Where to Live for a Job at UC Berkeley

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  • Greetings, 

    We'll be relocating to the east bay this summer from Wisconsin. My husband received a fellowship for a Postdoc at CAL. I am having a really hard time finding housing since we have 2 young children. I know the market is insane there and that we will probably need to sublet and go to open houses, but does anyone have any suggestions on how to navigate finding a rental for a family. When I inquire about apartments everyone says it's "too small" for a family which I know is a way of discriminating. We are completely fine having a very small apartment space and coming from the midwest economy will not be able to afford too much. Any advice would be greatly appreciated, thank you!

    Contact a real estate agent to find you a house to rent, look on Craig's list for rentals, look in the local newspapers online, contact the UC housing office.

    HI, I am a postdoc at CAL and we were in a similar position before we moved from Miami with our baby and a slew of pets. I did not bother with craigslist posts for typical rentals and ended up finding a short term rental on sabbaticalhomes.com that worked for us, and then we found another place once we lived here. There were also a few airbnb placed I thought about. If those are too expensive though, look into the University Village. It is off campus housing for students and postdocs who are married and/or have kids. It is priced below market as far as I can tell, and located in Albany. There is a bus to campus from there. Priority is given to students, but I know several postdocs who live or lived there. Good luck!

    I am a postdoc at Berkeley and have two young children myself. Have you checked out the family housing at Berkeley? Postdocs are eligible. The prices for apartments are way under market value and include utilities. I looked into it but didn't move forward with an application because we had a dog and cat at the time. However, I heard from someone at my daycare that there are a lot of animals there. I'm not sure what to make of that but maybe the residents got emotional support designation. 


    We moved here for a postdoc @ Cal two years ago with one child (looking for a 2BR). We didn't have any trouble with people discriminating - we just found a 2BR that worked for us (750 sf) and put down the money. No need to mention that you have kids when you're looking - just say looking for a 2BR. 700-800 sf is probably typical for a 2BR, and our rent when we started was $2,600/year, though starting rents now are probably closer to $2,800 or $2,900/year for the same size. Check out Zillow (https://www.zillow.com/homes/for_rent/Berkeley-CA/16992_rid/2-_beds/0-74...) or Craigslist (https://sfbay.craigslist.org/search/eby/apa?min_bedrooms=2). I would recommend visiting for a week, going to a number of open rentals, and then putting down a deposit on the spot - owners like to see people turn up before they rent to them.

    If people are telling you the housing is too small for families, that can absolutely be discrimination. You can file a complaint with the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing, at www.dfeh.gov

    Cal has university apartments at University Village: https://housing.berkeley.edu/universityvillage. Is your husband eligible to move there? It's a pretty affordable option. We toured but they don't allow pets (besides emotional support animals).

    We have 3 children and found our rental on sabbatical homes. It helps to rent from another family.

    We have one young child and usually go to craigslist if we are looking for an apartment. A small 2 bedroom apartment in Berkeley (not super close to UCB and downtown) is mostly in the range of 2.5 - 3k a month. Albany and El Cerrito may be cheaper. You can also try to apply for the UC housing, if eligible, but the waitlist is very long.

    We ended up using a realtor to find a rental when we moved from Texas last Summer. I think we have him a % of the overall contract, I'm thinking 1% (can't remember exactly) but it was well worth it because not only did he find us a place that met our needs but also be negotiated down $200 per month.


    There are quite a few resources available to post-docs on campus and their families. A good place to start is the Visiting Scholars and Postdoc association (VSPA). On that site there is a link for local resources (https://vspa.berkeley.edu/housing-and-accommodations).  This is where people post listings specific for the University. You can also get on the lottery for the Family housing units. 

    Best of luck!


    Have you checked into married student housing/University Village through the university?  You'll be in small quarters with lots of other student and post-doc families, but that means you'll quickly get to know a bunch of people and their kids.  I'm guessing lots of families will be moving at the end of spring semester


    Stop telling them you have a kid. I'm dead serious. I know you're from the midwest, but you have to just ... leave some information out. I feel for you. 

