“I now ask myself: Could there a place for me in a group house if I’m not white?”

Photo by PoPville flickr user wolfkann

“Dear PoPville,

I began the process of interviewing for group houses with the same apprehension that accompanies me in most social situations. Would there be a place for my introverted self in a city of outgoing, happy hour-frequenting DC socialites? Five weeks in, I have rephrased my question. I’ve made my best attempts at convincing future housemates that I’d be an asset to their home, modeling my responses off the sound logic of Goldilocks: I’m not too quiet, but not too loud; not crazily clean, but not too messy; down to hang, but never clingy. Despite my guarantees, I’m beginning to wonder if my physical dissimilarity to Goldilocks is working against me. I now ask myself: Could there a place for me in a group house if I’m not white?

The majority of the group houses I’ve visited – and subsequently been rejected from – have had a total of zero minority residents. In one house, the cheerful blonde who answered the door and provided a tour didn’t ask me a single question before showing me the exit. “We’ll text you!” she said encouragingly. Unsurprisingly, I later got a text that she had chosen someone else. In other interviews that provided greater opportunity for conversation, I tried to highlight different aspects of my personality: Dancer at Group House One, dog-lover at Group House Two, and artist at Group House Three. But no matter how I present myself, the fact remains that I am brown in a sea of white. In a city where my generation prides itself on being progressive and inclusive, where is the diversity in living arrangements?

I feel the pressure on the other end of the process as well. I am trying to fill my room in the house where I currently reside with two other South Asian women. After a few interviews, we began to wonder whether people felt uncomfortable in our all-brown residence. We agreed that perhaps only two of us should be at home during the interviews, as to not overwhelm anyone’s white sensibilities. I even considered asking a white friend to come over to put interviewees at ease. The combination of my experiences has made me question whether people’s “gut feelings” can ever truly be color blind. As a plethora of recent research shows, implicit bias seeps into every area of our lives, affecting our interactions, relationships, and decision-making. Research from the Urban Institute that has tracked racial discrimination in the housing market over time has found that it stubbornly persists today; in controlled experiments, minority homeseekers are still told about and shown fewer housing units than their white counterparts. Everything we know about implicit bias suggests that it would have a significant effect on decisions as personal as selecting a stranger with whom to cohabit a home.

It remains unclear whether I will ever find a spot in a group house. To my fellow twenty-somethings: Let’s put our progressive ideals into practice and check ourselves on even the most subtle forms of bias. Oh, and if you’re looking for a housemate, you know who to call.

Shebani Rao is a researcher at the Urban Institute. The views expressed here are hers alone, and are not intended to reflect those of the Urban Institute.

117 Comment

  • So sorry you’re experiencing this. 🙁

  • Or, you know, it actually could be your personality.

    • +1.

      As a group house resident currently interviewing potential roommates, I couldn’t care what color, creed, or nationality you are, but “introverted” is, perhaps unfairly, a negative. If it seems during the 10 minutes you have with someone at an open house that there may be issues with communication, I’d rather not risk it.

      • White people get rejected from group houses too, you know. Maybe they interviewed someone they actively liked (MAYBE THAT PERSON WAS “BROWN”) right before you showed up and had already indicated to her that she was a lock.

        I’m troubled that your assumption is that everyone is afraid of you because you’re not white. I don’t know you, obviously, but maybe there are other things people prefer in roommates other than whiteness– like working in a similar location so they can share rides, or vegetarianism, or sharing clothes. What if you don’t wear the same size as the cheerful blonde so she thinks “well, that would be a waste of closet space”?

        Unless you get an answer saying something along the lines of “We chose someone else who is of the same cultural upbringing as we are because your differences will be too difficult to deal with, as we assume that you are culturally different than we are due to the color of your skin” then I think you might just be having a hard time finding housing like every other person our age in this city.

      • It’s really tough to know though. First, everybody is biased – whether they admit it or not. It’s a mild bias for some, and for some it even takes the form of reverse bias, but everyone judges everyone to a degree on what we initially see, and, unfortunately, everyone takes race, sex, whether they have glasses, etc. into account in that judgement.

        That being said, having both looked for group housing and interviewed applicants for housing in my group house, I know that bias, while not inconsequential, does not determine every decision in every house – over several years my house had people of both genders, from several different ethnic groups, different sexual orientations – although it did trend somewhat toward white males (we did have more white applicants though, and not all females were comfortable living with men).

        In any case, discrimination could certainly be the problem. But, as some have pointed out, it could also be personality – during my years of interviewing people I met some applicants who I doubted would ever find a group home – some because they seemed overly confrontational, rude, etc, and some because they just seemed weird in a way that made you not want to live with them.

        The really tough thing is that as an applicant, how can you know – are you just unlucky, i.e. you haven’t found the right “match” yet, are you being discriminated against, or is your personality such that you just won’t get picked. You end up having to both doubt yourself and society at the same time. Which sort of sucks.

        Good luck, and I hope you find a good place!

      • For the record, introverted means nothing of these things: shy, anti-social, poor communicator. It is an adjective I would leave out before meeting them, however.

