Jesse Thankaraj (72) is busy slicing vegetables at her two bed-room apartment in Mylapore as she has to prepare dinner for five in less than an hour. “After my husband died 20 years ago, this house has been my only source of income. Four girls have rented the bedrooms, while I sleep in the drawing room,” she says. “They keep shifting so I have hired a person to upload ads online every month. I charge the girls Rs.4,000 each, which is inclusive of dinner and electricity."

Single working women new to the city might be excited at Ms.Thankaraj's offer but ‘veterans', aware of the possibilities of better lodging facilities, would suggest exploring more options. As the number of working women surges, concerns regarding affordable and safe lodging have become crucial.

“In the beginning, most of us would live in hostels to know the city and people, form our groups, save money for the deposit, and then move into a suitable house,” says Sharmista Ghosh, a software engineer, who has lived in Tambaram, Chromepet and Sanatorium. “But house hunting is a saga which is repeated regularly. Sometimes, room mates leave and sometimes, you would want to move closer to office,” she adds.

“The advance in certain localities goes over Rs.70,000 and many owners insist on a two-year lease agreement that many of us are not willing to sign, ” says Abhirami Sundaram, a BPO employee. Besides, many residential apartments do not prefer single working women and owners often interfere and check on them, she says.

“As for hostels, finding a room in a good one in Alwarpet, Adyar, Egmore, Mylapore and T. Nagar is difficult. Nothing comes for less than Rs.4,500 and the farther you are from your work place, the more you spend on transport,” she adds.

“It is a myth that working women's hostels have mushroomed only because of the IT industry. I get maximum demand for rooms in T. Nagar where women from across the State employed in retail showrooms, and job seekers prefer to stay so that they can commute easily ,” says Bharath Seeman, who runs a chain of working women's hostels. Restrictions on using electronic devices, timings, visitors, bad quality of food and water and the mosquito menace are reasons cited by women for not preferring hostels. But, there are exceptions. “Security is one main reason why I stay here. The post office and bus stand are close by,” says G. Tamilarasi, a security personnel from Tiruvallur, about her hostel in Mylapore.

The across the board rise in rent has affected paying guest accommodation too which are often preferred for reasons of privacy. “When I started a PG twelve years ago, mine was the only one in the area. Now with around five such facilities in the vicinity, I offer cab and beauty parlour facilities too. It has become very difficult to maintain standards, says R. Rohini, who runs a PG in Mandaveli.

Thoriapakkam, Kelambakkam, Siruseri, Guduvancherry and Tambaram have emerged as preferred choices among women in the IT field as they enable a smooth transition from hostels to rented apartments. “Since we don't understand Tamil, we prefer certain hostels that have north Indian food here. Good 2 BHK furnished houses are available for Rs.13,000 but it takes a good broker to find them. However, security remains a concern because many buildings are brand new, says Renuka Arora, who works in Karapakkam.

Extensive use of the internet marks the search for houses by these women. “Neighbourhood newspapers help too. Brokers, knowing that we are IT employees and are not from this State, often influence the owner to increase the rent to get the extra commission,” explains Shivani Apte, a software engineer.

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