Housing info

The following info is provided by Thomas McFadden and David Bowie.   We look forward to sort it into a more clear fashion, when we find a volunteer.  : )


Gahtered by Thomas McFadden:

ok, this is going to end up being a rather large mail, because im cobbling it together out of the responses from several current students to the general question of what they know about neighborhoods theyve lived in. the most important thing is that if you have any questions on housing or other stuff, let me know. several people specifically offerred to help if anyone had questions on their neighborhood or whatever. 

here are some websites that can help you out for starters:

http://www.ling.upenn.edu/nso/index.html info for incoming grad students.

http://www.upenn.edu/oclhousing/ Penn's off-campus housing office. very good for listings, recommendations, etc.

http://www.upenn.edu/resliv/hserv.html Penn's general housing office. has links to oncampus stuff and general housing info.

a few general things on what to expect in finding a place to live: rent has gone way up in Philadelphia in the past couple of years, and that goes for everywhere. Center City has become quite a bit more lively and interesting than it was, so it's a very popular place to live now, and West Philly is getting 'gentrified' by Penn, so anywhere you go, it's gonna cost you, and you have to keep that in mind when you read prices that people mention below: you might have to pay a good bit more than people did before, especially a couple of years ago. also, the areas of Philadelphia where youre likely to live are not uniform socio-economically, architecturally, security-wise etc. especially in West Philly, but also in large parts of Center City, things can change drastically within a matter of blocks or even from block to block, in terms of how nice the buildings are, how expensive the rent is, how safe it is, who lives there etc. so if at all possible youll want to look at a place before taking it. based on its general location, it could be awesome or it could be awful, so be careful. 

before i start pasting in what other students have said about specific neighborhoods and housing options, let me give you a brief intro. to the relevant parts of Philadelphia, for those of you who don't know the city well, since the stuff that follows wont make much sense otherwise. there are two rivers running through the city. the Delaware is the big river that separates Pennsylvania from New Jersey, and forms the eastern boundary of our fair city. the Schuykill flows in to the West, going parallel to the Delaware for a little while, then joining it at the southern tip of the city. so the central part of Philadelphia is located between the two rivers, the part to the West of the Schuykill is called, conveniently enough, West Philadelphia. Penn's campus is located in West Philadelphia, but fairly close to the river, so not far from the center of town. Penn, along with Drexel University, the train station, post office and various other govt. and science buildings take up the far eastern part of West Philly near the river, the neighborhood around Penn and Drexel is called University city. most of the residential areas of West Philly, where probably the majority of Penn students live, are directly west of campus. the downtown are of Philadelphia is called Center City, and refers to a pretty-well marked off zone from river to river between Spring Garden St. in the North and South St. in the South. a lot of Penn students live in the western neighborhoods of Center City, which are relatively close to Penn and not terribly expensive, in particular the Graduate Hospital area, and certain less swanky parts of the Rittenhouse Square area. other students who are less concerned about the closeness of campus live further East, often in the neighborhoods on the northern and southern edges of Center City, e.g. Queen Village, just south of Center City and Northern Liberties, just north of it. Center City includes most of the attractions of the city, the restaurants, shopping, theaters, bars, clubs etc. and also the historic center of the town (Old City and Society Hill) including Independence Hall, liberty bell etc. of course, housing in center city is accordingly more expensive and harder to find, and some areas are not real close to the University, although from just about anywhere in Center City one can get to Penn in 30 minutes by public transit. neighborhoods on the edge of center city are often much cheaper, but tend to be less well served by PT and are sometimes less safe. West Philadelphia's two main advantages are its proximity to Campus and its low prices. University City does have restaurants and bars and movie theaters, but of course not as many as Center City, and the residential areas of West Philly are pretty barren entertainment-wise. some students also live in the various suburbs and commute in. the suburbs in Pennsylvania to the West are served pretty well by train lines, so you can get to school pretty quickly and dont have to park. some people also come in from south Jersey, where transportation is also possible but not quite as flexible. 