        • Right, being an introvert is irrelevant to any of those factors. But OP could easily have poor social skills, bad BO, come across as aggressive, be really weird or weird-seeming in a makes you sort of uneasy sort of way, etc. And she’d be unlikely to identify herself as such (and might not even be aware of it). Or OP could be unlucky, or discriminated against, or all of the above, or who knows.

  • I think oftentimes people don’t even realize that they feel more comfortable around people that they view as similar to them. I had similar issues but was lucky enough to snag a unicorn affordable 1bedroom. Wishing you luck 🙁

  • Filling group houses can be crazy. I’ve had friends (generally white, fwiw) that have had to give up on finding a spot in the city after many rejections. There are a lot of people looking for these spots. Maybe its the color of your skin, or maybe its really easy to get frustrated and call everyone racists.

    • It’s friggin DIFFICULT to get a room in a group house, and it’s only gotten harder. The housing stock is slowly being turned over to multi-unit condos/apartments, which is evaporating the supply, because it’s not like more houses are being built.. Meanwhile, more and more people arrive to the city looking for affordable housing, which almost doesn’t exist anymore.

      Last time I had to look for a room in group house was 2007, and it took three months of going to 4-5 visits/interviews/open houses a DAY. I can’t even imagine what it must be like now.

  • It’s certainly possible. But I will say that as a white guy I couldn’t get any bites in these situations either. Getting into an existing grouphouse in DC can be an excruciating process for anybody. Some of them are like beauty pageants/talent shows for the benefit of the existing roommates. My advice: get together a group of likeminded people who want to get a group house together. Visit whole houses for rent and try to get in that way.

    • colheights67

      +1. Do this. This is the best idea.

      • pablo .raw

        That’s definitely the best, I was part of a group house that was formed in that way and we all created an amazing friendship. Having been on the side of the interviewers, I understand that people want to be careful when choosing, one person in a group house could potentially bring a lot of stress. I would say that maybe before the interview you should try to learn as much as you can about the dynamics of the group house so that you are prepared to present yourself in a way that appeals to them.

  • The gauntlet that is group house interview experience is frustrating. Its particularly difficult when you start talking to others at the house. Everyone went to a good school, has at least a veneer of an interesting job, and is either beginning, in, or finishing grad school. I hate to bring it down to the most basic feature, but if your not gay, attractive, or have an in with someone at the house, I think the deck is staked against you. That sounds pretty bad, but group house selection is like a serious microcosm of local 20-30 something DC. Take a spin through 11th street, H street, 14th street, and local house parties on a weekend and these are the people you are competing against. And as you point out, its not easy, and it is very competitive given the lack of affordable housing in the city. All that said, good luck!

    • justinbc

      Why would being gay be an automatic in to group houses?

      • in a mixed gender house I think it helps in selection. Never said it was an automatic, just that it doesn’t hurt. Just noting from 5 or 6 years of group house experience.

        • justinbc

          Oh you mean that females would feel more comfortable around a gay guy vs a straight one? I guess that does make some sense. Thanks for explaining!

          • Yes, very much so. The females in my past two group houses usually preferred a gay man over a straight man due to straight men being creepy/hitting on their roommates.
            No young woman wants to come home and deal with that crap. A home should be a sanctuary.

      • When looking for a place to live I saw many, many GLBTG-friendly group house postings on CL. Perhaps this is what the author meant?

      • west_egg

        Everybody loves having a gay roommate. We’re just so much FUN! (I’m being sarcastic but there’s a lot of truth behind it. Gays are looked at by some of the the most “accepting” people as some kind of entertaining curiosity. Sometimes it works to our advantage.)

        • West Egg hit it, and the safety issue hits it. Plus, adding a gay person has in some ways become the safety diversity. Like adding a Stanford educated Asian.

          • Mike

            +100 to this entire sub-thread. Before moving to DC, I saw many CL postings looking for female roomates only. I applied anyway, indicated that I was gay, and I got an interview and a walk-though every. single. time. Eventually, I found a crappy little basement studio in Glover Park and lived all alone, happily ever after.

  • Not to say race is not a factor in all cases, as it probably is in a few, but housing is competitive in this market.

    When I was looking at group homes I probably looked at 15+ and only got “offers” from 2~3 and it took me a good 2 months to find a place. On the reverse, when I gave up my room in said house, I put the add on craigslist and within 2 hours (I deleted it shortly after) I was flooded with 30+ responses. Of those 30 about 10~12 came and looked at the house and about 6 were interested. Point is – in DC a lot of people are looking so a lot of times it simply isn’t personnel if they don’t choose you.

    So I’d chock it up to other factors – your budget (if you are looking at the lower end – competition is fierce), personality, not giving it enough time etc.

  • May I ask the Original Poster (“OP”): why are you leaving one group house for another?

    • Agreed. The only reason to give up a spot in a group house in a prime part of the city is to get your own place or moving in with a significant other. You won’t find cheaper housing in better areas.

  • I would not be at all surprised if unconscious bias made it more difficult for non-white people to get spaces in group homes. [I say this as a gay white male who’s been turned down by many group homes.] I wonder if any other commenters here have resources that might help us better learn to manage our unconscious biases?

