Five Lessons on How To Survive in a Ghetto Apartment

In 2006 I moved into a dingy small apartment in a low income neighborhood. It was the only place that I could afford back then. I had a full-time job, and I was in graduate school. I needed money to pay my tuition, and I wanted to be on my own. Something had to give.

So I lived in this low-income apartment building that I called “the ghetto” for one year.

My friends refused to come and visit me. My parents visited me there once. After their visit, my mother insisted I moved back in with her and her husband right away. However, I stood my ground.

Most of the time we think about the ghetto as a desperate place, filled with junkies and gang bangers. That’s not always the case.

Still, my place was not too safe, and there were a few scary moments. For example, when my next door neighbor was robbed twice in one week by his “friends” because he owed them money for dope.

Other than that, I was able to live in my ghetto apartment with no problems.


From day one I slowly started to learn what was appropriate and what was not in my “hood”. Over time I acquired a set of certain survival skills that came in handy for a single girl who found herself living alone in a ghetto apartment. Today I’ll share them with you:

Lesson 1: Do Not Make Eye Contact (for too long)

If you see something or someone that piques your interest, curiosity or simply scares you. DO NOT STARE, and try not to make eye contact.

This way, you can pass by without being addressed or being pulled into a conversation you really do not want to be a part of.

And don’t ever EVER follow someone if they say stuff like, “Hey come over here.” Just walk away. Seriously.

If you’d feel more confident carrying around some sort of security device, you can actually get pepper spray for pretty cheap these days. It doesn’t hurt to carry it around with you.

Lesson 2: Use the Peephole and Door Chain

Never ever open your door until you know who’s on the other side. Even if you’re just leaving your apartment.

I knew that my next door neighbor was a junkie. I tried to stay away from him, and I never exited my apartment if I could see him through the peephole in my front door. There were a few other questionable neighbors whom I tried to avoid by all means.

That’s how I learned to use the peephole on a regular basis.

If people come up to your door, you might have to crack the door open to turn them away or entertain them. You can use a cheap door chain (if your landlord allows it). But I’d rather not risk someone being able to kick it open. So I went for this heavy duty swing lock instead.

Lesson 3: Do Not Show Fear, Smile Instead

People can sense your fear of them.

If you let them see it, they will try to capitalize on it, and intimidate you even more.

So what do you do? I say you smile. I used to smile at people I was afraid of and say, “Hello.”

Most of the time they would respond back: sometimes with a “Hello,” sometimes just with a nod.

However, I was never followed or intimidated.

I recommend this great book on body language by an ex-FBI agent: What Every Body is Saying. It’ll give you some ideas on how to appear more confident, and you’ll also be able to sense if something is amiss (some people call it “street smarts”.)

Lesson 4: The Less You Have, the Less Can Be Stolen

It was a low-income neighborhood. People could not afford a lot of things. Some of them were not even working most of the time.

Luckily, I was driving a very old and beat up car. It blended in perfectly in our small parking lot outside of the apartment building.

Here’s a tip: don’t leave any thing that may even seem like it’s valuable in your car. You might forget to remove your GPS from the windshield, or leave a case for your sunglasses on the seat. 9 times out of 10, you’ll come back to find your windows smashed.

Here’s an even more important tip: don’t lock your car door! Sounds crazy, but trust me: it’ll let potential burglars search your car and find nothing of value in it. Even having an unlocked car in itself is a signal. Of course, lock your steering wheel with one of these so people can’t hot wire your care and drive it away.

If you get a some electronic gadget (like a new smartphone) do not just leave the packaging outside your home or where ever. Package it up or take it to a public bin. Leaving boxes like that around is like giving clues to the entire ghetto that you’ve got something worth stealing.

I lived by the rule: the less you have, the less can be stolen. So I didn’t get myself nice accessories or new gadgets for a while.

It worked.

Lesson 5: Befriend the Maintenance Staff

This is essential if you live in “a ghetto apartment”. Things break down all the time. Cockroaches run around like they own the home.

If you ever want your kitchen sink fixed, your hallway lights bright (believe me you want these lights working!), and your air conditioner functioning, follow this tip.

Make sure to be very friendly with the maintenance staff!

Do it even if their looks scare the living hell out of you.

My maintenance guy looked like he was either high or drunk every time I saw him. Most of the time looks are deceiving. He was a good man, who worked hard and appreciated people who were friendly with him. In return, I never had a household problem that was not resolved promptly.

By the way, if your maintenance guy won’t fix your cockroach issue, this little thing is nastily effective at killing them.

Have you ever lived in “a ghetto apartment”? Share your experience and tips with me in the comments below!

