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Rent Burden Around the US: Here’s How Much You Need to Earn to Afford Renting an Apartment

Here’s How Much You Need to Earn to Afford Renting an Apartment
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Ever had the feeling that your rent takes up way too much of your income? No need to feel bad about it, it’s not your miserliness talking—and for what it’s worth, you’re not at all alone.

Housing costs exceeding 30% of the household income have long been viewed as a red flag, and many housing programs adopted this threshold as a standard over the years in determining what to call “housing-cost burden” or “cost-burdened income.” The simplicity of this approach to the affordability issue is both a blessing and a curse, and sure enough, it’s had its fair share of criticism. In any case, we wanted to see how it matches up to the American reality. Or vice-versa…

Firstly, our analysts buried themselves in the latest official reports from the U.S. Census Bureau and compared the median rent in the 100 largest US cities with the median income of renter-occupied households, to see how close they come to the above mentioned percentage. The second part of this analysis will shed a different light on the Census’ income data, as we’ll set it against the market rate rents from the Yardi Matrix database. The reason: median rents extracted from Census are influenced by the affordable housing segment, and in some cases they are way too different compared to market rate rents, especially in cities like San Francisco where the monthly rent extracted from Census hovers around $1,659 and the median market rate rent extracted from Yardi Matrix reaches a monthly $3,346. The same is valid for Boston ($1,423 vs. $3,005) and Manhattan ($1,611 vs. $3,750). We believe it’s relevant to look at things from this angle too, because there are nowhere near enough affordable units on a national level to meet the demand, resulting in huge waiting lists and many of those eligible for a subsidy having to pay the market rate rent anyway.

Census: Rent Burden and How Much Cash It Leaves You With

So where were we? At the “you’re not alone” thing, right? Let’s begin with taking a look at the most rent-burdened cities according to the Census data, because it’s quite surprising right out of the box:


As you can see, the median income in Hialeah is severely rent-burdened—the median rent eats up more than half of it! And who would have thought that the booming Miami would be neck-and-neck with the recovering Detroit?

The thing is, you can’t even say the top 10 cities are weird exceptions. The following interactive table shows that more than two thirds of the cities we looked at are moderately rent-burdened, meaning that the median rent takes up between 30 and 49.9% of the median income. So, yeah, if you think you pay out rather a lot on rent, you’re really not alone. Then again, being rent-burdened doesn’t necessarily mean you can’t put some coins aside.

To see how much of the median income is left after paying the median rent in your city, expand the interactive table below or use its search dialog box:

CityMoney left
after paying rent
Median household income
(renter- occupied households)
Rent burden
Fremont, CA$68,025 $91,101 25%
San Francisco, CA$52,520 $72,428 27%
Irvine, CA$50,307 $75,147 33%
Plano, TX$43,259 $57,935 25%
New York City , NY
(Manhattan)
$42,578 $61,910 31%
Gilbert, AZ$42,290 $58,166 27%
San Jose, CA$40,346 $61,430 34%
Chandler, AZ$40,136 $53,972 26%
Seattle, WA$39,195 $55,467 29%
Anchorage, AK$38,640 $53,532 28%
Scottsdale, AZ$38,329 $52,045 26%
Irving, TX$34,305 $46,029 25%
Honolulu, HI$34,279 $51,007 33%
Washington, DC$33,826 $50,830 33%
San Diego, CA$33,605 $50,933 34%
Jersey City, NJ$32,714 $47,606 31%
Austin, TX$32,045 $45,713 30%
Anaheim, CA$31,839 $48,543 34%
Virginia Beach, VA$31,311 $46,407 33%
Henderson, NV$30,341 $44,069 31%
Chula Vista, CA$29,646 $45,966 36%
Denver, CO$29,076 $42,204 31%
Raleigh, NC$28,957 $40,597 29%
Bakersfield, CA$28,698 $40,446 29%
Chesapeake, VA$27,931 $42,547 34%
Long Beach, CA$27,755 $41,495 33%
Portland, OR$27,465 $40,029 31%
Reno, NV$27,079 $37,603 28%
Oakland, CA$26,976 $41,856 36%
Riverside, CA$26,949 $41,037 34%
Aurora, CO$26,799 $40,239 33%
Garland, TX$26,657 $38,897 31%
North Las Vegas, NV$26,264 $39,008 33%
Dallas, TX$25,923 $36,759 29%
Santa Ana, CA$25,602 $41,910 39%
San Antonio, TX$25,331 $36,143 30%
Charlotte, NC$25,321 $37,057 32%
New York City , NY
(Brooklyn)
$25,270 $40,666 38%
Fort Worth, TX$25,268 $36,500 31%
Corpus Christi, TX$25,169 $36,341 31%
Houston, TX$25,055 $36,131 31%
St. Petersburg, FL$24,908 $36,536 32%
Durham, NC$24,899 $36,047 31%
Mesa, AZ$24,860 $35,564 30%
Nashville, TN$24,855 $35,907 31%
Columbus, OH$24,774 $35,226 30%
Madison, WI$24,718 $36,490 32%
Los Angeles, CA$24,658 $39,910 38%
Arlington, TX$24,591 $36,159 32%
Boston, MA$24,546 $41,622 41%
Atlanta, GA$24,140 $35,912 33%
Orlando, FL$24,064 $36,388 34%
Colorado Springs, CO$24,058 $35,878 33%
Sacramento, CA$23,500 $36,520 36%
Boise, ID$23,372 $33,740 31%
Kansas city, MO$23,278 $33,274 30%
Las Vegas, NV$23,270 $35,066 34%
Chicago, IL$23,203 $35,023 34%
Oklahoma City, OK$23,112 $32,880 30%
Phoenix, AZ$22,996 $34,060 32%
Jacksonville, FL$22,920 $34,476 34%
Omaha, NE$22,585 $32,341 30%
Minneapolis, MN$22,551 $33,495 33%
Greensboro, NC$22,452 $32,064 30%
Norfolk, VA$22,244 $34,088 35%
Lincoln, NE$22,181 $31,421 29%
El Paso, TX$21,902 $30,926 29%
Tampa, FL$21,739 $33,427 35%
Tulsa, OK$21,730 $30,946 30%
Fort Wayne, IN$21,275 $29,867 29%
Louisville, KY$20,835 $30,063 31%
Lexington, KY$20,800 $30,592 32%
Glendale, AZ$20,698 $31,102 33%
Lubbock, TX$20,598 $30,834 33%
St. Paul, MN$20,392 $30,880 34%
Winston-Salem, NC$19,944 $28,836 31%
Wichita, KS$19,306 $28,114 31%
Indianapolis, IN$19,265 $28,949 33%
Albuquerque, NM$19,262 $28,886 33%
Tucson, AZ$18,552 $27,852 33%
Stockton, CA$18,519 $29,835 38%
Baltimore, MD$18,407 $30,179 39%
Pittsburgh, PA$18,156 $28,452 36%
Fresno, CA$17,795 $28,715 38%
Milwaukee, WI$17,438 $27,062 36%
Philadelphia, PA$17,423 $28,847 40%
Memphis, TN$17,064 $26,976 37%
St. Louis, MO$17,059 $26,263 35%
Baton Rouge, LA$16,800 $26,460 37%
Toledo, OH$16,583 $24,731 33%
Laredo, TX$16,539 $25,923 36%
Cincinnati, OH$15,925 $23,821 33%
Richmond, VA$15,185 $26,309 42%
Newark, NJ$14,473 $26,209 45%
New Orleans, LA$13,671 $25,035 45%
Buffalo, NY$13,354 $21,886 39%
Miami, FL$13,337 $25,577 48%
Cleveland, OH$12,737 $20,705 38%
San Bernardino, CA$12,615 $23,703 47%
Hialeah, FL$9,649 $22,357 57%
Detroit, MI$9,562 $18,526 48%

Take New York City for example. Manhattan and Brooklyn are both rent-burdened—with 31 and 38% of the income taken up by the rent, respectively—but Manhattan’s median income is so high above Brooklyn’s that you’re left with almost 1.7 times more money at the end of the day, if you do the math. Or put it this way: how would you feel if you’d be left with $42,578 instead of $25,270 after paying your rent? Because that’s the difference between NYC’s most popular boroughs, $17,308 at the end of the year… And would you have thought, that in Buffalo you’d put aside way less than that, just $13,354?