    • Housing discrimination is definitely a factor in group houses, but I find the point the author makes here a little dubious.

      First, most group houses with cheap rent get a ton of people interested. The number of rejections the author experience is entirely normal.

      Second, where there is discrimination it tends to be more cultural than racial. I know plenty of south asians who went to fancy colleges, work at fancy research institutes, and live in group houses. Low income blacks or latinos, on the other hand, are going to have a lot more trouble finding a place.

      Housing discrimination is a serious problem in this city, and it is compounded by the prevalence of group houses where enforcement of equal access laws is pretty much unheard of. It’s unfortunate that such a poor exposition of the problem has been published, because the obvious holes do a disservice to the people who actually need help.

      • I hate to point out the obvious, but your distinction between South Asians, Latinos, and Blacks is NOT ‘cultural.’ All of these are racial categories than encompass several distinct cultures. However, the way you’ve assumed South Asians are educated and cultured while also assuming Blacks and Latinos ares ‘low income’ is pretty telling. Perhaps consider examining your bias?

  • In the spirit of being helpful (though I’ve never lived in a group house), I believe it is common to associate people of south asian heritage with the odor of the region’s food. Maybe you could be up front and say “I like to cook, but I never make curry in a shared kitchen,” or “I never cook, so no worries about everything smelling like onion and cumin.” with a friendly NBD smile of course.

    • Holy moses no do not say these things.

      • Common where?

        • I think this is a common form of housing bias in some parts of Asia (Singapore and Malaysia in particular?).

          I have never in my life heard of that being an issue in the US. And I’d never assume in a 20s/30s young professional group house situation that anyone of any race DIDN’T cook curry!

    • epric002

      please do not take this ridiculous advice.

      • +1. What a horrid comment. If this is -actually- what’s on the minds of people looking for roommates — and I doubt it often is — then who would ever want to live there anyway?

    • This is just awful.

    • Sorry to hear you’re going through this. I’m a minority of ambiguous ethnicity and got lucky with a group house interview but had a fair deal of trouble with a number of others. This was about four years ago and I don’t remember thinking it came down to race at any point, but maybe I had my blinders on as I’d just gotten into the city.

      A piece of advice. Find a two-bedroom that fits in your price range and check it out on your own. If it looks like you might get it, throw up a Craigslist ad seeking a roommate (if you don’t already know somebody else in the same boat as you) and go on a bunch of roommate dates. You’ll be in the driver’s seat and won’t be going into someone else’s existing environment. Once you find someone compatible, you fill out the application together and start fresh. Worked pretty nicely for me.

    • I’ve never met a professional South Asian woman (current gf included) who didn’t hate cooking. Those that are modern and ambitious, and trying to separate themselves from the paternalism of their culture, do everything they can to avoid cooking. Rather than being a fun activity it is associated with duty to one’s husband or a skill you need to master to get a husband.

      • justinbc

        I know quite a few, some here in DC and some in Philly. Anecdotes are fun!

        • One more anecdote: I’m white and I love to make curry at home. And no one complains!

          • Me too! And actually my new neighbor said she bought her place after smelling my delicious supper while she was house-shopping and hoping I’d be friendly enough to share (I am!)

        • Yeah, my girlfriend and I obviously know a lot of South Asian professional women as well. You’ll need to hook me up with the ones that cook so we can hang out and cook together and bitch about all the ones who refuse to learn. I’m white and the curry cooker in my household (whatever that means– curry is a spice not a food!).

    • What the hell? “In case you’re racially profiling me, you don’t need to because I consciously try not to stink of onions and cumin, even though that is my nature.”

  • Ya anon, that’s well… racist.

  • colheights67

    I’m sorry you’re going through this. For what it’s worth (not much), the impression I got when I was going through a similar process 20 years ago in DC is that folks in a group house might put out a public invitation to rent a room, but in the end would give the room to a friend or friend-of-a-friend if possible. I’m whiter than Kathy Griffin but was rejected several times, and I’d find out later that someone already known to the house got the room. (I did get rooms due to personal connections. When I was on the other side of the equation, out of, I don’t know, six times when we needed new housemates, four times we picked “known” people and twice we picked strangers.)

  • People also simply have a natural tendency to coalesce around those similar to them, not necessarily just on race, but other socio-cultural factors. A hard partying rocker with tattoos and various piercings might not be as readily invited into a house by some polo wearing, golf playing, Cap Hill workers, etc., etc. Or maybe they think you will cook lots of highly aromatic South Asian cuisine (had such a next door neighbor and the smell could really linger, though so tasty). Who knows, but it actually might not be based on color.

  • justinbc

    “The majority of the group houses I’ve visited – and subsequently been rejected from – have had a total of zero minority residents.”
    This statement implies that at least in some instances that’s not the case, which would result in the answer of “yes” to your question, based on the evidence you can see right in front of you. Also, without you actually knowing who you were rejected in favor of it’s hard to say that your race was the deciding factor. Maybe they wound up picking a minority, and it just wasn’t you. Also, the fact that you already live in a group house would seem to imply that yes, you can find a space in one.