Check out in order to learn how you can build some extra income streams so you can get out of that ghetto apartment soon.

40 thoughts on “Five Lessons on How To Survive in a Ghetto Apartment”

  1. I live in what I call the ghetto right now, but it’s really not bad compared to some places around here. I do have a crack head living above me so I make sure to lock my door when I’m in the apartment, and definitely I don’t show my fear when the creepies are wandering around. Good tips!

    1. I became really obsessive making sure that my door was locked. I could even get up in the middle of the night to check if it was locked.

  2. That sounds a bit frightening.. I don’t think I would do it. I would just bite the bullet, and move to a safer area.

    I do admire both you and Daisy for having the guts to do it as single women.

    1. I could not afford a nicer area. And I really wanted to be on my own. Oh well… I survived.

  3. OMG! I agree with everything on this post! The stories I could tell about living on the “wrong side of the tracks” (literally :P). My rent was 700$ and I was renting to two other girls at 400$/each so in reality, I was “earning” 100$ a month — but I was only able to last 10 months. My junkie neighbour? Liked to come into my house. He somehow had a key and wouldn’t give it back nor would the landlord change the locks — my roommate found him ON HER COUCH once. He also invited himself to Thanksgiving dinner, complained that we had no vegetarian option and then took all our leftover turkey home without asking.

    Did I mention that it overlooked an alleyway/parking lot, that I was on the first floor and that my kitchen window didn’t lock? Yeah… Good times

    1. Good Lord! You lasted longer than I would be able. I would not be able to stay in the apartment knowing that someone else had a key to my place. You are a very brave woman!

  4. That’s pretty crazy. I’ve lived in poor area before, but never lived in a serious ghetto. The student town I lived in when I was going to school was dumpy, but the crime were not the serious types so I guess that didn’t count either.

  5. Great post! Totally relate to it! I thought I had a really nice apartment, except for the fact we don’t have a washer and dryer, for a great price. Apparently though, my apartment is in the ghetto! LOL Who knew. I mean there haven’t been any killing or shootings, and I actually we live in a pretty nice residential area. But, it’s not as good as other apartments my friends have. Frankly, this fits in our budget, and allows us to spend money on food and school.
    We love it! It’s all a matter of what you want. Don’t compete with anybody else.

    1. I agree! If you can handle it, it fits your budget and it is not crazy dangerous, why not, right?

  6. Now this is weird timing considering I just wrote about my current “ghetto” apartment. No shootings or anything that hard, but it has its moments. I figure as long as there is a place to sleep and its dry and the doors lock we’re okay.

  7. Yep, where we got burgled multiple times. Never again. We lived there because nobody else would rent to a bunch of students *shakes fist*.

    We’re stronger for it though – RIGHT?

  8. Young Professional Finances

    That’s scary! I give you props for saving money by staying there but I don’t think I’d be able to. I wouldn’t have any peace of mind (knowing me) and to me, that just wouldn’t be worth it.

  9. 🙂 We live a couple of blocks from a section of town that is very well known for drug activity and prostitution. The area is totally up and coming and the university here is throwing a huge amount of money at the downtown which is why we bought here. I learned a few things early on- the most important of which was not to walk alone at night. Twice I went out to walk to our local variety store and twice I was followed slowly. My husband said they were ‘johns’ a word I didn’t even know before I moved here… The nice thing is that I don’t worry about being robbed too much because there are so many cops around here a criminal would have to be stupid to try anything that obvious- and I live on a very visible corner.

    1. We didn’t have any prostitutes or pimps. We had mostly junkies, elderly and poor students. I do, however, suspect we had a few gang members but luckily I never witnessed any altercations.

  10. I lived in a sketchy place one summer in college when I was working as an intern… it was the only place I could find that didn’t insist on a 12 month lease. Talk about nothing much to steal: I had a decent computer so I could run a side business, but a folding table, folding chair, and bed rounded out my furniture. The neighborhood was a little rough but not too bad.

    Another summer in college I was subletting a room in a house in a pretty nice neighborhood, but the lease expired August 1st and the other roommates moved into a dive across town. (Yes, it was literally on the other side of the tracks.) I didn’t care for the guy sitting on the sidewalk across the street (dealing drugs, I’m pretty sure) watching me come and go. That lasted a week.

    Have you ever heard the advice to avoid “water streets”? I.e. as a general rule, “Canal St.” or “Lakeshore Drive” are bad places to walk alone at night. (I’ve heard this about “tree streets” too, but I’m not sure it holds up — “Elm St” isn’t always a rough neighborhood.)

