Author Topic: Where to live as a Mustachian in Cambridge, MA?  (Read 6816 times)

racherinh

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Where to live as a Mustachian in Cambridge, MA?
« on: May 18, 2013, 02:10:12 PM »
So, we just got some great news that my DH will be working at Harvard for one or two years, so we are moving. I know the city a little bit from growing up a few hours north of there, but I've never lived there.

Details: Family of 5, kids are 6, 3, and 1, income $50,000, but I will be looking for work - probably part-time online work to keep childcare costs down (I'm a chemistry/math high school teacher - I'll explore other jobs but my experience is that it's really hard to cover childcare).

Questions:
Where should we live? We had complete sticker shock at the rent prices. We are happy in a 2 bedroom apartment, although of course we could find a use for three. As a frugal family, we are of course more interested in proximity to grocery stores (including asian/indian/mexican stores), then to hip bars or restaurants. Safety and proximity to parks is also important.

As one job will be at Harvard, it needs to be within easy commuting distance to his office and the library. Is it even possible for us to afford housing that doesn't include a stint on the T, but only walking/biking? Advice on biking in the city, especially for a professor in the winter?

Any other advice on living in Cambridge, on schools, on common pitfalls to avoid? Any tips on where the best second hand clothing stores are? Advice on things to do with kids - and memberships or tricks to optimize the city with them? I'm even open to job advice.

etselec

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Re: Where to live as a Mustachian in Cambridge, MA?
« Reply #1 on: May 18, 2013, 03:32:13 PM »
Anything very near to Harvard is going to be mind-numbingly expensive. My first choice would be outer parts of Camberville: Winter Hill, East Somerville, West Cambridge. Somerville has a lot of parks and indian/mexican grocery stores. The walk would be 2 - 2.5 miles - it would probably be preferable to bike most of the time, but that distance can be walked even in bad weather.

Arlington, Belmont, Watertown, and Medford are other options to consider - within 4-6 miles, so reasonable to bike, and there are bus lines to Harvard as a backup. Arlington, Belmont, and Watertown are well-regarded public school districts. Somerville and Medford are more middling but still fine. If those aren't within the budget you could look at Malden/Everett/Chelsea, though I don't know very much about that area - maybe someone else can weigh in on safety/schools/atmosphere there.

Something else to watch out for is lead in apartments - some friends of mine with a small child had some challenges finding housing in Cambridge/Somerville because so many of the apartments still have lead paint. The landlords are required to remove lead paint in order to rent to a family with children, but unsurprisingly, many of them choose to (illegally) discriminate and just not rent to families rather than incur the extra expense.

Good luck!

BrooklineBiker

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Re: Where to live as a Mustachian in Cambridge, MA?
« Reply #2 on: May 19, 2013, 08:39:14 PM »
So, we just got some great news that my DH will be working at Harvard for one or two years, so we are moving. I know the city a little bit from growing up a few hours north of there, but I've never lived there.

Details: Family of 5, kids are 6, 3, and 1, income $50,000, but I will be looking for work - probably part-time online work to keep childcare costs down (I'm a chemistry/math high school teacher - I'll explore other jobs but my experience is that it's really hard to cover childcare).

Questions:
Where should we live? We had complete sticker shock at the rent prices. We are happy in a 2 bedroom apartment, although of course we could find a use for three. As a frugal family, we are of course more interested in proximity to grocery stores (including asian/indian/mexican stores), then to hip bars or restaurants. Safety and proximity to parks is also important.

As one job will be at Harvard, it needs to be within easy commuting distance to his office and the library. Is it even possible for us to afford housing that doesn't include a stint on the T, but only walking/biking? Advice on biking in the city, especially for a professor in the winter?