as far as transportation goes, West Philly and the Western third of Center City are served by free 24hour Penn shuttles. West Philly is served by a decent system of streetcars and buses. Center City has a subway line that runs out to West Philly and number of bus routes. the system isnt great, but it isnt bad either. like i said, you can get to Campus from about anywhere in Center City within a half hour, from most of the areas of West Philly where you might live it should take 15-20 minutes. biking is also a good option. i live pretty far East in center city and can bike to school in about 20 minutes, or get here by bus or subway in 25 minutes. 

ok, let's get on to specifics of neighborhoods and prices etc. if you've heard enough, stop reading, this is gonna go on for a while! 

first, the general debate between West Philly and Center City (and believe me, this is a heated debate not to underestimated). you'll note the pasted-together nature of this: 


let's start with West Philly:


1. Cheap rent for big places in architecturally beautiful houses. You have to look though, some apartments can be in really bad shape, esp those on Spruce, between 42nd and 45th. Those are also near the frats houses and they tend to be noisy and dirty. Average rent for one person sharing $400-500, for a one bedroom apartment $500-600 

2. Penn Shuttle to-your-door service is availabe everyday 6pm-3am so you can always return home SAFE. 

3. Some blocks are especially nice with lots of trees and quite clean. Osage 45th-48th, 48th between Baltimore and Osage, and in general 45th-48th between Hazel and Baltimore (but not ON Baltimore). 


1. There are no decent shops/grocery stores/super-markets/coffee-shops etc. There's a stinky super-market on 48th and Spruce and a less stinky Thriftway near 45th and Walnut. 

2. Not a pleasant place to walk around because there's nowhere to hang out and you have to be extra-careful when it's dark. In fact, you'd better not be in the streets alone when it's dark. 

3. I wouldn't like to live in the area around 42nd and Pine, forget about north of Walnut anywhere. University accommodations are exceptions I guess but then you lose the cons of low rent for big space. 


pros--damn cheap.

cons--nightlife sucks. no good shopping besides food. but actually with the new grocery store on campus, the firehouse market at 50th, and the rathole that is thriftway, food shopping isn't that bad without a car. 

i paid $725 for a very large recently remodeled two bedroom at 48th and springfield. i pay $600 for an immense two bedroom at 48th and cedar but that's insanely cheap. almost everything between 45th and 48th and spruce and springfield (or even chester) is pretty nice. lots of homeowners, not a lot of raucous undergrads, and public transportation is good. and i haven't personally been the victim of any crimes. there was the road rage shooting a couple months ago. but that was pretty random. i feel pretty safe. justin's car got stolen, but then again it was there for a month and half without his doors locked. someone stole a fan off my porch during a heat wave a couple years ago. but then again, it was left there by my waaay too innocent suburban/rural dwelling family members. duh! of course it got stolen. 


Within 400-450, a decent studio even in west philly might require a little research. Those studios guaranteed to be of decent quality are usually managed by big real-estate companies, and they are around 450-500. If you wish to adhere to your budget, you will have to look for studios managed by individual landlords, and these are usually found in smaller buildings. I don't know much about this kind of deals, but I know of some high-rise apartments managed by real-estate companies. 

Campus Apartments (my apartment is also owned by this one)
A friend of mine lives in a studio owned by this company, and she says she pays $470. The price might go up this year a bit, and she thinks they have other ones at a lower price.

A.H. Klein Properties
Also another friend of mine pays about $470 for a studio.


[grad towers is the university-provided grad student housing on campus. you'll note that it gets pretty low marks from most because it's expensive for the space you get and, well, a dorm. but some people like it cause its convenient and there's that whole comraderie thing.] 

i lived in grad towers because i won some housing lottery and it was free: miserable. i moved out even if it was free, so that's telling you something. 

fairfax, 43rd and locust, alan klein (landlord): i liked it here for the first year and a half, and liked it not so much for the second year and a half, and that's not just because my ex-boyfriend still lived in the building, either. the response to maintenance issues became longer and longer from the time of complaint as i lived there. there were definite infestation issues. overpriced for what you get; can do much better for the money in terms of apt space. was certainly very safe. building split between penn affiliates (mostly grad/professional students) and geriatrics. very quiet. 

i lived in center city for a couple of years but then moved to west philly for two reasons:

1. the rent increased which was substantially higher than the ones in west philly

2. i did n't like the noise and dirty air that i have to walk in when i walked to school every morning.

i am in general happy that i moved to west philly. i recommend my former and present landlord, campus apt and alan klein.