    • And if she’s looking in the neighborhoods that are attractive to young professionals, the majority of people are going to be white, statistically speaking. There is still a tendency for minority young professionals (Asians especially) to prefer the suburbs or exurbs over the city.

  • While I’m not saying it couldn’t be racial discrimination, group housing in DC can be highly competitive. I’ve lived in a reasonably priced group house in a great location for the past five years, and generally we get between 40 to 80 replies when we post and add on Craigslist. But if we post something for an August or September move in we generally get over 100 replies. And if during this whole process, someone we know or a friend of a friend wants the room, they are probably going get the room over someone from Craigslist. I know people who spent months trying to get into houses and visit a ton of places and still don’t get a room. Housing in DC is expensive so there is a lot of demand for a reasonably priced place in a decent location.

    • Yup. When I was on the summer moving cycle (which I thankfully finally got off), it was a nightmare. I’d talk to people who put up postings, and they’d say that within the first hour they got well over 50 responses.

      Going to group houses for their open house interview process was always a nightmare. Some of the better ones would actually give out alcohol during the interview to help ease things along, but when you had 20 other people there at the same time, with each roommate busy showing people around the house, it’s really difficult to stand out. It’s incredibly awkward when everybody in the room is trying to gain the attention of two or three people in the room, essentially competing with each other.

      It’s like holding court. And it’s not fun.

      • I agree that is not fun. We generally have a day or two of meeting people but stagger when people come e.g., one person at 8:00, then next at 8:30 ect, the open house idea sounds miserable. But if someone shows up late things may get rushed because another person is coming. Really I think getting one is just luck or knowing someone. Although we have had people shoot themselves in the foot a few times, such as telling us everything that was wrong and horrible about the house (while still really wanting to move in) or we once had someone secretly offer to one roommate to ensure they got the room.

  • Finding group housing is so competitive and weirdly intense (seriously, it feels like speed dating) that many local publications have written about it. It’s not just you. Besides, you don’t want to live with people who act on those biases anyway. Just keep applying without trying TOO hard or acting like an overly analytical, Ivy League wet blanket, because DC is overrun with those and no one wants to live with one. Maybe you’re turning people off by being wishy washy instead of assertive and open about who you are. Just be yourself and good luck!

    • +1 to all of this as another hispanic person. I’ve lived with and/or known so many nonwhite people in group houses that I can assure you it’s not impossible. While some might discriminate, I’d wager that most wouldn’t if you were the best fit personality-wise. You seem very intelligent based on your excellent writing. I’d also advise to be yourself but try not to nerd out, as in my experience most people want laid back non type-A personalities to live with, even if they don’t quite fit that bill themselves.

  • I can’t decide if someone who currently lives in a “segregated” group house criticizing others for living in “segregated” group houses is the best case of irony I’ve seen this week, or this whole month.

  • When I lived in a group house, we had a room open up. I posted it to Craigslist with a few pictures of the space and received 300 responses in four days. I don’t think it’s you so much as it’s the fact that finding space in a group house is a brutal process.

  • Take a time to read the penultimate paragraph and the disclaimer in the end of this letter. Am I the only one who is interpreting this as a plug to the research of the place she works in?

    • Hmm, they did just release a report on housing in DC…interesting

    • It’s possible. Or there could just be an alignment between the OP’s interests/concerns and those of her organization. That wouldn’t be very surprising, especially in the case of people working for a non-profit.

    • Actually, I was wondering if this is an attempt to gather data as part of a research project. Otherwise it seems odd that someone share-hunting would ask this question publicly — with their name attached.

      • I was thinking the same, but also wonder how representative a sample this actually is. 101 comments (as of now) really isn’t enough for any kind of scientific or quasi-scientific study, especially since the threads on this site can take on lives of their own sometimes, and otherwise be a bit humdrum.

        • My guess is that the sample wouldn’t be intended to be representative of a specific population, as much as it would be to get a variety of responses from a group that skews in the direction of young, white adults — who might be much more likely to participate and comment freely in a blog where they can be anonymous. Compare this to being interviewed — and it’s likely to provide less censored information. That information could then be used to develop questions for a more rigorously designed study.
          The end of the third paragraph, in particular, quoting UI research is one of the things that makes me wonder… We’ve got two areas of interest: how white people would respond to the idea of moving in with two non-white roommates; how white people would respond to the idea of having a non-white roommate; the name of the person asking the question, and her status as a researcher with UI. As a woman of color with a strong background in social science research, I wouldn’t include all that in my search for housing And I wouldn’t seek a blog that skews white if I wanted empathy or even advice — which makes me think that the goal is to obtain relatively uncensored information about housing /racial issues by a person who works for an organization with an interest in such things — and, ideally, would have to ethically reveal that in order to use the data. So, I’m curious, and find this whole thing interesting.

      • The OP is asking if there could be a place in a group house for her if she’s not white. And if she “will ever find a spot in a group house.” Yet she currently resides “in a group house” with “two other South Asian women”. This post has raised a lot of issues — and issues that are both relevant and important to me. At the same time, it seems either contrived — or very strange. I’m thinking that this is more about gathering data than about finding housing for the OP. It would be nice to get her response to this.