Any other advice on living in Cambridge, on schools, on common pitfalls to avoid? Any tips on where the best second hand clothing stores are? Advice on things to do with kids - and memberships or tricks to optimize the city with them? I'm even open to job advice.
Hi,
Welcome to Boston. There are second hand clothing stores (eg Goodwill) in Allston just across the Charles River from Harvard Square. Allston may offer cheaper living. However it is a seedy student area and may simply offer expensive but shabby apartments. Also the Boston Public Schools are troubled, though the charter and exam schools can be good. Allston is walkable to Cambridge and has good MBTA services. Brighton will offer nicer housing than Allston though it is  a bit further from Harvard Sq. It is very bikeable to Cambridge and has good MBTA services. Belmont has good public transit connections to Harvard Square in the Mt Auburn St area and the town has good housing stock and good schools. The ethnic stores you express interest in shopping in will be at least in part conveneince stores and thus very expensive. Somerville has a KMart and a Market Basket - try to do your dry goods shopping and grocery shopping there. Marshalls and TJ Maxx are in Cambridge and nearby Brookline and fairly cheap for new clothes. You can bike in Boston in the winter though you may want to use the MBTA on days when the streets are poorly plowed such as the day of or after a heavy snow storm or ice storm.  You will want to buy a full array of bike lights, reflective gear, heavy gloves, cycle booties, balaclavas, and gore tex bike pants if you plan to ride when it is snowing. Understand that it is very dark and cold when you ride in the winter here and the roads narrow considerably with unplowed snow on the streets - sidewalks may not be shoveled well or at all so you will not be able to use them. So if you are not able to ride warmly and safely in the middle of a busy street you will freeze and/ or be hit.

Please post your tips on how you settle in. We are getting clobbered on our housing costs and have not yet worked out to how to find cheap housing in a city close to Boston with strong public schools. We are very open on how to solve this problem without moving to northern New Hampshire!
Best,
Neil

twinge

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Re: Where to live as a Mustachian in Cambridge, MA?
« Reply #3 on: May 20, 2013, 06:41:19 AM »

In Cambridge, there's a weird lottery system with the schools rather than just neighborhood schools (this info is a few years old, so I may be wrong but look into it).   It's supposed to make things more equitable (and it does) but it can be a headache and there are plenty of connected people who figure out how to increase the chances of getting in a better school.   So don't just assume the neighborhood school is your school--ask around.  Your husband should have access to different listservs associated with Harvard that can give you the scoop if you ask.

North Cambridge/Arlington near the Cambridge border.  Arlington schools are solid-- and if you are on the 77 bus line that is a very useful and fast line--basically equivalent to a metro.  The Alewife metro stop is also nearby there (accessible by nice trails).  You can sometimes rent half a duplex, or a floor of a family home.  Rents are more reasonable than Porter Square but there's close to the same level of accessibility.  Arlington is very family-oriented, not a student area at all, but its orientation around Mass Ave makes it very accessible.

It's a great place to live with kids--lots of wonderful parks!

twinge

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Re: Where to live as a Mustachian in Cambridge, MA?
« Reply #4 on: May 20, 2013, 07:35:32 AM »
Also, as a high school chemistry/math teacher you could make very decent income working out of your home as a tutor in the Cambridge area.  It is a community where education is highly valued and kids are expected to be high achievers.  A number of people combine face-to-face tutoring with Skype sessions and it can be quite profitable, particularly in math/science areas at the middle and high school levels. 

velocistar237

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Re: Where to live as a Mustachian in Cambridge, MA?
« Reply #5 on: May 20, 2013, 10:52:47 AM »
I've attached a map by $/bedroom (from this guy), with a few cheaper regions highlighted.

Route 28: Cheap, but not terribly accessible by T or by bike to Harvard because of the line of hills that runs from SE to NW up the middle of Somerville. Obama lived on Winter Hill, just NW of Route 28, when he was at Harvard Law.  There's a big South American population.  A little south and east is Union Square, which is where you will shop for groceries at 6:55am on a weekday, at the Somerville Market Basket.  There's a straight shot with no hills from Union Square to the NE side of the Harvard campus via Washington/Kirkland, though no bike lanes on that route. A few good playgrounds, but not a lot of nice, big parks, though I haven't checked out the Mystic River Reservation across the river to the north. Near the Somerville Main Library.

