heating, electricity and transportation.
During our housing search, however, my partner and I discovered that some landlords occasionally place occupancy restrictions on unmarried couples. For example, if you and your partner are looking for a two-bedroom apartment with a third roommate or another couple, the landlord might increase the rent to compensate for the third person, so you should consider asking about this when you contact the property manager for the first time.
Speaking of transportation, off-street and on-street parking are the two primary parking options in the Boston area. It is definitely possible to find apartments with off-street parking, but some apartments rent their parking spaces on a monthly basis. On-street parking requires a Massachusetts registration, license plate, and insurance. Before you decide to bring your car, you should consider the cost of this switch as well as if your insurance will cost more than it does in your current state and if having a car will be a benefit or a detriment during your time here (you will have to shovel it out every snowstorm!). My partner and I brought our car because we used it to tow a Uhaul trailer across the country during our move from Louisiana. It has proven beneficial for everything from grocery shopping to visiting Walden Pond and is necessary for my partner to get to work because his job is on the far outskirts of Boston.
Living away from campus means that you will likely rely on the MBTA for transportation. There are buses, subways, and commuter rails in the Boston area. Whether you plan to live close to campus or further out, you should spend time to familiarize yourself with the public transit in any area you are considering. Google Maps is a good start, but each transit line has its own quirks and I think that it is good to understand some of these before signing a lease. Most people prefer to live on the Red Line because it stops directly in Harvard Square. Living in areas like Quincy or Dorchester are cheaper options along the Red Line, but do have a longer commute. In my own experience living in Brighton, I learned that the 86 bus from Brighton to Cambridge is often unreliable and cramped during some parts of the day, particularly during rush hour and snowstorms. Biking is another fantastic option for commuting, especially as Boston and Cambridge continue to improve their biking infrastructure. I bike-commute from Brighton to the HDS campus along the Charles River Bike Path year-round. It is a fantastic way to observe the changing of the seasons, goslings and angry momma geese included.
In addition to the resources mentioned above, Harvard Housing Off–Campus is another great resource for off-campus housing where you can find apartments, rooms, subleases, and roommates. As mentioned earlier, Craigslist is another popular resource, as well as realty agencies and other online housing databases. While these websites are certainly helpful, many Boston apartments never make it to the internet, and so I recommend pulling from your personal network to see if any friends or family know of a housing availability. With any housing resource you use, don’t forget to keep an eye out for scams and NEVER sign a lease or deposit money without viewing the apartment or having someone view it for you. You should keep in mind that if you look at an apartment you really love in the morning, it might be gone by the time you go to bed if you don’t put forth the application forms and deposit to hold your space. My current roommates and I lost a few spectacular apartments because we waited too long to put forth the application.
I hope this information is helpful to you during your housing process. These are all things I wish I had known when my roommates and I were looking for housing for the first time in Boston. Keep an eye out for the next post in the housing series which will feature student stories about off-campus housing.