  • I’ve had bad experiences with white, brown, and black potential roommates, but I’ve also had good experiences with the same type of people. I’m just me, with my bike and backpack and phone, figuring out where my next abode will be.

    I once went to a house where the lady leading the tour closed and locked the door as I approached. However, I also almost moved in with two white guys before finding something better.

    I just try to be me and be genuine. Often, others aren’t…. or worse, they are – so you either deal with it or move on

  • I’m sorry you are having such trouble getting into a group house. I think it’s difficult for almost everyone, and I also say this as a POC. I’m not sure how many houses you looked at, but I remember, emailing several ppl, going to 5, and then finally getting into 2. It’s a tough process. How did you get into the one you are currently living in?

    My advice would be to be a chameleon. If they are super bubbly, be super bubbly. If they are total hipsters, embrace that aesthetic. If they are nerdy, be nerdy. People want to live with people who they will enjoy coming home to. One of the easiest (and it is gross) ways to market yourself is as their potential new minority friend. Everybody needs at least one. And once you actually land the housing, be your true yourself. Because whereas these people are looking for their new best friend or lover (!) you’re just looking for a room.

    • I hope you’re being facetious because this is terrible advice. You should not misrepresent your personality in order to get accepted into a group house. That will just cause headaches down the road once the roommates realize you aren’t actually the way you pretended to be. After all, you may be just looking for a room, but you still have to share space and it would be better if your personalities were a good match.

      • I have to beg to differ here slightly. While I was going through the grist mill that is getting into a group house I did consciously amp up being more outgoing…which was real work for me. However, it was the ONLY way to get people’s attention. I figured noone’s going to mind if i’m a bit quieter after the fact.

        The other thing I did…and this is what clinched me getting into a group house…was I brought a pie I had baked in a bag. I figured if I just carried a bag around no one would care. BUT if I ended up really connecting with folks at a house i’d offer it as a straight up bribe. It worked! After umpteen houses visited with zero responses, the first house I brought a pie to took me.

        I also concur with many posters who, like myself, have been on both sides: it’s a ultra competitive soul crushing experience for all but the most outgoing. Not getting any offers is not necessarily a comment on race.

  • Do we always smell like wet dog? Just sometimes? I need more details about this…..

  • Sorry to hear you’re experiencing this. Hard to know what the issue is but you sound like a nice enough person to live with.

    “the fact remains that I am brown in a sea of white”

    That’s only the case in some neighborhoods. Did you apply to any group houses that weren’t predominantly white? Last year I applied to a coop house in Park View, interviewed with the board, met the coop members, and was accepted to the house—at the time I was the only white resident, the remainder were black. I’ve felt very much accepted there.

    “I am trying to fill my room in the house where I currently reside with two other South Asian women”

    I sympathize with your situation but isn’t giving preference to South Asians discriminatory?

    • I think she meant that she resides in the house with two other South Asian women and is trying to fill her own spot, not that she is trying to fill two spots with two South Asian women.

      • Yes, she stated that she believes the difficulty of finding someone to take her spot may be that prospective renters do not want to live with two South Asian women.

  • As a former group house resident, I’ve been on both sides of this process. I don’t think it’s so much race as lifestyle/background. If you’re a recent grad with a job in government/politics who loves brunch and shops at Ann Taylor, it’s going to be a lot easier for you than if you’re a 35 yr. old grass roots activist/painter. Not a knock on the latter, but people like to live with people to whom they are similar. Your being an introvert also probably doesn’t help in this process. I have 15 minutes to tell if I want to share my living space with you. If we don’t connect in that time, I’m not gonna risk it. Group houses in DC are insanely competitive and it’s kind of like dating, someone might be good on paper but just not click with the group.

    • +1. I lived in a group house for 5 years and went through many rounds of roommates during that time. I lived with a number of minority roommates and also a number of white roommates. We would get a crap ton of responses when a room opened up and would usually host open houses. By sheer numbers, it was mostly white applicants, but we definitely did not select people based on their skin color- rather by their personality and who we though would best fit in with the culture of the house. This was five years ago at this point, so I can’t even imagine how competitive it is now.

  • I don’t doubt that implicit bias exacerbates the difficulty of finding housing in an already competitive market. Moving is the worst and this just adds to an already arduous experience. If you haven’t already, engage your network of friends and colleagues in the search. Similar to a job search, an introduction or recommendation from a third party goes a long way.

  • Race is a factor, either as its own characteristic, or as a proxy for your personality (i.e., that you’ll like different scenes, food, music, etc., from them). The vast majority of white people have like two or three non-white real friends (cue an objection by the poster who has four non-white friends), so when faced with the prospect of actually *living* with a minority, it’s easy to reject that person because you don’t seem like right “fit”. Save for the casually xenophobic poster who mentioned you refrain from cooking with garam masala, I’d guess that most white people have not integrated with others beyond the handful of token minorities they have met in their majority-white spaces, and do not really know what integration means, feels, or looks like the same way minorities do, as the latter are usually always one of a dozen or so non-whites in most spaces other than those they create for themselves.