    We found Sabbaticalhomes.com to be helpful as there is less competition and you usually deal directly with the homeowners. Good luck!

    When we were looking for rentals 7 years ago I felt like, as a family, we were given preference over whoever else was looking.
    Maybe things have changed, or maybe you should reassure them you are really ok with renting a small space.
    Also try university village, which is family housing run by UC.
    My guess is that a small house a little further from campus may be cheaper than apartments close to campus that cater to students.

    If your spouse is a post doc at Cal, then if there is a vacant unit, University Village in Albany is available for family housing for post docs. I have known several moms who either had a post doc or a spouse with a post doc and lived there.  There is a list that is specifically circulated for people connected with Cal who are offering rentals.

    I would definitely start with these options first. But it is good you start now, as the students moving should open things up a bit. 

    Good luck!


    We may have a rental for your family. It depends how much you can afford and for how long. We actually have a 3 bedroom house in a beautiful area of N. Oakland. We may have it rented to some friends, but if not, I thought I would contact you as I know it can be so difficult.  You can email me at nrwconsulting [at] gmail.com if you haven't found anything.  

    The law is 2+1 so for every bedroom you can have 2 people plus 1.  A one bedroom apartment can have 3 people. A 2 bedroom apartment can have 5 people.  They can NOT discriminate against children in standard housing. The laws are actually quite strict.  I had someone try to tell me that I couldn't rent a one bedroom with my partner because it was too small and I politely but firmly explained there are strict laws that guide that and it's not a matter of random opinion and they immediately realized they were in the wrong back peddled. Of course it may not be the way your want to begin your rental relationship but honestly don't put up with that kind of illegal behavior, it's just offensive. 

    Other than that, I wish I could help with your situation but I don't have any tips except to be firm and know when the law is on your side.


    It will be hard to find something long distance.  There are so many people looking during this time of year that people calling and wanting to rent something sight unseen fall to the very bottom of the consideration list, and are often not taken seriously.  Things will improve if you are here and able to look in person.  It will also be hard to rent a 1BR with 2 kids - is that what you're trying to do?  As another poster pointed out, the law is 2 people per bedroom + one, but most landlords try to have the minimum rather than the maximum for occupancy, for wear and tear issues.  I'm not sure what your price range is or how old your kids are, but I'd suggest scooting into El Cerrito or Richmond North & East, which will give you more space for your money.  The university/graduate housing options are great, too.  Good luck!

    You can try posting a message on https://nextdoor.com/...

  • Hello Everyone!

    I am in the final stages of interviews for a position at UCB and I trying to get a head start on possible neighborhoods that are safe, affordable and relatively child friendly.  It seems as though Bay Area rents will blow my NYC housing expenses out of the water.  I am bit anxious since we'll be living on my salary until my husband finds a job out there.     Any recommendations for places that are at most about 30-45 minutes away from UCB that are friendly for a toddler and has a somewhat neighborhood vibe where one doesn't need a car to get around?  Any info on pricing would also be great.  It seems as though it's impossible to get a 2 bedroom for less than 3k.   Maybe I'm looking for a unicorn.  While I have loved my visits to the Bay Area, I fear we may be priced out!

    Hi, sorry to hear about your situation. I think you've discovered the reality of housing in the Bay Area, especially close to either San Francisco, or to Berkeley. There aren't other places like them, and housing prices reflect that. As you go farther out, the need for a car only increases. The surrounding communities largely "grew up" when living "in the city" could seem a more frightening prospect (for a variety of reasons); cars become necessary (although, schools are sometimes excellent). It used to be more affordable, but "boring", to go "over the hill" and commute (think: Lafayette, mortgage, Orinda , even concord, Danville...). Housing prices in a couple of those areas may be lower, but again you'd need a car, and spend a lot of time commuting. (Not sure about "boring" but don't want to venture a guess!)

