The Reality of Every Craigslist Housing Ad in Portland

For every reason one has for moving to Portland, there's an equal and opposite reason why you should NOT move here. Take our rental market, for example. With the lowest vacancy rate in the country, finding a half-decent place to live here that isn't a literal closet is an abject nightmare. Sure, the city is filled with cute purple bungalows with goats in the backyard, but the chances of actually landing a spot in one of them is nil at this point. Other options exist, but as you'll learn from spending any time scrolling through Craigslist, every ad looks like one of these below, and they're all terrible for their own uniquely Portland reasons. But hey, it beats wherever you're from in the Midwest, right?

$275 - Awesome bungalow in SE! Pets/couples/420 welcome! NO DEPOSIT - (SE Portland)
The appeal: After a summer spent following Dave Matthews Band, you and your boyfriend decide to put down some roots. You hear Portland is cool and that Southeast is where it's at. No one tells you just how big that quadrant is, so you go for the first place that's willing to take in the two of you and the giant dog you picked up off the side of the road somewhere in Humboldt County. You assume it's chill because it's 420 friendly. And it's so damn cheap!

The reality: After a 20-minute drive down Foster, you start to wonder if the house you're looking for also has a unicorn in the front yard -- it's gotta be too good to be true, right? You read a sign that says "ROADWAY NOT IMPROVED" right before your car goes nose-first into a massive drainage ditch in the middle of the road. The house doesn't have a unicorn in the yard, but it has a pretty impressive boat out front!

The final straw: You take in your surroundings before knocking on the front door to get a better read on the neighborhood. It doesn't portray the classic symptoms of being a rough neighborhood per se, but the trash bags blacking out the windows are probably not a great sign. The owner finally opens the door and asks what you think about "felony flats," and you're not sure if you're supposed to laugh. You shake his hand and tell him you'll be in touch when he asks you how many months you'd like to pay for up front, in cash.

$500 - Old-school indie dudes seek rockin' roomie (Upper Division)
The appeal: The ad promises a haven for aspiring musicians, complete with a drum kit in the basement, a garage for motorcycle tinkering, and off-street parking for your old cargo van. Before showing you the room, the guy gives you a tour of the house, and mesmerizes you with origin stories of the various artifacts strewn about the place that he acquired when he "toured with Jonestown" in the late '90s. Judging by the heaps of broken guitars and empty PBR cans in the living room, these guys are obviously the real deal.

The reality: It's been three months since you moved in, and that same stack of PBR cans in the living room is still teetering back and forth. You feel bad stepping on toes and asking people to clean up, but the fact that you're the youngest person in the house at the spry age of 30 makes you wonder how these guys even function in the real world, which is far, far away from this place.

The final straw: The landlord -- who everyone swore up and down was "super-mellow" -- serves the house with an eviction notice for non-payment of rent. You wonder where the master tenant collecting everyone's rent got the scratch to buy a new Fender Jazzmaster, which now makes a lot of sense. The gang throws one last house show -- members of The Dandy Warhols and The Wipers will be there, according to the flier -- to wreck the place before the landlord tears it down and turns it into condos. An old Utz pretzel jar is passed around to collect donations for the first person in the house to need dialysis, which is a sad, foregone conclusion at this point.

$1,200 - Charming studio in historic building - close to everything! (Alphabet District)
The appeal: You and your girlfriend of six months are getting sick of your respective house share situations, so you decide it's both economical and romantic to finally take the plunge into cohabitation. You'd rather not move to the west side, but the way she longingly describes the building's "rustic charm" (rickety scaffolding) makes it hard to refuse. There's also a Trader Joe's within walking distance, which is nice.

The reality: Despite the landlord's "strictly enforced" no pets policy, the ragged carpet in the hallway always smells like cat pee. And curry. And stale cigarette smoke. The retro callbox out front only works with local numbers -- which neither of you have -- so you give up altogether on ordering delivery or having guests... as if there'd be anywhere for them to sit amongst your pile of guitar amps and your girlfriend's failed Etsy projects, anyways.

The final straw: The nightly headache of looking for a parking spot and avoiding puddles of barf left on your sidewalk by 20-something bros who party hard on NW 21st reminds you: didn't you move to Portland because it seemed like a place with ample parking and vomit-free sidewalks? You consider introducing the idea of moving out to take a breather, but your girlfriend informs you, out of the blue, that she's defecting to France to learn how to be a classically trained papier mâché artist before you even have the chance.

$700 - Sunny attic in lively Burner house - good vibes only! (NE Alberta)
The appeal: You had such an amaaaaaazing time at Burning Man last summer, and wish the experience would never end, so why not live with kindred spirits keeping the dream alive 365 days a year?

The reality: You fancied yourself a free spirit relative to your normie friends with day jobs and mortgages, but your devotion to the Burner life is called into question when you move in with a clique of diehards whose knowledge of crystals (and access to their parents' credit cards) is far deeper than yours. You know for certain that, with the exorbitant cost of your rooms, there's no way any of these people are making ends meet by sharpening knives or teaching yoga five hours a week.