North of Davis Sq: Near the Brown School, which is a good elementary school. Near the Davis T stop, which will take you fairly close to the incomparable Cambridge Main Public Library just east of Harvard Square. There's an entire floor of the library just for kids. Bikable to Harvard. Close to the open, green spaces at Tufts, decently close to Danehy Park.  Being near the red line makes day trips into Boston easier. I recommend looking here.

Watertown: The 71 and 73 bus lines run straight to the Harvard T stop. The bike path along the river runs to Harvard. I know several Harvard grad students who live in Watertown. Parts of Watertown are a little more gritty and treeless than West Somerville/Davis. It's close to the business school.  Also decently close to Fresh Pond and Mt Auburn Cemetery, both nice green places. I don't think of Watertown as being that walkable.

Belmont and Arlington have better schools but are farther. Parts of Arlington and Belmont have more of a small-town feel. I recommend not looking any farther east than Somerville. Transfers on the T add a lot of commute time, as do bottlenecks at bridges over rivers. I don't know much about Allston/Brighton.

For groceries, just go to a Market Basket, either in Somerville or Chelsea. If you really need to, there's a Costco in Everett. There are small ethnic grocery stores all over the place. An H-Mart (Korean) is opening soon in Central Square, Cambridge.

There are little parks, playgrounds, and libraries all over the place.

For second-hand clothing, go to the Goodwill store in Davis. There's a large children's section downstairs. Parking is pretty bad in Davis, though, so take a hand cart and walk in if you can. If you need a lot of clothes and have a day and a car, check out the Goodwill mother-ship in Roxbury.

Driving and parking in most of the Boston area are a pain. Getting an annual permit for street parking, at least near your apartment, is usually cheap and straightforward. Since your oldest is 6, you might be able to get away with mostly walking.

The whole lead paint thing is a pain. Landlords technically don't have to abate for families unless they've tested and found lead paint, but they usually don't want to take the risk. They do discriminate, it is illegal, but MA law makes the whole issue a really impractical pain for landlords ($10's of thousands to eliminate really a low risk). Landlords who do abate often will advertise that fact and then charge more. Maybe keep your eye out for Craigslist rental listing photos with unpainted trim, since the trim is where the lead paint usually was.

Biking is doable in the winter, but be prepared to walk in very bad weather. Biking is getting more popular in the Boston area, which makes a lot of sense. It's a pain to drive, and on a lot of streets, the cars don't go much faster than the bikes, which makes it somewhat safer. I don't feel confident enough to bike with the kids in a trailer.

If you use a wide stroller, keep in mind that some people don't shovel their sidewalks very well.

Keep your eye out for MMM meetups! PM me if you want to meet up when you get here.

racherinh

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Re: Where to live as a Mustachian in Cambridge, MA?
« Reply #6 on: May 22, 2013, 07:22:05 AM »
Thank you for all the responses - that is really useful information. I haven't been in Boston as an adult so I don't have a good sense of distance and ease of moving around the various villages/neighborhoods. It's helpful to hear distances and travel methods.

I know DH will be willing to bike about 9 months of the year - he's fine on the roads and traffic but I think in slush and freezing rain he would prefer the bus. It won't bother me as much. We have good fenders on our commuter, but will definitely need lights.

Another question we are considering is if we should sell our car...we just bought it since we were going to be a car essential midwestern city, but now we're wondering it it will be worth it - two years of living in Europe have accustomed us to walking/biking/shopping in wet weather (not so much snow), hauling family quantities of groceries around, and so on, so it would not be much of an adjustment if we're on the right bus line. I personally loathe driving and parking in Boston. I keep wondering about weekend trips to see nearby friends, or to visit my family in northern VT, or buying furniture on Craigslist, and I have a harder time envisioning that without a car. It's a 2008 Mazda 5, and we could sell it for at least what we bought it for (we bought it on e-bay from a Brooklyn dealership, and it's selling for much 20-25% more in our neck of the woods). 