  • I’m thinking to myself after reading all these comments and gone on the circus merry-go-round of housing interviews, I think one would easily see the justification of getting his or her own one bedroom apartment and call it a day. Besides, after awhile you grow out of that ‘group house’ we all live in a yellow submarine lockstep shimmy. Roommates; noisey and messy aint nothing like your own including peace and quiet and no slamming doors!

    • I think you’re missing the fact that she works at the Urban Institute. They don’t exactly pay huge salaries to their researchers. Add to this the common student loan bill of a few hundred bucks and 1 bedrooms are most likely out of the question.

    • Sure, we’d all love our own living space, but with 1BRs starting at $2000, it’s not exactly feasible for many.

      • palisades

        well that’s just not true. I’ve seen plenty of apts for 1100-1500 spotlighted here on Popville

        • Researchers at Urban make like 40-45, so $1500 is 50% + of monthly take home. You can find group house rooms for as little as $500-600 in great neighborhoods. If your trying to save for a trip, grad school, to buy a place, that extra 6 or 7 hundred a month adds up quickly.

    • That’s nice. Are you going to help her with the rent?

  • Speaking as an introvert, the main lesson I’ve learned when looking to live in group houses is that attending open houses is a complete waste of time. The odds of making the winning impression in such a setting are ridiculously small (and that’s without even considering the possibility of implicit biases). Most of the time the room will end up going to someone with a pre-existing social connection to the house.

    Just filter out all listings with open houses and focus on the group houses that see candidates one-on-one. It will still be difficult to find housing, but you’ll save yourself a lot of time and frustration.

  • As both an applicant and a interviewer I can tell you its a dog eat dog world. It’s truly about how that person would fit into the current house dynamic. Our house was huge, 1 block from the metro and very cheap. We had over a 4 day period, 300+ applicants. We had to find someway to weed out so we’d ask weird questions. Generally the first rule was even sexes so if you’re a girl applying for a guy’s spot, you’ve already got an uphill battle (occasionally we’d pick a girl for a guy’s spot or vice versa if we felt that person fit best with the house). The key is be yourself (and honestly know that if you eccentric, you’re not likely going to get picked). The reality is the house is trying to find someone who is not going to “rock the house boat” while adding something interesting. Someone who you’ll enjoy watching evening tv with, and socializing with as well. No one wants a person who never leaves their room or never leaves the communal rooms. So, don’t take it personally. Imagine you had to draw 1 name out of a hat of 300. The odds are against you. Be yourself, be genuine, and hope that you find a good fit (or find a house for your friends to live in). I always felt incredibly lucky for landing my house. It was such a great experience, but it’s a very personal experience and fit is key when you have 5 other roommates.

    • Also, we only did 1 on 1, and up to 20 people for 1 spot. It was physically and emotionally exhausting (20 minute meeting per person all day long), but we did it because we wanted the best possible candidate for the house.

      • Yeah, open houses are the WORST…for both interviewers and interviewees. The only time we ever did one was when we had to fill a room quickly and weren’t able to coordinate schedules so that we could all be there on the several nights needed for individual interviews. But seriously, if you can’t stand out in the boatloads of applicants, the odds are against you. We once did a series of interviews and all the girls were fine, but after the whole process, we couldn’t really remember any one of them. We just reposted and did another round til we found someone we clicked with. That’s the benefit of being on the roommate end if you’ve got a decent place at a decent price in a decent location, it’s basically your pick of the litter.

    • I’ve never understood not wanting people who stay in their rooms. I mean, they stay out of your way and pay rent. It is like getting the rent money without really having to deal with a roommate. And if you’re in a group house, you’ll still have other people to hang out with if you’re extroverted. My best roommate was a girl who lived mostly with her boyfriend and when she was at our place she stayed in her room. I think I saw her twice. It was great. My other roommate and I basically had three people’s worth of space to ourselves.

      • People who stay only in their room in a group house tend to have lots of other knock-on issues associated with them that make them poor roommates. My house recently got rid of two people who stuck to their room almost exclusively. Here was their list of all their other issues:
        -Extremely socially awkward (both)
        -Creepy (the guy)
        -Disgustingly filthy (both)
        -Hoarder tendencies (both)
        -Did not contribute to cleaning the common areas because “I only stay in my room” (the female)
        -Refusal to share communal costs/improvements to the house (the female)
        -Forced people to stop using communal areas after 9pm due to hearing noise from their bedroom (the female)
        A desire to stay to one’s room is a sign that you’re not fit for a group house. It makes people treat their house like a hotel, rather a home.