    What folks suggest these days is usually Richmond, as far as relative proximity and possibly better housing prices  specifically, the Richmond Annex, or Pt. Richmond  again you'd need a car unless you were right on the BART tracks.  And Richmond schools are known to be rather poor.

    as a public service employer we've had candidates turn down jobs due to housing prices  I hope that doesn't happen for you.  Housing around / in Berkeley is easily $3K - $5K for a 2-3 bedroom.  Good luck.

    Congrats!!! And welcome to Bay Area.

    You can stay in Albany for sure, or in North Berkeley or El Cerrito, Kensington.

    you can rent 2 bed for under 3K depends on the property status.

    You might want to check out Emeryville. It's a 10-15 drive to UCB and there's a few buses that go that way. The apartment I'm at, Avenue 64, has 2 bedrooms around or just below the 3K range. There's a pool, workout room, and the apartments are pretty big. The neighborhood is pretty nice, there's quite a few things within walking distance, restaurants, a trader joes, a few shopping malls, even IKEA. Good luck!

    You can't beat El Cerrito for affordable housing, great views, friendly people, lots of parks, and great public transportation (two BART stations and buses that run right to UCB.

    El Cerrito would be good. BART from El Cerrito Plaza to Downtown Berkeley is only about 6 minutes. You should be able to find a 2-bedroom for less than 3K within walking distance of a BART station (El Cerrito has two BART stations). The flat part of El Cerrito is very walkable, with parks, pool, library, Well Grounded and other food/beverage options....The public schools are just fine and there are several private pre-school options as well. Albany is just as good as far as walkability but is not as affordable and not as close to BART.

    We live in El Cerrito and I work at UCB. I usually bike to work, which takes 35-45 minutes and is an awesome bike ride, and usually the fastest way to get to campus, door-to-door from where I live (1.5 miles to BART) and where I work (1 mile from BART). Our neighborhood has become very kid friendly in the last few years. We have a 2.5 and 5 year old, and many neighbors have kids similar in age and younger. There are two BART stations in El Cerrito, but I think rents are higher the closer you are to the stations, and frankly, the city is not as old and charming as most parts of Berkeley and Oakland, and not quite as walkable (it has a more suburban feel with very few street trees). Still, we and plenty of families in our neighborhood, do quite well without a car. We have a car, but we really only use it on weekends to get out of town. El Cerrito is a very safe and well-run city making massive investments in parks, public infrastructure, and smart growth.

    I would certainly try to get as close to UCB as you can.

    One thing we discovered was that it was much easier to find a place when you are already living here, and you might consider a sublet (look on Sabbatical Homes) -- sometimes when the right tenant doesn't pop up during the right time frame the owners are willing to cut a deal. Then, once you have a base of operations, you can be aggressively looking for something permanent, get there first, etc.

    This is what we did. We also found that by making friends with our neighbors and putting the word out, we got a rental house that never even made it to the market!

    I would personally pick a transitional part of Berkeley before I'd go way out in the sticks. The public trans here is fab and there's so much for kids, plus SF is near. You might find something in Point Richmond or Albany. Montclair, a bit dull but safe and walkable, is very central and seems to have lower rents than the more hip parts of Oakland. Lafayette, a bit further out, is not without charm and is on a BART line. I personally couldn't bear San Leandro -- it doesn't feel enough like the Bay Area, and the whole point of moving here will have been kind of ruined.

    I personally feel like Berkeley is paradise, and you happen to have gotten a job at the epicenter. Before you assume that you're going to have to settle for some 'burb, try your hardest to find something closer in.

    I love San Leandro! It is just south of Oakland on the Bay. I'm 17 miles door to door from my job in North Berkeley, and if I needed to, I can easily do BART and a bus to work. It's probably one of the best kept secrets in the Bay Area. 

    If you try padmapper.com, you can see that there are houses for rent under your $3000 per month budget and some rather cute ones (I just checked, saw a couple cute 2 and 3 bedroom houses in nice neighborhoods).

    Our neighborhood is very kid friendly, and I find our neighbors are friendly, engaging, and welcoming. I told realtors when I interviewed them that I wanted to find a neighborhood where I felt safe pushing a stroller around on a walk. I definitely feel that here. We have some really nice parks and cafes and restaurants. 

