America's Most Expensive Cities: How to save on rent in Washington D.C.

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America's Most Expensive Cities: How to save on rent in Washington D.C.

Welcome to Expensive Cities, a new series designed to help renters find affordable apartments in the nation’s most unaffordable metros.

If you’re moving to the nation’s capital with a limited rental budget, you should know these time-tested strategies for beating the high cost of rent in Washington D.C. First, stay away from shiny new apartment complexes with lavish amenities — fitness centers, indoor basketball courts and full-time concierge services come at a premium.

Second, look to the District’s many 19th- and early 20th-century rowhouses, which are more affordable for renters and full of historic charm. English-basements — ground level units in rowhouses that were originally servants’ quarters — are often less expensive.

A third option (best for singles and people who value social opportunities over privacy) is to look for a room in a group house. If you’re OK with sharing a kitchen and bath, this frugal strategy may allow you to upgrade to a more desirable neighborhood down the line.

Washington D.C.’s rental market has cooled slightly in the past two years, after being on a red-hot tear since the Great Recession. The District is now the sixth-costliest city for renters, according to Zumper, an apartment-listing website.

How much does renting cost in Washington D.C.?

Median rent for a one-bedroom apartment is $2,160 as of September, according to Zumper. That’s about a 5% drop from a year ago. But following the trend in other major cities, like Pittsburgh, it’s mainly the prices for luxury rentals that have softened, while lower-end apartments are still getting more expensive.

Where to find affordable rentals in Washington D.C.?

Fortunately, you don’t have to live way out in the suburbs of Virginia or Maryland to find decent one-bedrooms for $2,000 or less. Here are three up-and-coming neighborhoods within Washington D.C. proper, that are recommended for budget renters by Omeed Naderi, a market analyst with CoStar Group, the parent of Apartments.com.

1. Bloomingdale

Northwest’s historic Bloomingdale neighborhood, located between Shaw and Eckington, is dominated by colorful Victorian rowhouses. Fans of the Netflix show “House of Cards” may have glimpsed shots of the iconic homes lining the streets of Bloomingdale, and neighboring Eckington, during the opening credit sequence.

Bloomingdale has a handful of restaurants and coffee shops clustered near the intersection of Rhode Island Avenue and 1st Street NW. There’s green space at the leafy and secluded Crispus Attucks Park, an urban oasis that was reclaimed by neighborhood residents twenty years ago.

The closest metro stops are the Shaw-Howard Station on the Green Line and NoMa-Gallaudet U on the Red Line, but the neighborhood is well-served by buses, including the G2 and the G8, as well as the 90, 92 and 96 along Florida Avenue.

One-bedrooms rent for an average of $1,800 to $2,000 a month, Naderi says, but less expensive units can be found. A renovated 650-square-foot apartment in Bloomingdale recently listed for $1,550.

2. Eckington

Eckington in Northeast Washington is a walkable and affordable neighborhood with a mix of industrial and residential buildings that has been attracting young professionals.

“Rowhomes provide the majority of housing, but parts of Eckington have experienced new construction and now have larger apartment buildings,” says Naderi.

There are local eating and drinking establishments along North Capitol Street, and the entertainment options of H Street, U Street and Chinatown are just 15 minutes away by bike.

The closest metro stops are NoMa and Rhode Island Avenue on the Red Line. Eckington is bordered on the east by the Metropolitan Branch Trail, a paved walking and biking trail that provides access to Edgewood and Brookland to the north, and H Street and NoMa to the south, Naderi says.

The average one-bedroom goes for around $1,600 to $1,800. A cellar-level unit, with street-level windows and a small patio, recently listed at a bargain at $1,350.

3. Petworth

With easy train access to neighborhoods like U Street, Capitol Hill and Columbia Heights, the laid-back neighborhood of Petworth is popular with renters. The former working-class area features 1920s and 1930s rowhouses.

“Much of the housing in the northern part of Petworth is in the form of rowhomes, while there are larger apartment buildings closer to the Metro station,” says Naderi.

Petworth is served by the Green and Yellow lines at the George Avenue-Petworth stop, and there are dining options near the metro station.

One-bedrooms near the metro go for $1,800 and up, while apartments farther north can be found for closer to $1,600, Naderi says.

Bonus tip: Co-living options

Group houses are popular in neighborhoods like Columbia Heights, Mount Pleasant, Bloomingdale and Eckington, Naderi says. Check online ads for open rooms.

Two co-living brands in the Washington D.C. area are WeLive and Common.

“The goal of these concepts is to provide residents with a community within a building, while also providing housing at a reasonable price,” says Nadari. “While co-living may not be a viable long-term living option for many people, it provides young people in a new city a conduit for meeting new people, and can be a temporary place to live until they familiarize themselves with the city.”

Learn how to figure out if co-living is for you.

WeLive is in Arlington, Virginia and has studios starting at $1,500. Common offers residents amenities like weekly cleaning, Wi-Fi and household supplies, and has rooms at its buildings in Shaw and Chinatown starting at $1,550 to $1,600.

Trying to settle on a city? We've got 13 ways to rent an apartment anywhere for less, along with tips for other major metros, designed to help you decide where to live.

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