'96-7 [i lived in] Grad Towers. They sucked then, and even with all the construction of the next two years (destroying the eyesore of a concrete plaza, putting a street between the two towers leading up to the new Inn at Penn), it's not much better now. Expensive as hell -- I paid $450+ for an efficiency, and a full single is close to $1000 now -- and full of grad student freaks, but convenient and 24-hour security. My Yugoslav friend Danijela loved living there, but I kept reminding her that she was beautiful, female, and foreign (and needed a place for 4 months only). Unless that applies to you too, best look elsewhere. 

26 Aug 99-present [i live at] 248 S. 45th St. I'd say this house rules, except that many other houses in "University City" (i.e. eastern West Philly) could boast the same. *This* is a grad-student- and intellectual-friendly environment. No, I'm not on the best of terms with the punker-than-thou anarchist wannabes, but I couldn't live without them. My corner has the best Ethiopian restaurant in the 'hood, a Chinese-Vietnamese barber who does my hair for $8, a black American bar, a Haitian-owned black women's hair salon, a Korean-owned nail salon, a Chinese hole-in-the-wall that makes great soup, and a Caribbean foodstore; the Second Mile and a halal Lebanese place are farther up the block. I of course hang out on campus and at the Comet a lot, but there are plenty of other things I love about the neighborhood, which is especially gorgeous now that all the trees are in bloom. My landlady is a crazy old Chinese woman, but maintenance has been good. I pay $340 in rent, and although it's true that the exorbitant rise in Center City rent combined with Penn's gentrifying Drang nach Westen is starting to have its effect, I know plenty of people who live west of me and pay less than I do. 


[Powelton Village is the West Philadelphia neighborhood directly North of campus]

The Powelton Village area (between Powelton and Spring Garden, 33rd and 38th) is among the safer neighborhoods in West Philadelphia. Hamilton St. is relatively quiet. From 34th and Hamilton it is approximately a 10 minute walk to 34th and Walnut, 15 minutes to Williams Hall. It is a 15 minute walk across the river to the art museum, which can be pleasant. If you own a car, it is easy to find parking and break-ins are relatively rare. The largest disadvantage in my opinion is the distance to the nearest supermarket. Even on a bicycle it is a bit of a ride, and it is too far to walk. Again, if you own a car, this isn't a problem. There is now a night shuttle van which goes up to that area; it runs on the half hour (except when the drivers fall asleep and miss a run), so getting home at night is not really a problem. (The shuttle only goes as far north as Hamilton, but you probably don't want to live north of there anyways if you can help it. The next street north of Hamilton is Spring Garden, which is relatively busy. North of that is the Mantua area, which is known mostly for crack houses.) Rents are about $425 - $550 for a studio or one-bedroom. I don't know how much two-bedrooms cost. 

and now Center City:

This may be a little out of date, since I left Philly in 1999, but here it is:

I shared a townhouse at 1015 Spruce w/ another Penn grad student for 4 years. The neighborhood was nice; I always felt safe walking around in the evening, though I wouldn't want to be out in the middle of the night. Property crime was a problem though; our house was seriously burglarized the first year we lived there (they got *everything* - must have taken hours just to haul stuff out), and my car, which I parked in the garage at 10th & South was broken into twice while in the "patrolled" garage - once the airbag was stolen, and once the stereo was stolen. Our landlord (Apt & Townhouse Rentals) was ok - friendly people, but *very* slow to do some repairs - our roof was damaged in January, and not fully repaired until October or so. Also, we had a serious carbon monoxide problem which it took them three tries to fix. It was a nice neighborhood to live in - very friendly neighbors, and close to shops, Broad St, the waterfront, etc. As for transportation, there were several convenient bus lines (the 40, 21, and 42, I think they were) which were good if you were too tired to walk the 35 mins or so walk. Oh, and though it's probably less relevant, our rent was about $1100 the last year we were there, I think (hard to remember!). We had a four story townhouse w/ two nice big bedrooms & 1 big bedroom that had been divided into two useless little half-rooms each barely big enough for a bed. 

