The house that Helen Harlan, '98, shares with 24 other residents is 2,000 square feet, including five bedrooms, a kitchen and two bathrooms. (Photo courtesy of Harlan)

Alumna swaps ‘antisocial’ apartment building for house with 25 residents

When searching for a place to live, Helen Harlan, ’98, did the last thing anyone expected: answer a Craigslist ad for a one-story, five-bedroom, two-bathroom house with 24 other residents.

Harlan has resided in Los Angeles for 20 years in a variety of living situations.

Her current house, located in Highland Park in Northeast Los Angeles, became available for rent in August 2018, and Harlan moved in the following month. She was one of the first two-thirds of the people to move in.

“When I saw (the ad) on Craigslist, one of the things I wondered was (whether) I’d be able to put up with so many people to live in this neighborhood,” Harlan said.

She said she was initially scared about the transition.

“It sounded cult-y,” she admitted.

But having three siblings helped prepare her to live with multiple people, she said.

“I’m used to finding my own space,” she said. “If I need quiet time, I will take it, versus some people who stew about no privacy.”

Each occupant of the 2,000-square-foot house gets a bunk bed and a closet for $580 per month.

A one-bedroom apartment in Los Angeles averages $2,500 a month, according to a kcrw.com article on the house Harlan shares. (The average one-bedroom apartment rent nationally is $960, according to apartmentlist.com.)

Harlan said she doesn’t mind the small spaces, as it reminds her of summer camp. Still, she said the house is full.

“We’re kind of hitting critical mass,” she said.

Harlan described the group as a cross-section of people from around the world. She compared it to a “sit-com dream team,” with a variety of racial groups, ethnicities, sexual orientations and gender identities.

“It’s less like ‘Friends’ and more like ‘Orange is the New Black,’” Harlan said. “Everyone has a story as to why they landed here, from the kids from Europe who are coming out here in their early 20s to check out California to kids that claim to be runaways.”

Harlan, who works as a bartender and waitress while pursuing writing and acting carriers, said she’s found jobs for roughly half the people in the house.

“If I’m not working, I’m hiking,” she said. “We live right by a mountain. Or I’ll just sit in my top bunk and read or listen to music until eight or nine (residents) get back from (nightclubs) and it gets loud.

“It’s not the space (that’s an issue) — it’s the noise level. It can go from really quiet to super loud with the flick of a switch.”

Besides the noise, Harlan said the biggest challenge has been the removal of one of the house’s two kitchens.

“Some family in the neighborhood called the house inspector on us,” she said. “I have no idea why, but he made us get rid of (one of the kitchens).

“I want to cook, but it’s hard when you have all four burners going with ramen.”

Harlan added that unwashed dishes have also become an issue. In fact, according to the kcrw.com article, a whiteboard of shame was created to call out anyone who didn’t do their dishes.

Some of her roommates plan social activities, Harlan said. One in particular acts as an activities coordinator.

“She decorated the house for Halloween; she’ll decorate it for Thanksgiving, Christmas and Valentine’s Day; and she organized a movie night,” Harlan said. “Recently, we’ve watched ‘Clue’ and ‘Ghostbusters.’

“You can either go watch the movie or stay (in the house) and do your own thing. I like (the social aspect), especially since I came from living by myself in Hollywood for two years in an apartment building that was really antisocial.”

The Hollywood apartment rented for about $850 a month. She said the lower rent in her current house was a big attraction, along with a more social life.

While she’s not particularly close to any of her roommates, she said she “gets along pretty well with most people.”

Still, Harlan said some of the younger roommates don’t like being told what to do.

“I’m the one who will tell people to shut up at 3 a.m., and they don’t like that,” she said. “But I’ve always been a polarizing presence in every situation because I will speak my mind.”

Harlan said she is also annoyed when people use the communal space as if they are the only ones there.

She noted, for example, that sometimes people sleep on couches.

“That’s an area somebody should be able to read at,” Harlan said.

With 14 months in a bustling house behind her, Harlan said she’s looking for a new place.

“I don’t see this as feasible past the end of this year,” she said. “But I’m really glad I did it. I have no regrets. There are a lot of nice people here.”

Harlan said she doesn’t want to leave the neighborhood.

She added that she enjoys the diversity, variety of bars and cafes, and nearby libraries, recreational centers and hiking.

“It’s the best neighborhood in LA. I love it out here.”

By Ethan Monasa

Originally published in the Nov. 12 edition of the Octagon.