The Rent Is Too Dang High in Many Metros. Here’s Where to Live Instead

21,362 Views
View of Union Station in downtown Denver, Colorado, taken at night from the middle of a street.
JuliScalzi/Getty Images
Honest Abe

Disclosure:

Some of the links in this post are from our sponsors. We’re letting you know because it’s what Honest Abe would do. After all, he is on our favorite coin.

It’s no surprise that in most U.S. cities right now, the rent is too dang high.

And unlike most of the fiscal woes facing the country, baby boomers actually have it the worst when it comes to the burden of rent.

But there’s one glaring problem: Things are only getting worse.

We looked at the latest personal income statistics released this month by the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis, along with median rental housing costs recorded by the U.S. Census Bureau, Zillow and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. We found that in most cities, it’s getting increasingly harder to pay rent.

Between 2015 and 2016, rent increased faster than personal income in 83 of the 100 largest metropolitan areas in the U.S.

In other words, people aren’t making enough money to keep up with the skyrocketing housing costs.

“Incomes have been largely stagnant over the last 15 years, especially at the bottom of the income distribution and it would take strong and sustainable income growth to catch up to rents at this point,” said Zillow Chief Economist Svenja Gudell.

Rental housing demand has soared since 2005, according to analyses by Harvard University’s Joint Center for Housing Studies. Meanwhile, homeowners — and even fellow renters — tend to oppose the construction of new housing supply near them, specifically in cities that already have high housing costs.

Earlier this year, the National Low Income Housing Coalition found that, in order to afford a two-bedroom apartment in the U.S., the average person would have to earn $21.21 per hour. For minimum wage workers, that means working 117 hours a week to make rent.

That’s for the whole country. But when you look at those income statistics by city, which places are getting better or worse for renters?

In Denver, personal income remained stagnant at a loss of 0.3% between 2015 and 2016, while rental costs jumped 9.4%. Ugh, not sure if I’m ready to make the trek to the Mile-High City.

For cities like Denver, local governments should work with developers to increase housing supply, Gudell said. That could mean offering incentives or easing regulations to encourage developers to build more affordable housing.

But on the other end of the spectrum, fans of “The Office” might want to make a pilgrimage to Scranton, Pennsylvania, and make their stay permanent: The city saw a 2.5% growth in income while rents fell by the same amount, making it the best city for renters in 2016.

Our analysis of the worst and best cities for renters might make you want to pack your bags and run away to another town on the other side of the country.

10 Cities Where Residents Are Least Able to Afford Rent

Everyone knows New York and San Francisco are expensive cities. But which U.S. metros are lagging in income, while rents are skyrocketing?

Here are the 10 cities with the biggest gap in growth of rent costs versus income between 2015 and 2016.

1. Denver, Colorado

Growth in Income: -0.3%

Rent Price Change: 9.4%

Difference: -9.7%

2. Houston, Texas

Growth in Income: -3.6%

Rent Price Change: 5.8%

Difference: -9.4%

3. Tulsa, Oklahoma

Growth in Income: -7%

Rent Price Change: 1.6%

Difference: -8.6%

4. Cape Coral, Florida

Growth in Income: -0.7%

Rent Price Change: 7.4%

Difference: -8.1%

5. Portland, Oregon

Growth in Income: 2.6%

Rent Price Change: 10.1%

Difference: -7.5%

6. Austin, Texas

Growth in Income: 0.9%

Rent Price Change: 8%

Difference: -7.1%

7. Augusta, Georgia

Growth in Income: 2.2%

Rent Price Change: 7.5%

Difference: -5.3%

8. Akron, Ohio

Growth in Income: 1.3%

Rent Price Change: 5.9%

Difference: -4.6%

9. Charlotte, North Carolina

Growth in Income: 2.3%

Rent Price Change: 6.7%

Difference: -4.4%

10. Dallas, Texas

Growth in Income: 0.1%

Rent Price Change: 4.4%

Difference: -4.3%

Can’t Afford Rent? Consider One of These 10 Cities

It seems the bulging incomes in Utah have helped push two major cities in that state to the top of the best places for renters. And in a couple of metros in Massachusetts, we see rents falling enough to tip the scales.

1. Scranton, Pennsylvania

Growth in Income: 2.5%

Rent Price Change: -2.4%

Difference: 4.9%

2. Springfield, Massachusetts

Growth in Income: 2.2%

Rent Price Change: -1.9%

Difference: 4.1%

3. Provo, Utah

Growth in Income: 4%

Rent Price Change: 0.2%

Difference: 3.8%

4. Honolulu, Hawaii*

Growth in Income: 2.9%

Rent Price Change: -0.4%

Difference: 3.3%

5. Worcester, Massachusetts

Growth in Income: 2.5%

Rent Price Change: -0.5%

Difference: 3%

6. Syracuse, New York

Growth in Income: 2.1%

Rent Price Change: -0.3%

Difference: 2.4%

7. Ogden, Utah

Growth in Income: 3.3%

Rent Price Change: 1%

Difference: 2.3%

8. Melbourne, Florida

Growth in Income: 1.3%

Rent Price Change: -0.5%

Difference: 1.8%

9. Mission, Texas

Growth in Income: 1.5%

Rent Price Change: 0.2%

Difference: 1.3%

10. Stockton, California*

Growth in Income: 3.5%

Rent Price Change: 2.3%

Difference: 1.2%

*Some of these cities remain quite expensive for renters but appear to be improving in affordability, according to the data.

There Are Always Options if You Can’t Afford Rent

We don’t just crunch data here at The Penny Hoarder — here are some interesting ways we’ve found to help pay the rent.

If interesting or unique isn’t your thing, you could also jump into the ride-sharing economy. You can stack some cash on the side for the end of the month by driving with Uber or signing up for Lyft. Plus, your customers could become new friends with whom to complain about rent!

And you’re going to have to buy groceries, regardless of your outstanding rent payment. So why not get cash back with shopping apps like Ibotta or Dosh?

Seriously, there are dozens of ways to make extra money if you can’t afford rent this month.

You could also play the long game and, you know, move to Scranton. Or even better, just pull a Michael Scott and declare bankruptcy.

Alex Mahadevan is a data journalist at The Penny Hoarder.

Do you think this article might help you put more money in your pocket?

Honest Abe

Disclosure:

Some of the links in this post are from our sponsors. We’re letting you know because it’s what Honest Abe would do. After all, he is on our favorite coin.