Persistently homeless

A third apartment (65 Robert St, in the Golden Triangle area) has gone to someone who submitted an application first. This time, it was especially galling. The landlord refused to give it to me until I paid the first and last month’s rent in the form of a cashier’s cheque. It took some scrambling to get that much money together at short notice. Still, I managed to get it together this morning, called the man, and learned that he rented the apartment yesterday to someone who paid in cash.

Perhaps it was for the best. The man was extremely irritable and aggressive and, as such, might not have been somebody who I wanted to deal with on a regular basis for a year or more. Still, it is a shame to lose such a well situated possibility.

Cognitive maps

Ottawa ducklings

When you first begin to learn the geography of a place, it exists in your mind in the form of a set of very limited spatial relationships: X is west of Y, following A street will lead you to B, landmark C is to the north of town. The really disconcerting phase is not at the beginning, but at the point where you start to understand how previously seperate connections are actually interlinked. You realize that the passage between places D and E can also be an expedited route between F and G, and that place H (which you had never associated with place I), is actually right beside it.

This is the stage that I have reached for Ottawa, largely on account of a week’s worth of intense apartment hunting. Soon, I will actually have a comprehensive understanding of the spatial geography of the downtown region. That is the point, more or less, when it becomes defensible to think of oneself as a resident.

Minimum desperation bed-to-work interval

Government waffle

Ottawa has excellent transit. This fact was well demonstrated this morning, when I learned that a cell phone alarm clock set to 6:40pm will not in fact ring at 6:40am. At 8:07am, I was curiously peering over at the clock from bed. At 9:00am, I was sitting at my desk with a cup of coffee: showered and dressed in appropriate attire. I was lucky with some bus connections but, even so, it was a fairly impressive feat of rapid recovery from an error. Along with the Monday post, this should be pretty good evidence that my mind is utter mush in the very early morning.

In any case, I may have a good flat in an excellent location as of tomorrow evening, though I would not be moving in until the 1st. Once it has something in it beside bare wooden floors, fellow Ottawa residents (Ottawagians?) will be invited for tea.

15km house hunting march

Rideau Canal, Ottawa

Today brought more apartment hunting. I saw one place that was nice, but ridiculously far west, overpriced, and noisy. It was west of work, which is itself west of the interesting parts of the city. The second was a furnished bachelor that I didn’t much like the look of; sleeping on a sofa bed for a year is probably not a good idea for those who care about their spines. The third place was a dingy cave of a basement near the University of Ottawa: huge, but dark and poorly maintained. Finally, I had a look at a place on Robert St, in an area called the Golden Triangle. The apartment itself is a somewhat small, somewhat awkwardly shaped, and up two flights of narrow stairs. The location, by contrast, is excellent. It’s a bit far from work, but right beside the canal in an upscale part of town. Elgin Street (an interesting commercial street with restaurants and such) is close at hand. Cycling to work would probably take about forty minutes, and could be done along two really nice bicycle paths.

Today also brought a target of opportunity: somewhere not on the master list I have been carrying around, but advertised in a nice looking window. On the way to the expensive place, I passed a nice looking ground floor apartment on Booth St. It is extremely close to work, though there are noise and security issues involved in being on the first story of a house right beside a major street. I am having a look right after work tomorrow, at which point I think I will decide between the Booth St and Robert St options. Both are available immediately, and I am loathe to lose a third place to a more immediately decisive renter.

It will be good to finally have a semi-permenant base of operations.

The envelopes and minutes that matter

Ottawa government buildings

Today I learned for sure that someone else got the best apartment I have seen so far. It was the people who were leaving it just as I arrived to see it. No matter, because I found a less good but entirely acceptable place on Chapel Street, near Rideau. I submitted my application and then learned that someone else had already done so. There is some chance I will get this new place, but it seems likely that the slog will continue.

Next time I am presented with a renter juggling different application envelopes, it may be wise to introduce some confusion. I know that I have trouble remembering which envelope was on top when another suddenly appears with a neat collection of large bills inside…

I suppose it is all a bit ironic. The federal bureaucracy seems pretty amiable, very professional, and more laid back than expected. The housing market is opaque, full of frustration, and tinged with the unseemly on many edges.

[Update: 18 July 2007] It has been confirmed that the previous applicant got the second apartment I applied for. Having this happen twice in as many days is very frustrating. Clearly, good apartments in Ottawa are snapped up in hours. The bad ones, by contrast, linger for weeks on the various listings. Wearily, I must continue the search.