I'm assuming all these areas are pretty safe since no one mentioned crime rates as a negative?

LWYRUP

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Re: Where to live as a Mustachian in Cambridge, MA?
« Reply #7 on: May 22, 2013, 09:22:05 AM »
I second Watertown.  If you live in the part close to Cambridge, it wiil be a very easy walk / bus / bike ride to Harvard and will get a lot more for your money.  Watertown also has a commuter rail stop that goes into downtown Boston.

I have lived in Cambridge for seven years now and absolutely love it.  I bike to work in Boston every morning and there are so many bikers on the road there are practically bike traffic jams.  It is lively, funky, countercultural, inellectual, diverse and safe.  However, the wife and I need to upgrade from a one bedroom to a two bedroom (baby along the way), and the already high housing costs have gone out of control.  We are moving out, probably to Jamaica Plain (and once our kids are school age we will probably pack up and leave Boston entirely for somewhere closer to our families and with lower COL).  It would be difficult for you to get a lead-safe two bedroom anywhere in Cambridge for under 2,500 or a three bedroom under 3,000.  And if you want to live in one of the hipper / more convenient neighborhoods or a newer building, forget about it.  It would be awesome to have bought in Cambridge 10 years ago and seen the city transform and make a ton of money in the process, but at this point the value proposition is gone so we will need to seek our home elsewhere and bring the Cambridge spirit with us. 

We have one car (a 2001 nissan altima with 70k miles, mustachian style) and almost never use it.  It is useful for groceries (sorry, MMM) and weekend trips.  I think it's mostly been unnecessary up until now and was just a legacy from a prior life in less mustachian city, but you have three kids so I think there are times you would find a car useful, particularly in Watertown.  I would keep it and try to use it sparingly, and after a trial period you might decide to ditch it and use zipcar the few times you really need to drive. 
« Last Edit: May 22, 2013, 09:27:01 AM by blinx7 »

cambridgecyclist

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Re: Where to live as a Mustachian in Cambridge, MA?
« Reply #8 on: May 22, 2013, 10:58:55 AM »
I live and work in Cambridge. I would seriously look at living in Somerville; the rents around the Union Square neighborhood are reasonable and it's only a mile from Harvard. Cambridge rents are too high unless you are really lucky and have months and months to look around for a great deal.

Cycling infrastructure is good around here and it's possible to ride year-round, although the winter gets slushy and unpleasant. For those times, there's a bus route that goes straight from Union to Harvard in less than 10 minutes, where you can then hop on the subway. Somerville is a hip and artsy community with some really amazing cultural events like Open Studios, Porchfest, and Honkfest. Great for kids (Parts and Crafts) and adults (Artisan's Asylum) to play and learn in. Watertown and parts of Belmont are less expensive but it's more of a bedroom community than a vibrant living experience.

Cars are a liability, not an asset, in this area. In the interest of full disclosure, I own a car; I only use it for taking trips out of town about once a month. Compared to the alternatives (renting or Zipcar) my car costs a little less annually, but that's only because it's an older vehicle, gas mileage is good, it's paid off, insurance is cheap and I do all the repairs I can myself.

I've never needed a car to haul groceries. I have two pannier bags that carry about 4 bags worth of groceries. However, there are so many local food shops and they're so close and fast and easy to get to by bike that my shopping pattern is to pick up a few small things almost every day. This also lets me purchase the best food at the best prices from different sources (the butcher costs less than the grocery store and has better meat, for example). I used to locally use the car to get heavy things but even that doesn't happen anymore now that I have a bicycle trailer.

