America’s state capitals can be hidden gems for renters looking for their next home. For too long, state capitals have been considered dull cities that just serve as administrative hubs, when in fact many of them are actually pretty cool places to live in, with comfortable living standards and top-quality apartments that rival big city dwellings.
To determine which U.S. state capitals are the best to rent in, we analyzed the capitals and compared them according to average rent to median renter income ratio, crime rate, and quality of apartments. Check out the results below; they might surprise you and be just enough to tip the scales in favor of some unexpected cities.
Top U.S. State Capitals for Renters
While comparing the 30 state capitals, the spotlight is on the top three: Lincoln, NE, Boise, ID, and Raleigh, NC. In particular, what separates them from the pack is a mix of high rankings in all categories, which equates to a good score on the renter livability chart. Coming in 4th and 5th, respectively, are Des Moines, IA, and Austin, TX, followed by Phoenix, AZ, and Carson City, NV. Next up are Oklahoma City, OK, and Salt Lake City, UT, with Santa Fe, NM, rounding out the top 10.
So, without further ado, let’s find out what makes these 10 capital cities so special:
The best state capital to rent in is Lincoln, which ranks well in all of the criteria analyzed. The small-city feeling in this charming capital makes it easy for renters to pack up their bags and settle here.
In fact, Lincolnite renters have it pretty cushy; the average rent here of $975 (according to apartment data from Yardi Matrix)and a median income of around $56,700 make for a cool 21% rent to income ratio.
The second-largest city in Nebraska also rises to the top when it comes to low crime rate (4th place). Need another reason to pick Lincoln? The local Chamber of Commerce calls it “a sweet spot for balanced living” and offers a handy guide for moving there.
Next up is Idaho’s largest city, Boise. What else can you say about a city that’s already been voted 2019’s best place to live in? Well, for starters, it’s still quite affordable: the $1,179 average rent (according to Yardi Matrix data) on an income of around $58,300 means about 24% of it goes to rent.
This green capital is also a good choice for active renters in search of cool bike trails, which makes it a favorite among millennial renters.
And, this modern-yet-quaint capital is also one of the safest capital cities, coming in 2nd for low crime rate.
Coming in 3rd is Raleigh, where renters earn about $65,600 and spend $1,223 on average on rent. Not only is Raleigh full of national historic landmarks, but the tech Renaissance in the Triangle Region also makes living here more exciting than you’d think.
The city’s reputation as an emerging tech hub with a dynamic startup scene could also explain why the North Carolina capital ranked 1st in quality apartments.
Plus, when you add colleges like North Carolina State University or Duke into the mix, it’s easy to understand why young renters find the city appealing, despite the quiet nightlife.
If we’re talking about small-city charm with big-city opportunities, some might find it surprising to see that Des Moines made the list. But, there’s more than meets the eye to Iowa’s center of government.
Des Moines renters are actually among the luckier ones when it comes to how much they spend on rent on a monthly basis; their city ranks 3rd for best rent to income ratio at 20%. In fact, Des Moines renters spend less of their monthly income on rent than even those renting in front-runners like Lincoln and Boise.
Austin comes in strong in 5th place. Renters here might spend a balanced 25% of their income on monthly rent, but this is the part where we give the Texas capital credit for having the highest median renter income on the list at close to $69,300.
With 6% of those renting in Austin making $150,000 or more per year and 60% of its units on the luxury side, it’s safe to say that Austin also welcomes wealthy renters looking for more swanky alternatives.
Phoenix kickstarts the latter half of our list, and rightfully so; it’s one of those places that you see on a list of the best U.S. capitals and it just makes sense due to its emerging tech hub, career opportunities, and constant new residential developments. Simply put, this capital is booming. Although it falls somewhere in the middle of the pack in terms of rent at $1,119 per month, Arizona’s capital enters the top 10 for rent to income ratio (24%).
However, apartments in this renter hub also shine when it comes to overall quality, and the city proves it can cater to renters who are looking for something with a little more pizzazz. Phoenix also enjoys its fair share of upper-class quality rental options, coming in 7th on our list for this metric.
Another safe bet for renters is Carson City, which comes in 7th place. The capital city ranked 3rd for its low crime rate — which is probably part of the reason why violent crime is not something that immediately comes to mind when you think about the state of Nevada.
If you’re looking for a good place to start a family — with traveling, entertainment, and wellness options within an hour’s drive — this is it!
Renters might want to keep an eye on this dark horse for its reasonable $1,086 average rent and income around $53,400.
Next up is Oklahoma’s finest: Oklahoma City. OKC is very popular with renters, not just because of the recent redevelopment projects around the city.
The main reason here is the cheap rent — just under $785 on average — paired with a median income of almost $55,500. Needless to say, Oklahoma’s capital has the best rent to income ratio among all the capitals analyzed: just 17%.
We can’t talk about the best U.S. capital cities for renters without discussing the safest one in the country. In 9th place is Salt Lake City, which has a 26% rent to median income ratio. On top of that, potential renters might be happy to learn that SLC has also enjoyed an extended drop in serious crime.
Plus, not only is Utah’s capital a great spot for biking, but its residents also enjoy some awesome winter sports opportunities.
Wrapping up the top 10 is Santa Fe. The city might serve as the center of government in New Mexico, but those living here understand the cultural value of this particular capital city.
Santa Fe has a way of luring you in; you may come here as a tourist and find yourself renting in no time — and not just for the art scene and dynamic nightlife.
Reducing state capitals to just economic hubs and stuffy administrative centers diminishes their charm. These top cities are proof that renting somewhere outside of a bustling metropolis can actually come with just as many ups, if not more. So, if you’re looking for your next home, consider giving one of these best state capitals a chance.
For more information on the Top 20 U.S. State Capitals, take a look below:
This report was compiled by RentCafe.com, a nationwide apartment search website that enables renters to easily find apartments and houses for rent throughout the United States. The rent data points were provided by Yardi Matrix (January 2020), a RENTCafé sister company specialized in apartment market intelligence, providing up-to-date information on large-scale multi-family properties of 50 units or more in over 130 U.S. markets.
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