Lost in the barrens

Parliament buildings, Ottawa

Today began with a bit of an adventure. I caught my bus around 7:00am, noting that the last stop (Lebreton) was due south of my work, on the opposite side of the river. It was only as the bus sped past Lebreton that it occurred to me that it might not stop. I was then left two kilometres down a major highway from the only road I knew for sure led to work.

With little choice, I began walking up the highway. Within three minutes, an Ontario police cruiser had pulled over, and the officer had indicated in no uncertain terms that walking along the highway was unacceptable. After explaining my situation, I was told to go north along a dusty gravel path until I found a bridge. Cursing my brand new shoes with each step, I went about half a kilometre up the path and found a rusty railway trestle bridge going across to Gatineau. Since I didn’t want to die under a train before my first day of work, I followed the river east until I found the Portage Bridge.

Despite the ordeal, I was in the security office waiting for my temporary pass fifteen minutes before the earliest suggested time. By the end of the day, I had a working computer, a working phone, lots of newly introduced colleagues, and plenty to read. I still don’t know exactly what I am going to do there, but the atmosphere of the office was very encouraging.

Furthermore, I found a possible apartment. It is on Cooper Street: a small one bedroom for a good price. It even has a private entrance, in the form of a door opening on the side of an unusually nice and well maintained low-rise brick building. The hardwood floors are nice, the maintenance staff seem very helpful, and there is an appealing overhead fan. The only real problem is the kitchen, which is very small and awkwardly shaped. Also, the bedroom is too small for a double bed. If I take it, I will use the living room as a bedroom and the bedroom as an office. Replacing the mid-size fridge with a bar fridge might also make the kitchen more workable. Unless I find somewhere markedly better soon, I may well take this place on a one year lease.

On the bureaucratic cusp

Ottawa skyscrapers

Having now investigated about fifty possible apartments to greater or lesser degrees, I feel like I am on the path to getting established in Ottawa. This is just as well, given that I begin work tomorrow morning. The 8:30am start and the relatively distant location mean a 6:30am wake-up time. Nobody who I know will be surprised to hear that I am unlikely to be thinking as well as I can during the first few hours. Given that they will probably be all about paperwork, getting a security pass, and the like, I doubt it will matter.

If all goes well, I will have moved into a nice new flat by the 1st of August and will be cycling to work on a newly acquired bike. I need to make the most of the summer – before that icy winter rolls in.

Wardriving for a flat

Driving around Ottawa, looking for somewhere to live, we managed to hit 838 different wireless networks between 2:58pm and 4:30pm. Leaching off networks, calling numbers in windows, and trying to arrange times to have a look inside makes for a very active feeling afternoon.

Joyce’s help was very much appreciated. Without it, I couldn’t possibly have seen so many different possible apartments and parts of the city.

[10:00pm] Given how useful it was when choosing parts of Ottawa to consider living in, it seemed natural to query the hive mind about my apartment search. Perhaps I will find someone who knows of a really good place about to be put on the market; alternatively, I might find some flatmates. I want to pay down a good portion of my student loans this year, which means affordable housing is a critical thing to locate.

[Update: 15 July 2007 4:40pm] This afternoon, we found a place that looked really good: huge, but a tad on the expensive side. Even so, I submitted an application and deposit. Unfortunately, so did the people who looked at it half an hour before. Unless they are rejected for some reason, they will get the flat. There have also been two much more marginal places available. The search continues.

Growing zone of familiarity

Marc Gurstein and Ashley Thorvaldson

I am beginning to get me bearings in Ottawa, having met up with Ashley and Marc, acquired a new mobile phone, and started to learn critical geography and restaurant locations. Somehow, being reunited with former fellow debaters in this town feels very appropriate.

Judging by where Marc is living, it seems quite possible to find a really good place to live near the centre of town for the general amount of money I should be able to spend. The idea of having a place of my own is an exciting one, even if it may be for only a year.

Monday morning, I start work at Environment Canada.

Apartment hunting

Having arrived safely in Ottawa, the first order of business is finding somewhere to live. A family friend has kindly given me a bit of an introduction to the city. On the basis of what I saw and where I will be working, Sandy Hill and Centretown are the bits of the city I plan to focus on.

Since I am only definitely going to be here for one year, I am looking for a furnished single bedroom apartment. Hopefully, some promising leads will develop before I start work on Monday. Being near interesting places is a big advantage; being near the buses I will need to use to cross this frozen city in the winter is essential.

[Update: 14 July 2007] As might have been expected for a task where I need to coordinate information, the apartment search is now on the wiki.