We don't go into Boston proper much because Cambridge and Somerville have more interesting events. Downtown Boston is full of tourists on the weekends and it's a giant office park during the week. The interesting events in Boston all involve spending ginormous amounts of money for a canned experience, instead of attending a free lecture at MIT, going to any of the multiple museums in the area (MFA excepted, which is in Boston; we visit once a year or so), hitting up the excellent libraries, going for bike rides with friends or getting involved in any number of community events.

velocistar237

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Re: Where to live as a Mustachian in Cambridge, MA?
« Reply #9 on: May 22, 2013, 11:06:36 AM »
I'm assuming all these areas are pretty safe since no one mentioned crime rates as a negative?

You can look up crime rates on neighborhoodscout.com. Parts of Watertown are safer than others. West Somerville/North-of-Davis is safer than East Somerville/Route 28. I have a few friends with young children in Union Square.

We bought a car after we had our third child. We also use it for groceries and even some short trips, and I wonder whether we'll be willing to sell it once our kids get older. Zipcars are a pain for someone with car seats. For trips up to VT, there's the bus. Selling or keeping the car seems like a toss-up to me.

The 2BR price map looks useful. It looks like the cheapest 2BR's go for about $1500/mo.
http://www.jefftk.com/apartment_prices/rooms-2013-01--2br

twinge

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Re: Where to live as a Mustachian in Cambridge, MA?
« Reply #10 on: May 22, 2013, 11:08:09 AM »
Quote
Another question we are considering is if we should sell our car...we just bought it since we were going to be a car essential midwestern city, but now we're wondering it it will be worth it - two years of living in Europe have accustomed us to walking/biking/shopping in wet weather (not so much snow), hauling family quantities of groceries around, and so on, so it would not be much of an adjustment if we're on the right bus line.

We lived just fine without a car in the area with 1 young child (from the time of his infancy through kindergarten when we moved to another state).  There are zip cars aplenty, but we found we rarely even used those--just walked, biked, occasionally used bus/metro .  The bike trailer was pretty essential for carting kid longer distances and for grocery hauls. 

beeth_oven

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Re: Where to live as a Mustachian in Cambridge, MA?
« Reply #11 on: May 22, 2013, 11:41:31 PM »
If your husband wants to walk to work, I'd say look into Davis Square, Porter Square, and maybe Watertown.

Best secondhand stores? Urban Renewals in Allston has the best selection and prices. They don't have mirrors, though, (to cut back on stealing), so you need to get creative with trying stuff on.

Things to do with the kids: take them to Public Garden, Arnold Arboretum or walk the Freedom Trail. Museums and aquariums typically cost money, but if you get a library card you can usually borrow passes for free. Also, if your husband is working for Harvard, he'll have awesome perks and will probably be able to get a discount on a lot of entertainment, if  not free.

Rebecca Stapler

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Re: Where to live as a Mustachian in Cambridge, MA?
« Reply #12 on: May 24, 2013, 01:34:39 PM »
We are struggling with the same issue of where to live and have not yet found the perfect match of lower rents + short / low-cost commute + great schools. Although, in MA, most public schools will be good.  The places that come to mind that meet those criteria immediately are Winchester (7 miles), Arlington (4 mi, plus T access), and Medford (4 mi). Of those, I think Arlington meets the best fit for all 3 criteria (not sure what your criteria you have, but those are ours). Schools aren't as good as Winchester, but they're good. The commute can go both ways -- biking in summer, T in winter. Arlington is still $$ for rent but cheaper than Cambridge and Winchester might be harder to find a rental but it'll be the same amount of $$ as Arlington, I think.

Here is a link to statistics about local schools: http://profiles.doe.mass.edu/

As for secondhand stores -- you will find that there are so many bi-annual consignment sales in the nearby area that you don't need to plan your home's location around secondhand stores. You can find a list of them on http://consignmentmommies.com/, and will get a good feel for the good, bad, and great sales once you go to each of the ones you like, and talking to people there while you wait in line.

