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Finding Housing in Houston

Compare cost-of-living stories with friends on the east or west coasts, and you’ll find that Houston is one of the cheapest big cities in the country as far as rent and real estate go. However, compared to Houston’s overall inexpensive standards, the housing market near Rice remains relatively expensive. This is because both Rice and the Medical Center are near one of Houston’s most fashionable residential areas and together they attract enough students, professionals, and other personnel to put a healthy demand on the available apartments. Thus, you may at first conclude that you, a humble and impoverished scholar, will never be able to find a place you can afford, since the fashionable and wealthy have forced the price of housing out of sight.

Deals are to be had, however. These days, rent plus utilities for an efficiency or one-bedroom apartment range from $450 to $1180 a month, and $580 to $2000 for a two-bedroom. If you’re willing to commute outside the loop, say five to ten miles west of campus, you’ll find a softer market and lower rents. Outside the 610 Loop is generally cheaper than inside the loop, but the commute will be longer. Renting a house or an apartment in a house requires more effort, but it is worth it for those who want the feel of a neighborhood. Be sure to look around; do not take the first apartment you see. There are some cheap abodes out there; just be systematic and be willing to spend at least a solid week at it. The following hints should help:

  • Get a map of Houston, a city bus route and light rail map online from METRO (www.ridemetro.org). Circle areas that will give you relatively easy access to campus. Explore them, keeping an eye out for “for rent” signs and writing down phone numbers and locations for those that you see. In some areas, it is easy to overlook signs if you go by in your car rather than on foot or on bike.
  • Check the real estate ads in the Houston Chronicle, the Houston Press, and the Greensheet; the latter two may be found in most grocery stores and the Student Center. The Greensheet is generally the most useful, having more ads and fewer readers. Also, don’t forget to check the Rice Thresher. The classifieds often have ads for apartment rentals. You can also find a free publication called Metro Houston Apartment Guide at most grocery stores; however, it is entirely geared toward big complexes (with usually only a few near Rice) that have paid to advertise in it. Names of areas close to Rice can be found in the neighborhood list below.
  • Check campus bulletin boards (Student Center info desk, Valhalla, etc.) and bulletin boards in the Medical Center, and check them frequently.
  • Area realtors can be very useful, especially if you are seeking a duplex or condo. Call several and keep calling every week.
  • If your utility bills are not included in your rent, plan to spend at least $90 per month on electricity if your apartment is all-electric during the moderate months and more during summer for air conditioning and winter for heating. Older apartments with window AC units and gas heating usually cost less overall. If you have to pay for the water bill, expect to pay around $20 per month.
  • Be wary of people who offer you inexpensive lodging in return for child-tending, lawn-work, etc. Some students have reported successful results in the past, but too often these turn out to be contracts for indentured servitude.
  • Remember that starting up your tenancy can be expensive. In addition to rent and rent deposits, local utilities require deposits and/or start-up fees. AT&T’s installation charge can be up to $200 and will either appear on your first bill or be required in advance. Monthly phone rates vary from $14-$27, not including long distance. Reliant Energy may demand as much as a $150 deposit, but a letter of credit from any utility in the U.S. where you had a previous account should result in a waiver. The deposit for Center-Point Energy, the gas utility, ranges from $30-$100 and will be waived with a letter of credit. Some utilities will ask for a Texas driver’s license (an out of-state will usually do), social security number and home phone number when setting up an account.
  • When signing a lease, especially with a large complex, read the lease carefully, but be extra sure the ending date on the contract is when you expect. It is common practice that, if you begin the lease in the middle of a month, that month will not count as one of the months in the lease (i.e., a six-month lease will last 6.5 months if you start in the middle of a month). However, it seems to be fairly common practice to tack on another month “accidentally” when writing out the contract. Just make sure that your yearlong lease doesn’t begin August 1st and end August 31st (13 months) unless you want it to.

If you don’t have a car...

Don’t panic! Houston isn’t exactly known for its public transportation, but things are vastly improving. Plus, think how much you’ll save on gas! There are quite a few options available for students living off-campus without a car. The first option is to live within walking or biking distance. There are many small apartments and garage apartments near Rice, but they do tend to be more expensive. Another option is to live near the METROrail or a bus line and use these to commute (For more information go to www.ridemetro.org). The Passport to Houston program (http://students.rice.edu/students/passport.asp) gives Rice students free unlimited rides on both. Students could also opt to live at an apartment complex which offers shuttles to Rice, or with someone who has a car and can work out rides.

Neighborhood Guide

Binz lies between Hermann Park and downtown, bounded on the east by Almeda and on the west by South Main. Here there is low to moderate rent and a short commute to school, but a higher crime rate.

Bissonnet-Southampton lies between the north edge of campus and the Southwest Freeway. There are a few small apartment complexes here, plus a fair number of duplexes and garage apartments. Since it’s right next to campus and the neighborhood is nice, rents are often high.

Montrose is a colorful neighborhood with large arty/Bohemian, Hispanic, and gay and lesbian populations. Nightlife, restaurants, and museums abound. The neighborhood begins one mile north of campus and is roughly bounded by Brazos on the east, SW Fwy on the south, Greenbriar on the west, and Allen Parkway on the north. There are some cool apartments and houses to be found, but quality and cost vary. In Montrose, it is customary to advertise a vacancy by merely placing a sign on your front lawn. It pays to drive around and collect the phone numbers of interesting-looking places. Efficiencies and one-bedroom apartments start at $500/month, two-bedrooms around $700 or more.

The Medical Center lies immediately east, southeast, and south of Rice. Many older apartments can be found to the south. Classified ads tend to overuse this classification, sometimes including apartments in areas as far away as Greenway or Montrose. This area can be very expensive.