    Depending on when you commute, and where you are going, you will likely be in the 30-45 minute range, but we think it's worth it. 

    It's ok to contact me if you'd like a friendly tour of our town. 

    Try San Leandro or Castro Valley

    Thanks Everyone for the responses!  I've already started to look at a couple of those neighborhoods and will do some more digging.  Just thinking about the moving has left us both anxious.   We have a car now (my husband needs it for work), and we've talked about getting another one, but I don't drive often so I'm not that comfortable driving.  

    I live in El Cerrito and many of my neighbors commute to Cal, most of them by BART (2 stops) or bike. Our public school (Fairmont) serves parts of EC and Richmond Annex; it is a fine option. You can rent a 2 bd for around $2000 in the Annex, and a 3 bd should be under $3000 in EC/Annex area. With a toddler, you're looking for preschool and it can be hard in Berkeley/Albany to find one with space midyear. Some ppl recommended Point Richmond, I don't feel like that's a great option since there is no BART access to the rest of the Bay Area plus it's hilly which is hard with a stroller. It is true that San Leandro is much more suburban in flavor than Berkeley/Oakland but who knows, maybe you're fine with that. As somebody suggested, I think it's a great idea to look for a short term rental first and then explore the East Bay more.

    There are some great suggestions here already. I wanted to add that it's a good idea to check with the local rent board (Berkeley has a good one) before signing your lease. That way you know if the place is rent controlled, i.e. if your rent will basically stay the same or go way up. Good luck with the transition, and congratulations on your new job.

Archived Q&A and Reviews


    Looking for a good neighborhood for a job at UC Berkeley

    June 2014

    I am planning to accept a position at UC Berkeley and trying to sort out where I should be looking to live with my wife and 9 year old daughter. We will be moving long distance to the bay area. I have some must haves, and some nice to haves and I'm hoping someone can help me understand the tradeoffs for different areas and which I should not consider at all.

    Must Haves: Safe neighborhood Good School Less than 45 minute commute to campus via car At least 2 bedrooms Sub $2500 rent

    Nice to Haves: Less than 30 minute commute to campus via car 3+ bedrooms Sub $2000 rent Townhouse or Single Family Home

    I know I can't have all the nice to haves, but is it possible to have any of them given my must haves? I have been reading the other recommendations, some appear to be a little older. But I am thinking that Walnut Creek, Emeryville or San Leandro might be good places to look, but I'm not entirely sure about commute times. Thanks very much for having us in this community and for any advice you can offer.

    I live in Lafayette and I love it here! It's only a short drive through the caldacot tunnel to Berkeley and we have some of the best schools in California! For $2500 you could rent a small two bedroom home, it's more like $3000 for a three bedroom. It's very safe here and friendly and is well worth the expense.

    If you're looking in Walnut Creek it's a little further out from Berkeley, maybe 30-40 minutes commute with traffic. Only 15 minute commute without. Make sure you look at the Walnut Creek school district area, not Mt Diablo school district which is also in walnut creek but is a much larger school district. There are a few elementary schools in Walnut Creek school district that are great such as Buena Vista Elementary and Parkmead Elem. You should look at greatschools.com to read the reviews on the school that your considering putting your child in before renting a home there. Best of luck! Alicia

    A lot of my answer to your question will depend on how you define 'safe.' Do you mean generally safe, but with a fair amount of crime (most of Emeryville) or downright safe, like you can walk around at night without a concern (most of Walnut Creek)? A commute from Walnut Creek to UCB (depending of course, on how far you are from the freeway in WCR) will take about 30 minutes without traffic. Good luck with your search

    You could consider Moraga or Lafayette. Moraga is semi-rural. Lafayette is more happening. If you are willing to do a 2BR townhouse you might be able to get one for $2500 or less and the best place to see if that is true at this point in time is to check craigslist. The schools are very good, and closer commute to Berkeley than Walnut Creek. anon

