The Ultimate Guide to Finding Affordable Housing in LA

affordable housing

The Ultimate Guide to Finding Affordable Housing in LA

Finding a new apartment can be daunting. I know, I’ve done it about 6 times way too many. So since I just got my new place (and hopefully won’t be moving again for awhile), I thought it would be a great time to share how I find affordable housing in LA for cheap.

First, let’s talk about rent. Rent is way too expensive everywhere, but especially in LA. Thanks to record keeping in Mint, I can see how much I paid for rent, and in the last 12 months, I have spent over $12,000 on rent. Oof! And I had a decently priced apartment for my location AND a roommate. Ouch. I even know people that have to spend way more than that each year too.

I’ve heard this number going around books and the internet that your rent shouldn’t exceed 30% of your take home pay, but honestly, I’m not really sure if that’s a realistic number these days. With wages pretty stagnant and a rental market where the demand exceeds the supply, finding an affordable apartment in Los Angeles is a real struggle.

Curbed LA is a great blog that I like to follow to keep up to date on housing in Los Angeles. It really helps to get an idea of what neighborhoods are in your budget (none of them ūüôĀ ) and they post great heat maps with data pulled from decent sources like the one below.

Credit: Zumper via Curbed Los Angeles

That’s scary.¬†But we can do this. Here are 10 steps you can take to find an affordable apartment in Los Angeles:

  1. First, determine your budget. Let’s start with the 30% of your take home pay first. It’s a good number to start with (& should help keep your expenses realistic for living).
  2. Next, decide which neighborhoods you’d like to live in. LA is made up of awesome and eclectic pockets called neighborhoods. Don’t be fooled, these aren’t like suburbs in most cities. LA is a vast, sprawling city and is very different from any place I’ve been before. Just a truthful description of LA as a whole deserves its own blog post, so for today just know that each neighborhood has its own vibe, and they are very different from each other. Pick which ones feel the most like home to you.
    • Safety is a concern. Some areas are safer than others. If you’ve lived here a long time you know which neighborhoods you don’t want to walk around alone in at night. As a woman, there are also places where I don’t feel comfortable living by myself. If you read my last post, you know I went through a bomb threat the first day in my new place. LA is a big city, and you need to be on your guard. Just be aware of the crime in your area. The LA Times has a great crime map you can look at by neighborhood and a few other demographic data items as well. You can usually check out the newspaper in your city to find out specifics about crime in your area.
  3. What do you want? Make a list of all the things you need in an apartment vs. all your wants. For example, you NEED a place with 2 bedrooms, but you WANT hardwood floors. You need to know what you want before we can go out and find it. Create a narrow(ish) focus, and make sure you discuss whether your own bathroom is a Need/Want (it can change depending on your roommate situation and sharing abilities).
  4. Now, let’s cost compare. Yay, internet research! We need to cost compare to see if your desired neighborhoods have rentals you can afford. See what your budget will get you in each neighborhood. A one-bedroom budget in Santa Monica can perhaps get you a much larger place in Westchester for instance.
    • A side note here: there are A TON of websites you can use to research, but don’t get too bogged down at this point. We just want to get a general idea of the space where you want to live intersects with what you can afford to have.
  5. Review and prepare: you know what your budget will buy you in your interested neighborhoods, and at this point, we’re ready to start seriously looking for places. Rentals in big cities like Los Angeles go super, super fast. You need to be prepared to move quickly. And I mean like the same day quickly. Here are some tips to be ready for the application process:
    • Prep copies of your pay stubs or offer letter. You’ll most likely need these for income verification.
    • It’s nice to have a letter of recommendation from a previous landlady/landlord. At the very least, have their contact info handy.
    • Make¬†copies of your driver’s license. Also know your SSN as you’ll most likely need it for a background check.
    • Bring a pen and your checkbook to all showings. Be prepared to put down the deposit on the spot in case you find something you love that’s got a lot of competition (here’s a good use for that emergency fund so you avoid a hefty credit card charge).
    • Speaking of the deposit – most deposits I’ve seen include a one month’s rent security deposit plus the first month’s rent for a total of two month’s rent just to get you in the door. Make sure you have enough cash to cover that. Also, if you have any pets there will be a couple hundred dollars for that too – I’ve seen up to $500 before.
    • All that being said, take your time and make sure it’s right for you. Just know that if you wait a day or even a few hours, that place might be gone. That’s why it’s so important to research where you want to live & what your needs are before you start seeing places.
  6. Go find some apartments! The best ways I’ve found to do this are craigslist (scammy), westside rentals (costs a fee), and good old fashioned driving around looking for “For Rent” signs. Also, there are some secret gems hidden out there that you can only find through word of mouth. Talk to your friends in the area about looking for a new place.
    • Craigslist has some great filter options and best of all, it’s FREE. Just beware of something sounding too good to be true. Never send money before seeing the place. Typos are a dead giveaway of a scam. Also, if any pictures seem too nice and staged, you can use google to reverse image search those pictures¬†to see if they came from another website – something scammers will sometimes do.
    • Westside rentals is another website that is really popular out here. Unfortunately this one costs a fee. $60 for two months. You can search places for free on their site, and if you see their ‘For Rent’ signs around town, you can text the code for information, but you cannot contact the landlord without the membership.
    • Driving around is another option. Take a friend to take pictures as you go along street by street and phone them later at your convenience.
  7. Time to schedule some showings. Some will have open house dates that you can just show up to. I like to schedule them back to back and make a day of it. That way you can see most of your options all at once and not get overwhelmed, then make a decision quickly about where to apply. As I said before, things move quickly so it’s best to be ready. I went to one open house 45 minutes after it started and there were already 25+ names on the guest list. There is some serious competition in certain areas. I scooped some other guy out of my current apartment by getting in the application and fee within 24 hours of viewing it. Luckily he got another apartment in the building, but it’s much smaller I hear.
  8. Talk to the manager, most likely the one showing the place. Make sure you get a good vibe from them – you will be at their mercy if when things go wrong or need to be fixed. This is an important relationship that I think is often overlooked.
  9. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. This might be your new place, if you want to paint a wall, ask if that’s possible. Ask if something will be fixed before you move in, etc. Ask everything. It’s best to know now. And if you happen across some neighbors, ask them how they like living here too.
  10. Boom! You found the place, yay! Put in your application now. If there’s severe competition, you may need to offer something to put you ahead, such as an earlier move in date or paying the deposit that day.

And that’s how you find an apartment in LA in 10 steps! This process has helped me find apartments here in LA, but a lot of the steps can be used in other cities as well.

Anyone have any other tips they’ve come across¬†while¬†apartment-hunting?