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After topping Lonely Planet’s Best in the US, hosting the Pope in October and co-starring in “Creed,” Philadelphia is once again in the national spotlight. For City Year Philadelphia’s AmeriCorps members, it is simply home.

One of the most common questions incoming AmeriCorps members have is how to afford rent in Philadelphia on a budget, according to Theresa Ehrenreich, the Senior Admissions Manager of City Year's Mid-Atlantic region.

"We try our best to provide an outline of upfront costs (rent, utilities, etc.) with the incoming Corps. We also share that living in Philadelphia can often provide free or inexpensive fun things to do in their spare time. We are a really affordable city," said Ehrenreich, who served in Philadelphia in 2006-2007.

Her office receives questions about things like where corps members live, how much they pay per month and how many roommates they have. With over 200 people serving this year, there are no definitive answers to these questions.

A recent Philadelphia AmeriCorps member survey revealed that the average rent is around $450 and the average commute is between 30 and 60 minutes for the current Corps. Below are a few examples of how our Corps members make living on a stipend work. 

The City Commuter
Sam Fischer, for instance, lives in the Powelton Village area of West Philadelphia with a friend from high school who is not in the Corps.

The first-year AmeriCorps member has a 40 minute commute to his school, G.W. Childs Elementary in South Philly. He enjoys the comfort of his neighborhood. “It's got a suburban feel to it so it feels like I'm kind of leaving the city a little,” said Fischer. “Being farther away, having space is a good thing.”

Fischer, who went to college in Washington State, also enjoys the trees, safety and quiet that his neighborhood affords. He admits that paying rent is tough but manageable. “It’s tough. I’m kind of at the limit of how much rent I can pay on this stipend,” he said.

The One-Subway-Stop Neighbor
Unlike Fischer, Chelise Junior has a short and easy commute from her apartment by Temple University to Bethune Elementary School in North Philly. “Where I live at is next to a bus, trolley and subway so if I miss one I take another,” said Junior. “The commute is no longer than fifteen minutes.” Living near SEPTA public transit stops is something most Corps members consider.

Junior said that living in the community she serves adds to her experience, “I’m very aware of the area where my students live and the issues they face. It helps me understand where they’re coming from.”

A Detroit-native, Junior used a Facebook group set up by City Year Philadelphia to find other Corps members as roommates. They then used websites like Zillow and Craigslist to find their apartment.

The Suburbanite
Some AmeriCorps members choose the comfort and benefits of living at home if possible. Micaela Malachowski, a first-year corps member at G.W. Childs Elementary, lives in the Philly suburbs by King-of-Prussia with her family.

She said not having to pay rent is “a huge blessing” and she also gets to see her friends and family more often than if she lived in the city.

She acknowledged that commuting from home leads to earlier mornings and later evenings, but it also helps her budget. “I don't have to pay for any of the ‘adult’ things that I would have to pay for if I lived on my own, so I'm able to save up my stipend,” she said.

Many of the communities outside of the city’s limits are connected by SEPTA’s regional rail lines, a staple for most area commuters.

By Justin Lesko, City Year Philadelphia AmeriCorps Member

The work of Justin and his team at Mary McLeod Bethune Elementary School is made possible by Program Sponsor, Ballard Spahr LLP.

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