The final straw: The wake of patchouli stench from the endless influx of couchsurfers en route to events with names like "Incantation" and "Elevation" takes its toll on your output of solely good vibes. Things come to a head when an ex-frat dude turned nudist dirt-twirler starts playing Jack Johnson covers at your weekly drum circle. You gladly oblige when the gang asks you to take your negative energy elsewhere.

$450 - HUGE room in a groovy multi-generational house - CLOSE IN!! (SE Portland)
The appeal: The promise of a funky craftsman with a "quick walk" to bars, shops, a New Seasons, and the Willamette River is pretty enticing for only $450 per month with no lease or deposit. You're not entirely sure what "groovy multi-generational house" means, but it can't possibly be worse than living with a bunch of 22-year-olds who still think it's funny to blast one another with the fire extinguisher at 3am every Friday night, which is what you're putting up with now.

The reality: The house is indeed picturesque, and only four blocks from the Willamette... but it's all the way in Sellwood. You soon find out that "groovy" and "multi-generational" is a reference to the negligent ex-hippy divorcee proprietor of the place, who allows your other roommate -- her teenage son -- to act like a maniac at all times.

The final straw: After politely asking the kid to stop stealing your smokes and drinking all your coconut water, you tell his mom about his bad habits in hopes of recourse. Something. Anything. She disciplines him by revoking access to the brand new Toyota Tacoma his absentee father got him for his 16th birthday, to which he retaliates by stealing your wallet, hacking your car2go account, and crashing a smart car into the front window of an Arby's in Milwaukie. You quietly disappear in the middle of the night, more bummed about Arby's being closed than any other outcome of the scenario.

$400 - Up wit tha punx! DIY info shop/co-op room available next month - (Kenton)
The appeal: You miss the basement-show scene of your college town. You'll be too old to live in a ratty old punk house within a couple years, so you leap at your last chance to get involved again. Rent is cheap, and it's near a MAX stop, so you're willing to overlook the structural flaws of the house.

The reality: Nobody's quite sure who's on the lease, and you find out the dude whose room you took over was on tour when you moved in and had no idea he was being kicked out. He sleeps in a tent in the backyard until someone else rotates out, which you start to envy when the house shakes violently every time one of the 12 tenants engages in coitus.

The final straw: The weekly Food Not Bombs meeting quickly digresses into a boozy shitshow when a member of Dear Landlord stops through on the northwestern leg of his solo tour. Cans of PBR are emptied out all over the kitchen and living room until the whole scene resembles a crusty Def Leppard video, complete with pit bulls and way too much denim. You wonder how safe of a "safe space" the place really is when someone falls through the living room floor and onto the silk screen press you've been fixing up since you moved in.

$300 - Group home for students - females preferred - close to Belmont/Hawthorne (Sunnyside)
The appeal: Things didn't go as planned with the guy you moved to Portland to be with, so you need a cheap place ASAP. You're no longer a student, but you're capable of faking it. You've heard cheap places still exist in the desirable part of Southeast if you still look hard enough -- this might be your lucky day!

The reality: What the ad actually means by "females preferred" is that the landlord -- a creepy, mustachioed 55-year-old named Ron who actually lives in the house -- is trying to turn the place into a harem stocked with young ladies naive enough to think living in the Belmont/Hawthorne area for $300/month is an attainable dream. If you're thinking you've seen an adult film that starts off like this, you probably have -- and so has Ron.

The final straw: Ron comes home from Fred Meyer one summer day and asks you to help unload some "groceries" from his van, which is nothing but two inflatable kiddie pools and 200 packets of jello mix. You notice several empty bottles of rosé on the floor of Ron's van and decide on the spot that now's a better time than any to make a break for it.

$400 - Vegan community houseshare co-op micro-farm/urban retreat (Cully)
The appeal:
You're a vegan who's tired of living with omnivores who won't stop using your cookware to sear animal flesh for their own misguided nutritional goals. You kvetch in the "Portland Vegans" Facebook group regularly -- even if it's egregiously off-topic -- so you may as well enjoy the company of some of these folks IRL, right?

The reality: You start to regret answering the ad when you see that the house takes the "community" thing VERY seriously. The programmer who's lived in the house for three years created an app that allows everyone in the house to vote on EVERY house decision. You're constantly being pinged with nonsense about whether the door should be kept closed so that ants don't get in, which always ends in a state of gridlock driven by misguided altruism. It's cold out there, man -- you don't want those ants to freeze to death, do you?

The final straw: You pour a cold one into one of the house pint glasses after work and get smacked in the face with a dank, sour smell as you raise it to take the first sip. You take out your phone and find that everyone's decided (without your vote) that they're only using vinegar to clean things from now on. Discouraged, you crack open the freezer to grab that Amy's burrito you've been jonesing for all afternoon, and realize it's been thrown away because plastic packaging is also now banned. Like it would've mattered anyways -- your microwave was voted off the island long ago.