    Hi I recommend you look hard at Albany. The houses are small and pricey for the size because the schools are good. Plus the community has a lot available. The Albany YMCA runs a headstart program and after school care for school age kids. They also run a full summer camp schedule, a youth in government program and model UN for high school aged kids. The community is civic minded, the school district is good and well run. Albany is safer than many other areas close by. No one is truly 'safe' from crime in the Eastbay. We are too close to areas of high unemployment. It's common to have your car stolen. your bicycles stolen, and your house broken into. Join a neighborhood association when you move. Your neighbors can help you figure things out. You are safe on the street, walking to school or the library. Its a wonderful place to live - it's just an urban area with all the good (theater, diversity, restaurants, culture) and the bad that implies. long time resident

    Try Lamorinda . The small towns of Lafayette, Orinda, and Moraga (Lamorinda) are beautiful, safe and have excellent schools. Walnut Creek is also safe and has great schools. WC is larger and is a little farther from Berkeley. You can check school ratings on the greatschools website.

    Depending on the time of day, the commute can be long or short. Commuters have to drive though a tunnel which is stop-and-go traffic at peak times. Alternately, you can take BART from these towns to UC Berkeley.

    Moraga has many rentals, and it is definitely possible to find a 2+ bedroom rental between $2k - $2.5k per month. Craigslist is a great way to find a rental. Good luck!

    You should check out El Cerrito . Much closer to UC than Walnut Creek and San Leandro, and safer and cheaper than Emeryville. Don't know much about the schools in those areas but I think El Cerrito schools are pretty good- some better than others, of course (Madera is considered to be a great school, Harding and Fairmont both have good reputations, and parts of El Cerrito go to the adjacent town of Kensington, which I hear is excellent). We rent a 3 bdrm house with a great yard for less than $1800 (this is probably a little lower than the norm but I know of several others who also rent great houses for less than $2k). It's about 20min to UC driving through town. It's safe and very family friendly and has a small town feeling, which is cool. Main drawback is there are very few good restaurants around here! (It's the only thing I miss from our old neighborhood in N. Oakland.) anon

    Definitely look into Alameda. It's a nice, safe, family-oriented city. Rentals are hard to come by, but it wouldn't hurt to look.

    Since you'll be working at Berkeley, you should check out Cal Rentals. They actually have people you can talk to about finding places/communities to live: http://calrentals.housing.berkeley.edu

    I work on campus and live in El Cerrito , and it's a very family-friendly community (good schools*, great community center/pool) and a 20-25 minute surface street commute (plus there are two BART stations and buses) to campus, and you could probably rent a house for your budget. It can get a little boring here, but it's not too far from Berkeley and San Francisco. We have a few good restaurants, a farmer's market, an off- the-grid night, a movie theater that serves pizza and beer and first-run movies, and the best damn hardware store (Pastime).

    (*All the k-6 schools are good, and your kid will be assigned to your neighborhood school; whatever Bay Area community you decide on, visit the school district website to check out the boundary maps. You can also check all California school statistics here: http://www.cde.ca.gov/ta/ac/ap/.) Good luck on your move

    I read all the responses about areas with good neighborhoods and a reasonable commute to Berkeley. Lots of people commented on the safety and nice neighborhoods in Walnut Creek, Lafayette, Orinda and Moraga. I can't add anything to that-- they are all excellent areas, have absolutely beautiful hillsides, hiking only minutes away, top schools, safe neighborhoods, etc. Both my kids got excellent educations and got into elite universities coming from the local public school system.

    People commented on the commute to Berkeley from various towns in the east bay. I have been commuting from Lafayette to Berkeley for work for 15+ years. Here's what I want to add that I didn't see in any comments: the commute from Lafayette to Berkeley is 22 minutes door to door for me and is an absolutely breath-taking drive and one that I look forward to. On more than one occasion I have pulled over to take a photo of the views with my iPhone. I have a very short drive via highway from Lafayette to Fish Ranch Road. Then I either go Grizzly Peak or Fish Ranch road over the hill into Berkeley. Driving from El Cerrito to Berkeley through stop lights and traffic may take the same amount of time, but wouldn't be the same type of commute. The commute rarely takes me more than 25 minutes, no matter what the time of day. barbara