[note that the chances of finding a place like this with such a low rent are slim to none these days, but this is a good example of the possibility of finding places that are unexpectedly cheap, even in a nice part of Center City. just don't expect to find a three bedroom for $1100.] 


1. There's plenty to do even on a short walk. Plenty of coffee shops, bookstores, music stores etc. Relatively safe to walk around during daytime.

2. You can go for a walk, around Rittenhouse for example, almost anytime, even if it is dark. So, you don't ever feel trapped at home.

3. Plenty of foodstores around, most of them open until very late, which means it's fine if you go back home at 10pm and there's no food in the fridge.


1. Expensive rents for either tiny or dirtyish apartments or VERY EXPENSIVE rents for tiny but decent apartments. ($1000-$1500 for two people at the very best) [this is a slight exaggeration in my opinion. a decent place for two people for $1000 a month is not that hard to find. it is possible to find something cheaper, but pretty difficult.] 
2. No Penn Shuttle service beyond 22nd. The current Penn Shuttle sucks anyway as it stops all over campus and it takes for ever to get home. So unless you are patient and live up to 22nd, there's no (free) guarantee for safe return home from campus. 
3. More noise and pollution for those who care to know.


i live at 1906A rodman, mallin, panchelli, and wentworth (landlord): i love this apartment and it's an amazing location/space for the money, [ca. $375 for a space in a four bedroom apt. this is again a very good deal, but possible] but the landlord is pretty terrible. in fairness, the landlord isn't the problem -- when we contact the big supervisor directly about things, or the guy in charge of maintenance directly, things get taken care of. but when we contact the person we're supposed to, the one who is the liason between us and the company, we wait for months before anything happens. (we've learned not to wait this long.) she is truly the worst employee of any company ever. 

general comments on neighborhoods: it's worth it to live downtown, especially as w. philly rates have been rising. some great deals on the edge of south philly/center city (where you and i both live). if people are willing to bike, queen village too. west philly is definitely safer than its public reputation would suggest, but the fact remains that there's very little there and living downtown is just more fun. 

I live in the Rittenhouse Square District of Center City. More specifically -- 22nd & Spruce Sts. I pay $550 (+utilities) for an 18'x20' studio. It's pretty small, but it suits my needs. You may encounter cheaper places around here, but I suspect most comparable apartments will be somewhat pricier. It's about a 20-minute walk from campus, but if you're lazy, like I often am, you can walk a couple of blocks north to the westbound 21 or 42 buses on Walnut St, returning eastbound on Chestnut St (one more block north). Or walk yet further north to Market St and take the subway-surface trolleys to West Philly (and back the same route). It's also really close to 30th St Station for regional rail connections to the suburbs, to the airport, to Trenton, NJ (and from there to NYC) and for Amtrak connections virtually anywhere. Mid-sized supermarkets and smaller grocery stores are ample within a 4-block radius, as are a Rite Aid and CVS, bars and restaurants and cafes. And it's 3 blocks away from Rittenhouse Square itself, which is kinda nice to walk through if the weather is nice. Parking can be hell. I don't own a car. I occasionally rent one for the weekend or something, and I've often had trouble finding a (legal) spot for it overnight. It's a good place to live if you want the sense of a residential yet urban setting, close enough to campus but distant enough to see more than just students and professors all day long. 

center city

pros--close to shopping and entertainment.
cons--way higher rent for way less space; i paid $650 for a fairly large sorta crappy one bedroom. luckily i was sharing it. it was at 17th and pine.

my landlord was saul langsam. i don't remember the company, but i think they were sort of crappy. it was located in elkins park. i think 

frankly, re: crime, center city was no safer than west philly. for example i had a fatal shooting on my block (fall '97) (some guy shot the guy who was mugging him.) and many male prostitutes, and possibly some drug dealing. in addition, the whole center city rapist/shannon shieber's murderer has not been caught yet. i would not recommend women living by themselves or even with only one other person in western center city in an an apartment that can be broken into easily. a high rise, or one of the top floors without a ground level accessible fire escape is one thing. but first or second floor--that's just not a good idea. 

other con, grocery shopping in west center city sucks. if you live close to reading terminal or the italian market or the superfresh/fresh fields in society hill you're fine. but in western center city all you have is great snott [she's referring to great scott's supermarket]. i hate that store. 

