Congratulations! You just got accepted to law school at Lewis & Clark and without some guidance you’re going wind up living in a hovel with 18 other people, subsisting on peanut butter and canned cream of mushroom soup, praying you don’t die of scurvy while riding the bus for an hour to get to campus from your shithole apartment because no one told you there was a difference between the east side and Gresham.
First, a bit of education about the area: Gresham, Beaverton, Tigard, Tualatin, Hillsdale, Oregon City, Hillsboro, Wilsonville, St. Helens, and Lake Oswego are not Portland. They are suburbs, they are commuting nightmares if you’re going to law school, and they Are. Not. Portland. You’ll find a lot of housing ads that say something like “gorgeous park-like setting in beautiful Wilsonville, just 20 minutes from downtown Portland!” That is a sack of lies. Run away from that as though your life depends on it.
In Portland, which is divided east/west by the Willamette river and north/south by Burnside street, numbered streets start at the river and go up east on the east side, west on the west side. “Close-in”on the east side is west of 39th, also called Cesar Chavez Boulevard; any housing ad that claims to be “close-in” but has an address like 8888 SE Division is not close-in. That’s 88th & Division (and may not really exist, btw). Neighborhoods, for the most part, and especially on the east side, are named for the major street that runs through it, or the two major arterial streets that intersect somewhere in the middle of it. Hawthorne, Belmont, Alberta, King, Foster-Powell, Irvington, Fremont, Mississippi, Cully, etc.
Now for the hard truths: there are about 50,000 neighborhoods in Portland, and none of them are “affordable” in the way I consider affordable. To me, affordable means it won’t break the bank to have a studio by yourself close to downtown or a safe neighborhood if you work a low-level job or live on student loan overpayments. That really doesn’t exist here. $650-750 for a studio is the low end, and if you want something downtown (SW, bordered by 405 to the south, Burnside to the north, the river to the east & 13th Ave to the west) or in the alphabet district (NW between Burnside & Lovejoy, running east to west between 15th Ave & 23rd Ave), it’s going to be even more. If you want a view, or hardwood floors, or a duplex instead of a complex, or a house instead of an apartment, be prepared for sticker shock.
Full disclosure: I pay just under $800 per month (plus electricity) for the back half of a 2-bedroom duplex with a small backyard. I’m in the Foster-Powell neighborhood, which is SE, and close to the much-revered (and more expensive) Belmont and Woodstock neighborhoods. A place similar to mine in either of those neighborhoods, or the slightly farther but still within spitting distance Hawthorne neighborhood would run $1000-1500. No, that’s not a typo. Even in this neighborhood, I’m paying on the low end of the scale and I have chosen to not ask my landlord why.
Lewis & Clark doesn’t offer student housing for grad students or law students, and rooms in shared houses owned by the university run $520-750, and if you have kids or a spouse that’s really not an option. So what’s a future 1L to do? Cry. I mean it. Let it out. Sob. Worry frantically about the next three years and how little you will be able to buy, how many things you will do without in the name of living in a place not surrounded by speed freaks, not having to wake prostitutes sleeping in your doorway when you get home from a late-night study/wine session. And then take a breath, pour a glass of whiskey, and get down to business.
Once you dry your eyes and sober up from your emotional binge, your first stop should be www.padmapper.com. Forget Craigslist, forget google maps. Padmapper takes both of those (plus apartments.com & rent.com, neither of which is very good, IMO), gives you sliders for options, and bam! You find rentals in your price range & the number of bedrooms you need. You can overlay transit maps, find out the walkscore, and read the ads from the source site.
Make a list of the places you like, and then get there the same way you’d get there once you live here. If you’re going to L&C, law students get a TriMet pass for $43 per month, according to the student life website. That’s WAY less than a month’s worth of gas, you get extra time to study while you commute, you don’t have to worry about parking, parking passes, whatever. Get a daypass for $5 (cash only, exact fare required), use www.trimet.org to figure out which bus or MAX line runs closest to each of your prospective digs, and ride transit from downtown (where L&C has a shuttle that picks up law students from 6th & Salmon) to each of them.
Remember when I said neighborhoods are named for the main streets that run through them? Walk down those streets, where most of the retail & restaurants will be, then down the side streets into the residential portions, where “for rent” signs may be up in windows of places that aren’t advertised on Craigslist. Each neighborhood is going to have a different vibe, and I won’t even try to describe each one in detail, but try to imagine yourself among the locals, because soon you’ll be a local, too.
Flannel, coffee, beards, birds, pirate hordes, and unicycling bagpipers await.