$800 - Conveniently located luxury apartment for working professionals - completely furnished (Lloyd District)
The appeal: You're an adult now with a real job and are finally ready to move out of the flophouse for wayward 20-somethings you've been living in for years. The chasm between prices on a room in a house versus a studio is still insurmountable, so you opt for a bedroom in a shared apartment that's being posted by a guy who claims to be gone 90% of the time. The Lloyd District is pretty weird, but it's close to stuff, and the price is right.

The reality: You're never given a key -- the front door has one of those keyless coded entry locks -- and you pay your rent every month via PayPal to some nebulous entity called VECTOR HOLDINGS, INC. You hear whirring and clicking behind the dead-bolted door of your "roommate's" room, but you have not met him or her (or it?) once. It's basically like living alone, which is great, so you don't ask questions. You wouldn't know who to contact, even if you did.

The final straw: You come home from work one day to a SWAT team turning the place upside down. They ignore you and kick in the door to the other bedroom, which happens to be hosting an elaborate array of server racks and monitors. It turns out your "roommate" is a wanted cybercriminal who's been using this remote setup to mine Bitcoin and fund an illegal human organ-trading business on the dark web. You're appalled at first, then incredibly bummed that you'll probably have to cough up $1,200 for a one bedroom that's NOT a den of anonymous Internet evil like everyone else.

$725 - QUIET grad student housing - near OHSU, PSU, NCNM - (Lair Hill)

The appeal: You moved to Portland to go to grad school, and you're having a really hard time getting shit done living on the east side where all the fun is. The potential of walking to school is clutch, as is the promise of a quiet work environment.

The reality: Things at the house are quiet... perhaps a little too quiet. Your new roommate -- a frazzled third-year med student at OHSU -- sends you passive-aggressive texts about how you're making too much noise when you walk around your room. What's weirder is you've only seen him once, and you can't even remember his name.

The final straw: You start to get stir-crazy on the Hill, and attempt to go out with some friends for happy hour on a Friday. You get lost leaving your apartment and end up stuck in traffic on Barbur Blvd for an hour. You come home tipsy around midnight with a bag of Doritos in hand and get a text from your roommate 10 minutes later that he can hear you chewing. You frantically awake in the night thinking someone (or something) is watching you sleep.

$375 - Sick of your neighbors? Try #boatlife! - (The Columbia River)
The appeal: It seems like every place you've lived is within 100ft of some busybody who can't stop leaving notes about benign bullshit on your car or front door. You've always wondered what those people on the river by the I-5 overpass leading into Vancouver are up to -- plus, there's a Hooters and a Walmart right there, so it can't be that terrible...

The reality: On the spectrum of divorced-dad living situations, it turns out that living on a boat is just two clicks away from living in grandma's basement with a waterbed and a Rush poster over it. The guy who owns the place won't stop making jokes about inviting the Hooters servers over for skinny-dipping in the Columbia, and he's somehow convinced himself that a youngster like you is capable of acting as wingman to bring about such a situation. You moved in hoping the hipster diaspora from inner Portland created a gentrified houseboat community. But we're not quite there yet.

The final straw: You wake up from seasickness in the middle of the night and find out your greatest fear -- being set adrift in the Columbia when your roommate gives up on life and unplugs from "civilization" -- has finally come true. You've only made it to Troutdale, luckily, so you swim to shore and have some pie at Shari's before catching the 20 bus back to civilization.

Free! - Live in a van down by the river - (Anywhere)
The appeal: You've considered moving to Portland for a few months now, but are worried your communications degree and measly three years of experience at a shitty second-wave coffee shop won't give you any substantial leg up in the job market. Rather than slowly blowing your savings on any of the terrible situations like the ones above, you have the brilliant idea of living in a decrepit Ford Econoline you see on the lot at a sketchy buy here/pay here operation across from a plasma clinic in Gresham. Rent is free, you're all by yourself, and you can live anywhere you want!

The reality: A 60sqft "studio" with no amenities and blacked-out windows drives you nuts a lot faster than you expected. The daily motivation of actually working out at the gym for shower access is a nice side effect, but you start to wonder what the point of smelling good is when you know for a fact that you're 100% undateable.

The final straw: The birds that are building a nest on your roof keep waking you up, so you finally snap and jump out of the van in the middle of the night to chase them away. Your "neighbor" sees you screaming at birds like a lunatic and calls the cops. You make a break for it and find a different place across town to cool your heels, but that's a long drive when you have to reckon with the fact that you're a grown-ass man who thought it would be a novel idea to try the life of a hobo in Portland.

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Pete Cottell is a freelance journalist/barista who may or may not be living in a van in front of your house in Southeast Portland. Follow his adVANtures at @Vanifestdestiny.