'97-8: 16th and Spruce. Great location, still my favorite part of downtown (the nameless area between Broad and 18th and Walnut and Lombard). Within a few blocks you've got Le Bec Fin and Le Colonial (plus other Walnut St. snobbery), a Wawa, a pizzeria and Chinese place, a decent supermarket, good ice cream and gelati, Dirty Frank's and the Last Drop, Rittenhouse Square, the gayborhood, the Jamaican Jerk Hut, my favorite bar (Chaucer's), and vacant lots on South St. The 21 and 42 buses run on Walnut and Chestnut, and you can take the subway or Regional Rail from 15th and Market. As Masato once said, the only thing that's not nearby is school. Harold Levin stil owns the Sprucemont, the 15-story mini-tower at the corner. When I lived there it was $800 for a double, but he was raising it to $880 for '98-9, and God only knows how much it's going for now. 

'98-9: 2131 Locust St. NOBODY should live here. My apartment sucked big time; the whole house used to be somebody's private residence (as with most of the rowhouses downtown), and I got what was obviously the guy's bedroom. Tons of mirrors with no place to put my desk or well decorations. Levin owned it till November, when some architect with slumlord aspirations bought it up, poured thousands of dollars into renovating the basement (where I never went except to do laundry), then started restoring the facade, took my screen windows out in April and never put them back in. Oh yes, and the dryer broke in February and I called several times. When I moved out in August it was still broken. Also the west-of- Rittenhouse neighborhood sucks for grad students who don't like pretending they're yuppies. In all fairness, I have to admit that I'd probably hate it less now, but I'm telling you how it was for me then...easily my worst year of grad school. I paid $525 a month, but the architect raised it to $610 for '99-00 and I got the hell out of there. 

I have been living this year in a large studio apartment at 6th and Fairmount, on the edge of Northern Liberties. I feel that I have quite a bit of space for what I pay -- $475. This apartment is in a rowhouse. It is a nice and very diverse neighborhood, with families, artists, and various characters. One drawback is a lack of retail stores such as a good grocery store, however there is a little bodega right on the corner and a very down-at-the-heels grocery store one block from me. However, there is a plan to build a large shopping Center at 2nd and Girard on the site of the Schmidt's brewery. I am a five to ten minute walk from the El (Spring Garden station) and from there the train takes 12 minutes to 34th Street. There are a number of good restaurants and bars/clubs right nearby, namely Silk City, 700 Club, Standard Tap (and Finnegans Wake also). They just openend the best soul food restaurant ever at 6th and Girard, called Larry and Jay's. Supposedly the neighborhood (NL) is "up and coming". There's an active neighborhood assocation if you want to be a part of that. My realtor is Janet Lang and I know that she has several buildings in the neighborhood, and she advertises them on the Penn OCL website, which is where I found it. I would say that the rest of Northern Liberties is even nicer than my block. The neighborhood feels very safe, and I overall would recommend it. Also, it's like a fifteen minute walk into Old City, or a twenty minute walk to the Reading Terminal, etc. 

ok, moving on to the suburbs:

Here are some thoughts on living in the suburbs (well, Bryn Mawr):

- quiet (you can hear the birds sing, no cars...), pretty, safe (can walk around alone at midnight)
- nice foodstores (compared to W. Philly)
- nice to get away from campus
- close to Valley Forge Park, King of Prussia Mall, other exciting stuff :)

- longer commute time (driving rather slow during rush hour; trains are not too bad but from Bryn Mawr take ca. 1 hr door-to-door, also monthly ticket fees are $109 from Bryn Mawr to 30th Street)
- rents not as cheap as one might think; a lot depends on where you live. Bryn Mawr is a bit pricey, closer to Philly city limits is often a bit cheaper. We pay around $850 or $900 for a two-bedroom.
- not so easy to go out to Philly because the train (to 'burbs) stops running at midnight

There are various apartment complexes available - we didn't use a realtor. We just visited various complexes on our own. Some people also live in 'one-off' sublets where the owner rents out an apartment or a room (that isn't in a complex) but I think these are less common. 

