Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Horrors of house hunting in Geneva

No, I have not found one yet. I have serious doubts if I will ever find one.

So I landed up in Geneva a couple of weeks back, eager to start working at CERN, where all the action in our field is. All was great, except the small problem of finding a place to live. To all fairness, I heard it is a non trivial task, but I could not have found anything until I was here. After sorting visa issues, I started looking around.

Geneva is a beautiful city, and very international. While that feels nice, the presence of all the international organizations and the associated workforce is the main source of housing problem. In last ten years, for example, CERN has gone from an European lab to a truly international one, with a huge American presence. Unfortunately the housing market has not kept up with this population explosion.

That makes house owners and renting agencies the king in this skewed market. For each available dwelling, people apply. From my limited experience so far, I realized that putting together this application is no less harrowing than grad school application. They ask for copies of the work contract and pay slips, to be sure than that I will be here and can afford to pay the rent. Of course proof of identity and valid residence permit is required, as a document called "attestation de non poursuite" (obtained after waiting for an hour in a government office), which effectively proves that none is pursuing me for non-payment of rent or any bills (Is not the US credit history system wonderful?). One also wanted a letter of recommendation. I gather many people here also have a template for it, saying the applicant is among the top 5% of the renters, whatever may that mean. And then there is the application form itself. Usually in French, it has such probing questions like why I want this place. Next time I will answer because I have not found any other places - not sure that bare truth will exactly help me.

So after collecting all these materials from a bunch of people, they select one. Positive discrimination is blatantly in effect, so families and women get preference, and single guys like me are rarely picked. So many of the people from CERN end up sharing houses. Now after living alone for all these years as graduate student and postdoc, I am not very thrilled by the idea, and I do not exactly think my living habits will endear myself to prospective housemates. The other option remains getting a room in a house. I seen one, a window-less room in a basement of a house, sharing a common entrance with the family living there, who did not seem to get the concept of flexible working hours and omni-present deadlines. That was not cheap either.

I lived in a spacious house, minutes away from the my institute and the train station in Dresden. Here, a place one third of its size, will probably cost thrice. If I find one, that is.

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