June 13-19, 2002
One woman's struggle to find a decent place to live.
Philadelphia landlords would die for a residential real estate market like Boston’s, with tons of young, professional renters and not enough apartments to house them all. Philly may not be there yet, but a flier in the Schuylkill dog park promising a $200 reward for tips leading to the lease of a one-bedroom in the Fitler Square neighborhood could be an omen.
City Paper contacted the eager renter from the e-mail address listed on the flier. The desperate soul is Ann Byer of Boston, who will be moving to Philadelphia in the fall to start a master's program in architecture at the University of Pennsylvania.
Byer says she didn't come up with the reward scheme on her own. "A few years ago when Boston's real estate market was at its height, this was a really popular way of finding a place to live," she says. Back then, according to Byer, Bean Town was so bursting at the seams that "people were living in U-Hauls."
But Byer doesn't think she's having trouble finding a place in Philly because of a tight, pricey real estate market. "It seems that there are tons of apartments," she says, figuring "the Fitler Square area is probably affordable."
Instead, Byer attributes her difficulty in finding an apartment to a few factors unique to her situation. The first is her full-grown golden retriever, which eliminates apartments that don't allow pets at all as well as those that allow pets under a certain weight.
Then there's her aversion to living in the student-dominated neighborhood surrounding Penn. "I decided I didn't want to live there, because it didn't feel like a community," Byer says. "When the student population leaves in the summer it's a really weird area, and it's not that well-maintained because it's a student area." But beyond the feeling that West Philly may be good enough for frat boys but not for architecture grad students, Byer says she has her heart set on Fitler for her golden retriever, which would love having easy access to the Schuylkill dog park.
Aside from the canine conundrum, Byer's most serious obstacle to finding an apartment is not knowing anyone in the Philadelphia area who could scope out apartments for her.
Last Sunday, Byer journeyed down to the City of Brotherly Love to view two rentals. At the first, the owner jacked up the price. The second landlord stood her up, sending her back to New England empty-handed.
Despite her string of bad luck, Byer should go far in Philadelphia. After all, she's already mastered the local art of pay-to-play.