    1. There was always a guy sitting on our sidewalk too! Drugs probably, but I was too busy looking around and walking fast to be really concerned about someone sitting and not moving much. 🙂

      Nice advice re: street names. I never thought about it but it does make sense.

  11. In college I lived in a pretty funky apartment building in East Oakland, right on the fringes. There was the inevitable drug shooting and a few break-ins. My own car battery was stolen a couple times — and hard enough to replace on a starving student income. All in all, not too bad a life. I concur with your point: don’t show fear, predators can smell it.

  12. The condo complex I grew up in was kind of like this. My parents lived in the relatively crime free front of the complex, but in order to park when I came home at night, I had to park in the very shady back of the complex. Those walks home at 2am were very sketchy. I never made eye contact. Plenty of drug deals going down.

    1. I didn’t dare to walk at 2:00AM in my “hood.” It was too scary. You are very brave!

  13. Never lived in a ghetto but saw and met a lot of slum dwellers. You are right you have to make friends with others to survive. Literally you are living with them every hour. So congested setting those places have.

  14. I live in Detroit. I work and live in the ghetto. The worst I have experienced over the last ten years is being burglarized while living in the suburbs (the suburb was about a mile away from the hood, but you get the idea). On my old street, with the crack houses around the corner and the blight everywhere else, we were never broken into, not once. We moved across the tracks and people steal the radio out of our car twice and invade our homes once. Go figure.

    The perils of hood life are real, but most of the time the only people who get hurt/ killed here were either involved in crime or had family/friends who were. If you live quietly and use good sense, 95% of the time you will be okay.

    Most of the parts of Detroit that are broken are empty–empty fields, abandoned buildings, miles and miles of butt-high grass and weeds. But very few people. I’d be more worried about the packs of wild dogs that you sometimes see running through the vacant fields these days.

  15. Ok so i live in a very ghetto apartment my opinion here goes. The parents dont parent the kids they arent supervised at all. Kids running wild all hours of the day between the ages or 2 to 16. They runnning up and down the stairs this is an apartment building complex where you have to use indoor staircase to enter your apartment. Shared walls they steal my mail break windows they constantly follwing me watchign me through their windows/ doors. They will open their door when they hear me going down the stairs . I have tried moving to other places with no luck. Landlord wont do anything nor the police only solution so far thats been miserable but sort of working is me isolating myself indoors positives: somewhat privacy and quiet

    negatives: i have 3 yr old she acts like a wild beast since i live basically in a box i got little to no space i have gained an insane amount of weight from basically just eating sleepin ect im miserable im contemplating suicide no joke cause this is not a life i cant take it anymore HELP :/

  16. I was in desperate need of a new car, So i sold my old beat up intrepid for a newer impala… But along with the new car came the insurance and car payment. I applied at this complex which used to be very nice but is now considered the Ghetto. The rent is $484.00 for a 750sq.ft. apartment with washer & dryer hook up. Ive done my research… A mixture of asking people who have lived in the area, and internet… Needless to say my results were not impressive… At all… I found out they accept HUD (government funding for low income people) There are alot of drugs in the area and the outside of the community isnt maintained up to par… Dispite my findings i have decided to move in… The pro’s are… Cheap rent… 199.00 moves you in and you get a free month… The square footage is decent so your not in a box… The unit i chose is very close to the office (eyesight view) and on the second floor… So when im at work during the day the office is open decreasing the chance of a break in. I also chose a second floor unit (i hope theives dont climb buildings)…Im also moving in very early in the morning… to decrease the chances of people watching what im moving in… This article is super helpful… As a matter of fact i’m going to print it out…Wish me luck on my journey…

  17. Rent a duplex or house when you need to do low income rent. I think apts are the worse, and seem to get broken into more (twice @university/ college apts, once while i was there). Change your own locks, and when the landlord finds out, then give him a key. Its worth it. Dont let the crackhead cut your grass, even if its sky high. They dont need to be comfortable on your property. Get your nose out of the air and make friends with your neighbors. They are usually decent like you, and have been there longer. Sure you can decorate and what not, but dont have your flat screen mounted on the wall visible through the windows. I got a spot 2 beds 1 bath hardwood floors for 395 in charlotte nc, its an up and coming neighborhood full of brave white and a.a. middleclass, hippies (of all colors), elderly and the rest but I love all of the old trees renovated homes and charm the neighborhood has

  18. Real tired and angry

    I live in an apartment with an inner stairwell. These jits have moved onto the stairs like they’re getting paid to leave their butt prints on the cement. Blocking the stairs and blaring sucky music off their cheap, tinny-sounding radios…in an echoing stairwell. Trying out new beats by rapping their fists against paper thin walls that mirror rent-paying neighbors bedrooms. Shouting and actually starting fights with other jits. Violence is great fun to them, apparently.

