Whether it’s a temporary whim, a childhood dream, or the desire to have access to the big city life in your “backyard,” living in a big city can be appealing. For this reason, some of us are willing to take on the burden of rent and carry it for as long as we can. But can we actually afford it?
We wanted to find out just how much space can a typical income get you without becoming rent-burdened. To this end, we looked at the median monthly renter household income from the U.S. Census Bureau and the average rent from Yardi Matrix, in the 100 most populous U.S. cities. Based on the median monthly income in each city, the visual below shows the maximum square feet you can get if you were to spend no more than 30% of your income on rent. Check it out and keep reading to find out more.
Big cities, big incomes, big enough to afford just a tiny space
It is only natural that you would want to get as much space for as little money as possible. But should you get your hopes up? It depends where you live.
New York, Boston, and Los Angeles are places where many dream of living in hopes of having a better job, a bigger income, and thus more accessibility to the downtown lifestyle. However, these cities offer the least amount of space one can afford to rent on a median income, even though they are among the cities with the highest average monthly incomes in the country. In Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Boston, if you were to limit your spending to 30% of your income on rent, you’d have to live in less than 300 square feet of space. Meanwhile, in Los Angeles, you could rent 333 square feet.
If you are fine with living in an apartment sized between 300 to 400 square feet, you have a few more options, including Oakland, CA, Philadelphia, Chicago, Cleveland, Jersey City, NJ, Detroit, Hialeah, FL, and Miami. Even more so, you could upgrade to 500 square feet in San Francisco, Queens, NY, Long Beach, CA, Washington, or Seattle, among others.
Looking at the other end of the spectrum, you could afford the most space with the same percentage of your monthly income in Gilbert, AZ, Chandler, AZ, Plano, TX, and Henderson, NV, all offering about 1,000 or more square-feet worth of space.
Only 14 cities offer a comfortable life while living within your means
It seems that finding a decent-sized rental at a decent price might be impossible. So, is there any city where you can live comfortably and spend only 30% of your income on rent? The answer is yes-ish.
Out of the 100 cities that we studied, you can rent larger than average apartments while spending 30% of your income in only 14 of them. These cities are listed below, in descending order of the amount of space afforded.
1. Gilbert, AZ
2. Plano, TX
3. Wichita, KS
4. Tulsa, OK
5. Chandler, AZ
6. Oklahoma City, OK
7. Virginia Beach, VA
8. North Las Vegas, NV
9. Irving, TX
10. Paradise, NV
11. Arlington, VA
12. Fremont, CA
13. Henderson, NV
14. Bakersfield, CA
Finding the right rental can be hard. If you are having a hard time picking a city, and those 14 outliers aren’t tempting enough for you to move there, take a look at the table below to see a comparison between how many square feet you could afford with a 30% rent burden and the average size of apartments in the 100 most populous U.S. cities.
To give you a picture of what an apartment would look like when you spend 30% of your income on rent, we researched four different cities in Ohio, namely – Cleveland, Cincinnati, Columbus, and Toledo. The difference between the four cities, which are about 2 hours apart, is rather big when it comes to the rent-to-surface ratio.
Of the four cities, Cleveland boast the most expensive apartment rents for a median earner. For $498, which is 30% of the local median monthly income, you could rent a 372-square-foot (tiny) studio. Cincinnati is following behind, where for $629 you could rent a 566-square-foot apartment. In Toledo, for $595 you could get a 678-square-foot one-bedroom, one-bathroom apartment. Things look best in Columbus, where you can get an 878-square-foot two-bedroom, one-and-a-half-bathroom apartment while spending only 30% of your income, or $911 per month.
Here’s an example of how big of an apartment one can affordably rent on median wages in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex:
As illustrated above, in the DFW metro area, renting in Dallas on a median income offers the least amount of rental space, a small one-bedroom apartment, while renting in Plano on a median income means a large two-bedroom apartment. With this in mind, although not ideal, we might have to consider either downsizing or relocating, depending on where and what we want to rent.
Calculate how much space you can afford to rent on your income
Not a middle-income earner? Use the calculator below to get a better idea of how much space you can rent in the 100 most populous cities based on your income.
What size apartment can you afford?
- This report was prepared by RENTCafe, a nationwide apartment search website that enables renters to easily find apartments and houses for rent throughout the United States.
- To compile this report, we analyzed gross median renter-occupied household incomes provided by the U.S. Census Bureau ACS 2017 adjusted for inflation to reflect 2019 values.
- Average rent price data was provided by Yardi Matrix, an apartment market intelligence source and RENTCafe’s sister company that researches and reports on large-scale multifamily properties of 50+ units across 130+ markets in the United States.
- The study analyzes 100 largest U.S. cities by population.
- The apartment size/square feet afforded on a median income was calculated by using 30% of the median income of renter-occupied households and the average rent price per square foot in each city.
- The floor plan models included in the article are for illustration only and are comparable to floor plans with similar square footage in the given cities listed on our RENTCafe website. Apartment floor plans may differ from city to city.
Fair use and redistribution
We encourage you and freely grant you permission to reuse, host, or repost the images in this article. When doing so, we only ask that you kindly attribute the authors by linking to RENTCafe.com or this page, so that your readers can learn more about this project, the research behind it and its methodology. For more in-depth, customized data, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.