"Beer built this city, but there is so much more to Milwaukee." (-Jewel, "The Milwaukee Song"). Read Guide >
Which areas are safest? This town is somewhat more difficult than others to discern which neighborhoods are safer than others. Dangerous blocks can sit directly next to safe blocks; one almost needs to walk the streets and inspect exterior walls for bullet-holes oneself. There are, however, worse areas than others. Downtown and its surrounding areas are rough (as is any city’s inner circuit); so are the neighborhoods on the west Marquette University and most of the North Side. (On a side note: the South Side is frequently referred to as “the hood” by some—but it’s generally safe.)
What’s the deal with Polish flats? Milwaukee has a rich history of Polish immigration throughout the 19th and 20th centuries. These immigrants often built single-family homes with faux-Gothic or Victorian facades—then added onto these original structures to accommodate their growing families and finances. The two portions of the houses remained segregated; so Polish flats are now typically rented out as duplexes. Note that these units usually have smaller bedrooms, a fact that qualifies them as model apartments for the descriptors “historic” and “economical.”
I hear utilities are outrageous…?
Let’s face it: MKE gets flippin’ cold in the wintertime. If you fancy eating your breakfast cereal in a sauna, then hunt down those (not uncommon) units that offer heat and other utilities included. On the other hand, if you’re not made of platinum, get on the current fashion bandwagon and start sporting those wool sweaters indoors!
Are there any landlords/property management companies I should avoid?
MKE has its fair share of disreputable landlords (“slumlords,” might we say?) and apartment managers. Let it suffice that not all property management companies in Brew City are created equal. In fact, some are especially toxic—be sure to check out NeuLandlord.com for some real reviews to help make an informed decision.
Orientation is easy in the water-bounded cities of the Great Lakes. For Milwaukee, just look up (North Side), down (South Side), or to the left (West Side). Oh, wait—there’s also Downtown, a narrow strip between the Milwaukee River and Lake Michigan, and the East Side, anything north of Downtown, east of I-43, and south of, say, E. Capitol Drive. Phew! It’s time to flesh some of these areas out.
Downtown: “Downtown” Milwaukee typically refers to the CBD region north of the freeway in which the Pabst Theatre, Cathedral Park, and the School of Engineering (MSOE) lie. This region extends east to the lake, where you’ll find luxury 2BR condos for over $3000/month next to all-inclusive studios for $785/month. (Apparently, the consumer profile for Downtown Milwaukeeans is manifold.) South of the freeway—and technically still “downtown,” is the Historic Third Ward, an upscale, artsy, LGBT-friendly district. Third Ward apartments are only slightly more affordable than Downtown’s: expect to pay at least a hundo per month for a 1BR (studio, loft, whatever), and over $2000/month for a 2BR. Apartment contracts in Downtown and Third Ward generally include heating.
East Side: The East Side winds north along the river through districts called Brady Street (a.k.a., “Little Italy”), Brewer’s Hill, Murray Hill, Riverwest, and Upper East Side. The closer-in areas are generally safer and more expensive, further out being both studenty (due to UMW’s presence) and a bit rough. Despite its reputation for garage break-ins, Riverwest is the pick for hip, grungy folks: heaps of Polish flats in this neighborhood make it the cheap option (you’ll frequently see 1BRs for under $500/month and 2BRs for around $700/month). Lakefront studios around Brady Street run for $875/month; 1BRs for $1125/month.
West Side: Marquette is the first major neighborhood one meets when leaving Downtown for the West Side. Apartments in this area are suited to students: studios and 1BRs hover around $500/month and sometimes include utilities. 2BRs usually jump up to $1000/month. Cold Spring Park and its further afield neighbor, Washington Heights, are surburbany alternatives to real suburbia. These areas are popular with commuters to Downtown (7-8 minutes in a car; longer on an MCTS bus). Sure, there are lots of cute gelato shops, but if you’re not planning on establishing a family and renovating a Victorian home, you might find the lifestyle out here lacking. Not many 1BRs in these areas; instead, expect to pay around $700/month for a 2BR flat in Washington Heights.
South Side: Heading south, one notices a significant increase in taquerías per city block. If you’re like me, that’s all the more reason to consider it. Bay View, historically a company town for the mill, now hosts an annual parade as well as the perfect blend of practical professionals and bohemian youngsters. Commute time from this little hipster’s paradise is only 10-15 minutes to the CBD. Plenty of 1BR lofts (circa $650/month) and 2BR Polish flats ($750/month) make it obvious why this area is so popular. The only other South Side neighborhood you ought to know about is Walker’s Point (a.k.a., the 5th Ward). This is a closer-in, LGBT-friendly area. Expect more condos and lofts than historic flats: 1BRs start at $700/month and go up from there.
Got your bearings? Fabulous. Start hittin’ the streets and calling landlords. Just remember to bring a valid photo ID, some paperwork proving a source of income, and the willingness to commit to a 6-month lease (sometimes longer). Oh, and don’t ask why they call it Deutsch-Athen. Nobody knows.
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