There is SO MUCH to do here! For lots of $$ (Museum of Science, Aquarium), less $$ (Stone Zoo for little ones, Franklin Park Zoo for everyone, Swan Boats in the Public Garden and the Frog Pond on the Common, cruises on Boston Harbor and trips to the Harbor Islands), and free (lots of parks, wherever you are you will be within 30 minutes' drive of a long walk, Museums with free days each month or periodically -- including the Harvard Natural Science Museum on Sunday mornings and the MFA this weekend!). Libraries have free (MFA) or reduced-cost (aquarium, MOS, zoo) passes to most of these; you just need to reserve in advance. We have a zoo membership because it pays for itself in 2 visits and can get you into both the Stone and Franklin Park Zoos. We split the membership with another family, which makes it even more affordable. Otherwise, it's hard to say what other things you can do with the kiddos without knowing where you're going to land. There are a lot of public swimming options, some that cost a parking fee and some require residency. Also, sign up for groupons and other daily deal sites for Boston -- you might find some good deals on things to do (last year our zoo membership was very cheap because we got it off of one of those sites). 

As for job options, I believe teachers in MA need a Master's in order to teach in public schools more than 1 year. If you don't have your Master's (I think it can be in anything, not necessarily education), that might be something to consider. Childcare is wicked expensive. I probably don't need to tell you that. To give you an idea, preschool at a daycare center is about $1200/month. It might make sense for you to SAH for the 2 years. If you don't have any debt and don't pay for childcare, you can swing it with a $50k income if you make a smart housing / commuting choice, but it will be a challenge. A friend of mine has a 2 BR in Cambridge, for $1600/mo. It was not big enough for bunk beds in the 2d room. I would get rid of the car only if you end up in a place that requires you to pay for parking. Otherwise, it's nice to have the car available when you need it -- but you might want to downgrade to something less expensive, to save on insurance.

Oh, if you're a couponer you will like Stop & Shop. Market Basket is the regional cheap grocery store, but if you coupon, S&S will be the same price or cheaper.

Rebecca Stapler

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Re: Where to live as a Mustachian in Cambridge, MA?
« Reply #13 on: May 24, 2013, 01:45:35 PM »
Oh, and I know that the MMM thing to do is to bike or walk to work, but if you find you really are struggling to find an apartment within your means, the prices do go down in the 'burbs. The childcare prices also go down. We live in a safe neighborhood with good schools and pay $1750 for a de-leaded, comfortable 2-bedroom townhouse with an in-unit washer/dryer. The commute is the downside, and our next move will put us within walking distance to a train stop so we don't have to pay for parking.

irastache

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Re: Where to live as a Mustachian in Cambridge, MA?
« Reply #14 on: May 24, 2013, 04:47:13 PM »
Consider Brookline, just over the river.  I have not seen anyone mention Brookline yet.

Cambridge trades on its name and proximity to the Universities. Somerville and East Cambridge have spillover rent issues. You will find better housing stock for your money in Brookline.

Brookline has all the location that any part of Boston does but is the last independently incorporated town. A peninsula of sorts into Boston and the birthplace of John Hodgeman and Conan O'Brian. There are some good advantages to being a seperate town. If you search greatschools.org for Brookline you will see you cannot go wrong. With school age kids I think this is a big plus. Check also the immersion and special programs at each of the elementary schools.

You could get by without a car. For sure Boston is not NYC and it is possible to keep and drive a car, but you will save without. From Brookline to Harvard, there are multiple bus routes (lookup the 66 bus, a direct shot to Harvard). You might consider a kick scooter over a bike for many parts of town because the distance is not that far.

Biking in town is just like driving really. It looks scary at first but you get your confidence and it is fine. With some route engineering it will not be a big deal and the biking will be beautiful.

Food--Skip the conventional super markets. Find what you need at Trader Joe's. Anything at TJ's is going to be cheaper than the conventional store. You might pick your location to be close to TJs... For anything else, you might like the Asian super market: http://www.yelp.com/biz/super-88-market-allston