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Everything you need to know about housing and relocation for City Year

Each year, many of our AmeriCorps members relocate to cities across the country to begin service. We know that this process of finding roommates and housing takes time, energy and careful planning. Here is some advice from an alum, Nhoell Inthavong, who moved from North Carolina to Seattle to start her City Year journey:

Something new. Something different. That’s what many of us want when we apply to serve with City Year. I was born and raised in small-town North Carolina and wanted to gain new experiences by serving somewhere completely unfamiliar to me. So, I applied to serve on the opposite side of the country!

About two weeks after my interview, I got a phone call with the exciting news that I was accepted to serve with City Year Seattle. Right after finding out, I called my dad and as thrilled as he wanted to be, he was also sad that his little girl would be moving all the way across the country. I remember telling him, “It’ll be just one year, Dad.”

City Year AmeriCorps members serving students before during and after school

Where possible, plan and save money

As weeks went by and the news started to settle in, my dad and I talked and remembered we had family who lived in Washington. Although I had only met them a few times, my dad became less worried knowing there would be some support for me on the West Coast. We contacted them and they were so kind and quick to offer their place for me to stay with them.

I thought about the money I could save and the support I would have by living with family. In the back of my mind though, I knew I wanted to be more independent. I knew I wanted the “full experience” of living with other City Year AmeriCorps members and wanted to have the freedom of exploring Seattle on my own and with new friends.

Once I made up my mind not to live with my relatives, it was all about saving money. In March, I picked up a job as a server, in addition to my two on-campus jobs. Once I graduated in May, I kept the server job and started working an Adult ESL teacher at a nonprofit organization that I had interned with previously. This allowed me to save up for my move to Seattle.

Get in touch with other AmeriCorps members in search of housing

In May, I started looking for roommates. I scoped Facebook and everyone in the City Year confirmed corps group for prospective roommates. Many of the AmeriCorps members had already committed to living with other people. But I booked my ticket to Seattle for the end of July. I knew things would work out somehow.

To make a long story short, everything worked out! I found three other City Year AmeriCorps members to live with through the Facebook group. One of them took the lead in finding an apartment for us. We sent each other places we would find online and have a four-way phone call to talk about locations, rent and other concerns we had. We settled on a four-bedroom apartment in West Seattle. When the place was officially ours, all I had to do was save my money and fly to Seattle.

Make your life easier by nailing the logistics and considering your budget

A family member picked me up at the airport and I stayed with them for the night before I moved into my apartment. Every City Year experience and housing experience is unique, but there are a few things that that may be helpful for those who are packing up their bags and flying cross-country:

  • Pack lightly: I went onto my flight with one checked bag, one carry-on, and one personal item. I really didn’t need that much. I mainly packed season-appropriate clothes and necessities like toiletries and electronics. Winter clothes, stuffed animals, picture frames and other items could wait until my dad mailed them me.
  • Look for freebies from neighbors: Many communities now have local “Buy Nothing” groups, which allow you to source items you may need from your apartment right from your new neighbors. These groups are rooted in the values of passing along items or “freecycling” that you no longer need. You can find clothes, kitchenware, tables and other furniture on these groups.
  • Buy the bigger things later: I bought a shelf and bed frame when I was in Seattle. Buying those things online is even better, especially when you only have the bus to rely on for transportation. Those big things arrive at your doorstep. What’s even better is finding free furniture. Don’t be afraid to call up a friend to help pick up that free desk on the side of the street.
  • Practice budgeting: Living on a stipend, I’m more aware of my spending limits. Budgeting is essential so you can spend your money responsibly. Each month, I know I need to pay for essentials–rent, internet, phone, etc. From there, I estimate how much I want to spend and how much I want to save. There are some things you don’t need to be spending money on so frequently. Personally, I’ve had to ask myself, “do I really need another order of French fries this week?” Being more mindful in my spending, I’ve saved up to splurge on weekend road trips with friends and treated myself to a massage on my birthday for some self-care. Those little spending and saving habits truly make a difference!

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Check out our Pre-Service Checklist for more information on preparing for the start of service.

I’m glad I chose to take the more independent route and live with other City Year AmeriCorps members. It’s allowed me to learn and explore more. Wherever you are serving during your City Year, know that it’s you who determines what your year becomes.

This post has been updated from an earlier version.

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