    • Don’t you mean, “As both an applicant and a interviewer I can tell you its a [wet] dog eat [wet] dog world . . . “

  • I’m just saying you’re better off going it alone; what if one of these wonderful, heavenly group homes has bed bugs, (the other unknown, unmentioned roommate) then what? What if you wanted to one day say walk around nude in your home would that even be an option in a group home setting, I’m saying…

    • Right? Get a studio apartment. I just moved back from Boston, which is also STUPIDLY expensive, and I lived by myself for the first time because I couldn’t be present for group home shopping. Studios are low-maintenance because there’s little space to clean; they’re easy to decorate because there are only so many walls that need adornment. I get that you might be able to get away with paying <$1,000 for a room in a house, but at least you won't have to deal with other humans (humans, blech).

  • I find it very interesting, when ever the topic of race comes up, most of the white people I know will jump up to tell you what you are thinking, feeling, observing is wrong. It can’t be because of your race, it has to be something else. Tell that to a black person who waiting for 15 minutes to get a taxi and a white person comes by and snags one in two minutes. In the USA race is always the elephant in the middle of the room.

    • LOL! I have to agree with Anonymous. While we can’t be sure race is the cause of the OP’s issues, I wouldn’t be surprised. I remember moving to DC over 7 years ago, and going through the frantic housing search. I had a weekend to visit as many places as possible. I remember 2 occasions when great email exchanges and bubbly phone conversations were quickly forgotten when the roommates opened the door for the interview and saw my brown face. Surprise! They asked no questions and our previous jokes and stories were a distant memory. Oh well!

      Ironically, I moved into a lovely apartment with a guy and girl (both white) and lived pretty well for 3 years, so I won’t make any generalizations about “all ____ people do this or that.” I’m just happy to be living with one of my best friends from college now. Doing a housing search with random roommates is for the birds.

    • Also, the cab thing is real, y’all. That’s why I use UBER. Even had a cab driver explain to me why black people are horrible during our ride one night. That was fun.

  • albany

    As a person who has been on both sides of the process (applicant / interviewer) have you considered that it might be your profession?

    I know that when interviewing people, I immediately discounted writers, bloggers, journalists, graphic designers and other people who I speculated would work from home everyday. While working from home is pretty sweet, what I did not want in a potential roommate was someone who was home ALL THE TIME. Just a thought for such a competitive market.

    Conversely, I could not get a group spot to save my life when I was doing contract work – and would keep really irregular hours and I always thought this might have contributed.

    • Working at UI definitely is not a problem for most houses. Salary is small but sufficient to pay rent, hours are normal, and it has some good liberal cache.

      Anyone who does contract work is immediately out (too risky). People who work from home are also low on the list.

      Housing discrimination is a huge problem in group houses. Sadly, however, the author fails to identify any of them.

  • People are more prejudiced than they think they are. So there may be some racial biases interfering with your search for a spot in a group home. But having said that, DC has gotten ridiculously expensive. And I am sure that many group houses have turned into market rate or luxury rentals over the years. So there is a dwindling supply with an increasing demand – like affordable housing in general. Lots of competition means the people doing the picking can be very choosy. If there are many applicants for one spot, you can get tossed for the most trivial of reasons just because it’s an easy way to decrease the size of the pool. It’s like applying for a job in a tough market. Your outstanding resume may never get read if there is a typo in the cover letter. If the person doing the hiring has to screen 100s of resumes, one easy way to cut that number down is by tossing the people who didn’t care enough about the position to proofread their cover letter; or alternatively, who did proofread but can’t spell. Maybe the “cheerful blonde” who gave you the tour but didn’t ask any questions is a racist. Or maybe you were tour number 50 in one week and she’s just done with it. Or maybe you look way too hot and she doesn’t want the competition for attention. Or maybe you had a stain on your shirt. Who knows?

  • Do a controlled experiment with a white friend. Make up the same back story and occupation info and apply to the same houses. Then you will know.

  • Yes, getting a room in a group house can be very competitive. I recall looking at group houses thirty+ years ago and getting turned down every time. Of course, my tender years and low-paying employment weren’t helpful, but at least I didn’t have to deal with the race issue. White guy visiting houses that were invariably all white.
    [This, of course, is very ancient history, pre-CityPaper era. Anyone else remember when CityPaper was the best way to find out about group houses? That seems like ancient history, too.] In today’s Craigslist era it seems like things are just as competitive and frustrating. And this “post-racial America” is still terribly racist, with the unconscious built-in bias perhaps the most difficult to deal with since it goes mostly unrecognized. People want to feel comfortable with the people they share their homes with and most people are most comfortable with people who they perceive to be like themselves. Mostly.

    • I got my one-and-only ever group house slot via City Paper. When I called over they invited me to stop by their party that evening. We clicked right away and that was the best shared living arrangement I ever had. Later, when one of the guys moved out, we ended up picking someone we never really did click with – it was never bad, it just wasn’t good, and we regretted taking him. Certainly biases of some type may be coming into play for OP, but maybe she just hasn’t found the house whete she clicks yet.

  • In my experience, if you offered to take out the trash and shovel the sidewalk, they’d take you right quick; group house residents seem unable to take responsibility for trash and snow, so I’m sure they’d be grateful.

  • I feel your pain! From one person of color to another, you don’t want to live anywhere you are not welcomed and unfortunately that may be most of NW DC.