    What really gets me, is that these jits don’t even PAY RENT! They’re living off their ma’s paycheck, and bulldogging someone else’s front door! WHAT? These aren’t “nice” young men either. They’ve slashed tires, poured oil in gas tanks, and worst of all: they prey on the stupid/attention starved, underaged girls who come around and think that these losers are cool. Seriously, these guys border on sociopathic and they sit less than ten feet from my front door; my home, where I should feel safe – not like a prisoner!

    UGH! Man…it feels good to vent. Can’t wait to move, ’cause trust me – these guys aren’t going anywhere. Ever.

  19. I’m really scared around my apartments. This person came up to me while I was smoking asking me if I smoked weed. He was shirtless, seemed off his rocker, and was bothering people before me. He needed a fix. I told him I don’t so he left and started picking through other peoples lawns next to me for, assuming, weed blunts. I ran inside and I already had 91 dialed. Had a pocket knife in my pocket too. Other people around here give you hard stares and they look very intimidating. They blare loud hip hop music from their homes and cars and I’m scared to death around here.

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  21. Now that’s really talk ghetto.
    I have people who have living room furniture on their open patio. Broken beer bottles,syringes and graffiti all over. Radios blaring,people asking for rides,kids throwing rocks at my car and everything is broken in apartment.
    Ghetto living..slumlord managing.
    Drowning in trash

  22. I have been living in a ghetto apartment for 2 1/2 years as a PhD student (thankfully I will be moving soon now that I graduated). The place is small (only 8 apartments in a garden style complex). I thought that since it was small that neighbors would respect your privacy and boundaries but I was wrong. The first day I moved in two of my neighbors watched me move in like I was heading up a parade–one said “no she doesn’t seem like a bitch” as he stared at me moving my stuff and another was drunk off his @ss and told me he hung out with the person who lived there before and if I wanted we could hang out and drink too. Eventually my time here was about being spied on from my bedroom window, having one guy obsessed with the idea of dating me and simultaneously calling me a “crazy bitch” as he unsuccessfully tried to open my screen door early in the morning, having the management or someone come into my apartment and do things such as turn my fridge down and move my stuff around, having the management and their buddies talk about me, being gaslighted and ganged up on by the management and others when I said something about all that was going on (of course). Since I could not afford anything else I had to stay. Roommates were out of the question at that point since the ones I lived with just previously vandalized thousands of dollars of my property among other things. I will be moving soon, but God knows how I will get a place with the nasty management here who contributed a lot to how I was treated here and certainly were not professional.

  23. surviving the neighbor

    Lost a job in the economic downturn and had to sell the house I was in. It gave me enough money to pay the rent in a small house for awhile in the trashy part of town. In time I found out there were 30 sex offenders in a 2 mile radius and no woman in her right mind walked alone on the littered space beside the road that had no side walks. I got stuck there for 2 years slowly going crazy watching the skinny addicts on their bicycles casing places and acting twitchy on their way to the supplier across the street. The danger there was obvious and you took precautions.

    In my travels I learned something about neighbors. I once lived in the nice part of town with a gossip neighbor absolutely hell bent on destroying anyone that seemed vulnerable. Her tactics included false reports to the police, digging through garbage counting beer bottles of neighbors so she could spread it around they were alcoholics. She just made stuff up and was unfortunately credible enough to do a lot of damage. Nice neighborhood, but keeping a low profile and watching your back was the only way to survive the witch.

    Lastly, just moved into a small complex which was lovely, peaceful economical and I was happy. Then, some new people moved in, they pull up in their van and sit there playing rap so loud it rattles the windows. The 2 year old toddles unsupervised in the driveway at all hours, while the mother yells expletives out the door. Meanwhile it looks like a whole nest of people have moved in a 1 bedroom apartment, amping up the noise, creating drama in the yard. They smoke outside my window, and the other day the smoke smelled like burning plastic. I suspect drugs. Its the neighbors that turn a nice place into hell and it doesn’t matter where you move, even expensive areas can have the neighbor from hell that destroys the neighborhood.

  24. Have you ever stopped to consider that by not being able to afford to live outside the ghetto, you are ghetto too?

  25. I’d recommend a “Master Lock Dual-Function Adjustable Door Security Bar” because it provides your home with an added dose of safety by reinforcing doors from intruders. They can be found at stores such as Home Depot or Lowe’s. It cost about $20.00 USD and worth the investment. You can also order a door security bar online. Stay safe and save money that way you can remove yourself from any unsafe environment as soon a possible.

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