Knickerbocker Properties

They suck. (I think they own stuff in West Philly and maybe South Philly)

I live in South Jersey. Lots of trees and grass. Not so good on the public transportation--car necessary. Prices pretty good (right at or under $700 for a 1 bedroom with den and washer/dryer in apt.).

Most of the info from Penn pages is good; so is the essay that somebody wrote long ago under "for new students" (see ling dept homepage).


For anyone interested in living outside of the city but right on the train line (R3 - 20 minutes right in to University City) I reccomend Swarthmore and Media. Specifically, emailing the list of profs on leave for a given year at Swarthmore has never failed to produce for me very very nice housing at very very low cost. In addition, I'll be moving out of my house and the landlord is looking for a tenant. For someone with a significant other this house is great - on the edge of the woods, 4 min. walk to the train station, farmhouse style with all kinds of goodies - if someone is interested in it, direct me to them. Personally, given the yellow smog I've seen hovering over the city in the past few hot days - I have reconfirmed my desire not to live right in it. I loke living out there, and like the train trip to (great way to do hw or grading!). Anyway, that's my little contribution.


OK so I live in Germantown/Mt

Airy and I really like it up here. Some would say that it's far from school, but it really only takes 30 minutes on the train. It's great time to do a little reading for class. Also, starting June 1, all trans passes (which is what a Penn Pass is) goes to all stops on the Chestnut Hill West and East lines (from Center City/30th Street through Germantown/East Falls/Mt Airy and Chestnut Hill). This means that someone with a Penn Pass could live anywhere on these lines and not pay extra for zone 2, etc. At least that's how I understand it now. So, life up in NW Philly is lovely and there are many great apartments and houses and people are nice. Germantown can be a little sketchy, and so can East Mt Airy, which means they're cheaper. Really, a person needs to visit the actual block to see.

Pretty much anything north of Johnson is good. Alden Park and Park Drive Manor are huge campus-style aprtment complexes that are pretty decent. I live in Park Drive Manor and although it can get noisy, they give student discounts for some apartments and there are many med students living here.

It's also very secure. If anyone shows interest, please give them my email. I rented it through a website called rent.net. this is a good resource too. Just a few thoughts. 

Provided by David Bowie <david_bowie@byu.edu>

i'd add something about the more outlying suburbs.  I know one personally: Downingtown. The cons of the outlying suburbs on the R5 Paoli-Downingtown line are that train service is spotty (a lot of the trains stop at Paoli) and you're pretty much separated from anything going on in Philadelphia, but the time to campus isn't as bad as you'd expect if you have a place near the train station. (Door-to-door, from my place that was a 10 minute walk from the Downingtown station to Williams Hall, excluding time waiting for the train, was 90 minutes, about an hour of which you can use to read the paper, do coursework, &c.) Rents are also a lot cheaper--we rented a smallish but eminently livable 2-bedroom in Downingtown for just under $600 (as of summer 1999, when we moved away), and it certainly wasn't the cheapest place you could get there. In addition, a couple of moderately inexpensive grocery stores are right in town, and more inexpensive groceries are a short car ride away, in Thorndale (maybe even a train ride away, if the Thorndale station's finally been finished). It also puts you a lot closer to Lancaster (even by train, on Amtrak), which has a *lot* of cheap shopping--really good outlets, and grocery stores cheap enough that the cost of gas was worth it for the cost savings. Of all the suburbs on the R5 line, in my observation Downingtown's the cheapest as far as overall cost of living, but you have to remember to factor in transit costs, which'll take a bite out of your wallet. Overall, though, it was much cheaper for me to live in Downingtown than Philadelphia, particularly since i had a car--insurance costs went from $1900/year to $350/year for me! I wouldn't recommend an outlying suburb for a student just starting out, but if edge-of-Amish-country life appeals to you, it's something to consider once you've gotten integrated into the department and department life.