    • I’m not sure where you’re getting “most of NW DC” from. Maybe what you mean is something like group houses with mostly young white recent college grads in some NW DC neighborhoods which are now trendy from the perspective of mostly young white recent college grads. The OP is purporting to want to move from her current group house which she apparently shares with two other South Asian women – to another group house, and is has apparently been auditioning for this with mostly/all white householders. So while she’s apparently not been chosen — for unknown reasons — by the specific prospective housemates, that actually says very little about how welcoming entire neighborhoods and “most of NW” would be for a person of color. And I say this as a “person of color” who has lived in NW DC for several decades.

  • Very well written young lady. Unfortunately, no matter how liberal and/or progressive one might think they are, we are still do not live in a color blind/ class blind society. Bias, both conscious and conscious, are quite prevalent. Your experiences and observations give us pause and, I would argue, make us stronger and more inclined to come together. Well done.

    • justinbc

      Bias goes both ways. If you’re the kind of person who always thinks that you’re being denied because of your race, then you’re likely to continue to see things where they aren’t.

  • If you are “auditioning” for a space as one of a hundred – race probably doesn’t have much to do with it- maybe in a subtle background way – which is valid, but essentially irrelevant. One in a hundred is just crap odds.

    • What does number of applicants have to do with it? If anything, the more applicants the house has, the more comfortable they will be to reject all minorities outright to narrow their choices.

  • As the longtime DC group house resident, here are some comments to help me jog my mind and come up with something more insightful. OP, I never thought about how people of color might have a harder time applying to group houses. I’ll bet you that’s 100% the case, and wish you luck. Here are some ramblings:

    Male applicants will lose out to female applicants. Always.
    Older applicants will lose out to younger applicants. Not that a 21-year-old will always be chosen to live with a bunch of 30-year-olds. But those 30-year-olds will choose a 28-year-old over a 32-year-old every time.
    There are so many applicants for each slot that odds are slim right from the start –15 applicants within 24 hours of the craigslist post means your chance of getting the room in the first place is around 6%.

    I was ready for a change a few years back. Knew exactly what neighborhood I wanted to live in. I’m a “white guy” and was nearly 30. I lost out to younger and/or female applicants for months. I had no problem appearing more “fun, interesting, whatever” than the younger guys. There are benefits to being older, and more life experience (more to talk about, etc) is certainly one of them. But I couldn’t compete against girls younger than myself. What I finally decided was that I needed to turn the tables–rent a house, then rent out rooms myself. Best decision I ever made–instead of begging people to live with them, I got to pick and choose. Met (and lived with) a few of my best friends in the world as a result.

    There are structural problems in society. You are a hero continuing to push forward with your group house quest. Your efforts (and those of everyone else who keeps forging ahead with applications and interviews) will contribute to the general reversal of those problems. But that’s long-term. But, if you want to see success in the short term, you may have to change your approach. I can’t help you if you don’t have the cash to put down 2 months rent on a complete house. This city is a very popular place to live, and we do live in a free market. But if you can in any way swing it, rent your own house. Find your own roommates. It will be the best thing you’ve ever done. You’ll feel more “at home” since it’s “your house.” You’ll get to choose exactly who you want to live with (maybe help out a fellow person of color).

    Good luck, everyone!

  • A word to all the people who claim that the author was rejected for personality issues: even if there was a slight chance that her personality was a key factor in getting rejected, the overall issue is that her personality defect when compared with a white person who might also might not have had a great personality is lesser of an issue than her race. The all white house would be much more willing to accept the white person who is interested than the brown person because there are racial biases that do exist in decision making.
    Additionally, no where in this article does she say all white people are racist. For white people commenting on this article getting angrier at her for even saying that white privilege exists in finding housing, you are perpetuating the cycle. If you don’t have a racial bias, that’s great. Unfortunately, not everyone thinks like you. Stop trying to defend them. Talking about this is incredibly important because this will get people think about the potential of having a racial bias and perhaps even prevent them from acting on it intentionally or unintentionally.
    Last, her being a part of an all brown house isn’t the same thing as being dis-included from an all white house. There are many factors that could have led to her being in the all brown house — most relevant of which might be that she has to fit into the current system of racially biased housing in order to have a place to live. Brown girls living together in a house has no privilege or even equality as compared to an all-white girls house. A white girl doesn’t have to apologize for her culture in order to be accepted into an all brown house because she comes from the predominant culture. A POC will always be looked at as an “other” when trying to find space in an all white space.
    Understand it. Accept it. Make sure you don’t perpetuate the cycle.

  • This suggestion doesn’t address the sucky reality that you shouldn’t *have to* get creative with your searches to find a dang group house to live in, but here goes:

    I assume you’re looking for a “relatively quiet” female-only living situation? My partner used to live in a “420-friendly,” mixed-gender house, and they had a good amount of diversity* among the roommates who came and went over the five years he lived there. It may not be ideal for you, but it could be an opportunity to expand your own horizons, as well.

    *Never any Republicans, though. Funny, that.

  • I am so glad I own my own house and do not have to deal with the crap. I am saying this as a white woman, the process for shared housing is stressful, and I have been lucky enough to avoid it entirely.

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