Museum District is the small neighborhood right around the Museum of Fine Arts, near Montrose and Bissonnet. Rents in this area are usually high, but there are a couple of inexpensive apartment buildings and some garage apartments. Advertising here also often just consists of a sign on the lawn.

West University is the upscale neighborhood west of campus. There are few apartment complexes and most houses are out of the student price range. Your best bet is to look for a garage apartment if you’re renting alone, or get a group together and find a house, but don’t expect to find such a place for under $1000.

The Reliant Stadium/Astrodome area has many condos, townhouses, and apartments. Some are more run-down than others. Street life in this area can get a bit unpalatable, so be especially sure here to get a feel for what a given neighborhood is like both during the day and at night. Additionally, traffic jams occur before and after a well-attended event in Reliant Stadium.

If you don’t mind commuting, other neighborhoods that aren’t too far away are:

Bellaire is the nice community four miles west of campus, on the far side of West U, and much more middle-middle class. Safe and pleasant, there are many comfortable homes to be rented here. But beware: as in West U, many homeowners are now selling their houses to people who raze the structures and build tract mansions; you might find yourself booted out when your lease expires.

The Galleria is the area near the huge mall of the same name, around the intersection of West Loop and Westheimer. Many upscale places are to be found here, but you’d better love rush-hour traffic.

Greenway is the area around the Greenway Plaza, near the intersection of SW Freeway and Buffalo Speedway. There are some affordable large complexes in the area.

The Heights is a pleasant older neighborhood inside the loop, northwest of downtown and north of Montrose with low rents. There are many restored wooden frame houses. The neighborhood is mostly blue-collar with an increasingly large upper-middle class and arty population. Its southern edge is Memorial Drive, about four miles north of campus.

River Oaks is Houston’s home of the rich and famous and lies west of Montrose, north of Greenway and east of the Galleria neighborhoods. Mostly mansions here, but there are some pricey apartments available around the fringes.

Questions You Should Ask:

  • Will the apartment be freshly painted?
  • Are there rules about painting or hanging pictures?
  • Are carpeting, blinds and drapes supplied?
  • Is extra storage space available for bikes and large objects?
  • How many crime reports have been filed at the complex recently?
  • Do many students live there?
  • Is there easy access to bus and/or rail lines?
  • What lease lengths are available?
  • When will the apartment be available for you to move into?
  • How much are typical electricity bills?
  • When is rent due and what form of payment is required?
  • What are the penalties for late rent?
  • What is the penalty for lease-breaking?

Safety Off Campus

Approximately 30% of all Rice students live off-campus, and unfortunately, RUPD can’t follow us home every night. That means that we need to be cautious — sexual assault can happen to anyone, anywhere, at any time. The “Rice Bubble” or the attitude that “nothing will happen to me” doesn’t apply to the real world, and it doesn’t apply to living OC. There are small things to do and keep in mind that seriously reduce your risk of something happening, but safety ultimately comes down to personal assessment. If something seems dangerous or stupid, don’t do it.

Statistics Concerning Sexual Assault

  • 1 out of every 6 women and 1 out of every 33 men will be sexually assaulted during the course of her/his lifetime. College age women are 4 times more likely to get sexually assaulted.
  • 25-35% of all women will be sexually assaulted.
  • 72 people are sexually assaulted every year on a college campus the size of Rice.

Tips for Choosing a Safe Place to Live

  • Find and pay attention to safety ratings from residents of the neighborhood or apartment complex.
  • If seriously considering a property, drive around the area both during the day and at night to make sure you feel comfortable.
  • Have RUPD conduct a Risk Reduction Survey. RUPD offers “risk reduction surveys” and apartment checks. Use them to maximize your understanding of your apartment complex or house safety.

Tips for Keeping Yourself Safe While Living OC

  • Try “casing” your new home for obvious problems.
  • Make sure you have good outdoor lighting and that your trees/bushes/plants/etc. don’t obscure windows. Trim them at least 6" below the ledge.
  • Make sure that all your doors and windows have locks — and be sure to use them (even second-floor windows). Doors should be solid-core, have a dead bolt, and a one-way peephole. Putting bells on the windows are a good, and cheap, security device.
  • When someone knocks on the door, know who it is before answering. If you don’t know the person, verify his/her credentials.
  • If you keep a spare key, don’t hide it outside. Leave it with a trusted neighbor.
  • When returning home at night, have your keys ready before getting to the door.
  • When entering the elevator, always stand next to the control panel and look for the emergency button. Also, allow the other passengers to push the elevator button for their floor first, then push the button for yours.
  • Do not overload yourself with packages, a large purse, or books. Keep your hands free.
  • Carry a whistle, noise making device, or pepper/chemical spray. Don’t go down to the laundry room or take out the garbage alone at night.
  • Don’t walk alone on dimly-lit streets or in tunnels at night — walking on the street itself might be safer if you have no choice.
  • Be cautious at apartment security gates, even if you’re opening the gate for your car. Keep an eye on the gate as it closes behind you.
  • If you leave for an extended time, stop newspaper and mail delivery and put lights on timers.
  • Don’t hesitate to call the police to report suspicious behavior of any kind, including harassing phone calls.
  • Most importantly, be SMART. Make your safety a priority, but don’t be paranoid.

Chemical/Pepper Sprays, Audible Alarms

  • Carry a whistle or audible alarms on your keychain.
  • If you decide to carry some kind of protective spray, buy two — one as practice.
  • Be familiar with the range and amount of spray you have available.
  • Pepper sprays are more effective than MACE, they are effective most of the time, while MACE doesn’t cause a huge effect if the assailant is on drugs.

Look for Study Breaks from RUPD and SOAR for additional information about off-campus safety and possible precautions.