We have also extracted the cities with the most and the least amount of money left, just to see the difference between the top and the bottom of the list.

How Much a Household Should Earn to Afford Market Rate Rent

The more the better, obviously… But let’s not be too ambitious and say you settle for an income that’s just enough to avoid being rent-burdened.

Up to this point we have used the Census-provided rent data, but the huge deflections in the case of San Francisco, Manhattan and a number of other cities meant it was appropriate to examine things from a different angle. So this time we went with the median rents from Yardi Matrix, and thus removed from the equation any communities that are part of a regulated affordable housing program or benefit from government subsidies. As mentioned earlier, this wouldn’t necessarily be relevant in a world with more than enough affordable units, but realistically, people eligible for income-restricted housing often end up paying market rate rents. Long story short, the results we were after are the hypothetical income needed for the median rent to be exactly 30% of your income, and the difference between it and the reality. The following table will show you just that:

CityMedian renter-occupied household income Household income needed to afford rentDiff. ($)Actual median income as a pct. of non-burdened income
Boston, MA$41,622$120,200-$78,57835%
New York City
(Brooklyn), NY
$40,666 $111,000-$70,33437%
New York City
(Manhattan), NY
$61,910 $150,000-$88,09041%
Oakland, CA$41,856$98,000-$56,14443%
Miami, FL$25,577$59,000-$33,42343%
Jersey City, NJ$47,606$107,960-$60,35444%
Hialeah, FL$22,357$47,920-$25,56347%
Los Angeles, CA$39,910$78,000-$38,09051%
San Francisco, CA$72,428$133,840-$61,41254%
Chicago, IL$35,023$64,000-$28,97755%
Philadelphia, PA$28,847$49,000-$20,15359%
Long Beach, CA$41,495$68,880-$27,38560%
San Bernardino, CA$23,703$39,200-$15,49760%
San Jose, CA$61,430$101,200-$39,77061%
Detroit, MI$18,526$30,000-$11,47462%
Santa Ana, CA$41,910$65,400-$23,49064%
Cleveland, OH$20,705$31,600-$10,89566%
Minneapolis, MN$33,495$51,120-$17,62566%
New Orleans, LA$25,035$37,960-$12,92566%
Washington, DC$50,830$76,520-$25,69066%
Newark, NJ$26,209$38,400-$12,19168%
San Diego, CA$50,933$74,400-$23,46768%
Buffalo, NY$21,886$31,600-$9,71469%
Pittsburgh, PA$28,452$39,800-$11,34871%
Richmond, VA$26,309$36,800-$10,49171%
Baltimore, MD$30,179$41,760-$11,58172%
Baton Rouge, LA$26,460$36,000-$9,54074%
Milwaukee, WI$27,062$36,800-$9,73874%
Atlanta, GA$35,912$48,600-$12,68874%
Portland, OR$40,029$53,240-$13,21175%
Chula Vista, CA$45,966$59,600-$13,63477%
Cincinnati, OH$23,821$30,600-$6,77978%
Denver, CO$42,204$54,000-$11,79678%
Orlando, FL$36,388$46,320-$9,93279%
Seattle, WA$55,467$70,600-$15,13379%
Anaheim, CA$48,543$61,400-$12,85779%
St. Paul, MN$30,880$39,000-$8,12079%
Riverside, CA$41,037$51,280-$10,24380%
Tampa, FL$33,427$41,000-$7,57382%
Nashville, TN$35,907 $44,000-$8,09382%
Aurora, CO$40,239$47,960-$7,72184%
Fresno, CA$28,715$34,000-$5,28584%
Sacramento, CA$36,520$43,080-$6,56085%
Stockton, CA$29,835$35,000-$5,16585%
Irvine, CA$75,147$87,000-$11,85386%
St. Louis, MO$26,263$30,200-$3,93787%
St. Petersburg, FL$36,536$41,000-$4,46489%
Madison, WI$36,490$40,000-$3,51091%
Charlotte, NC$37,057$40,360-$3,30392%
Durham, NC$36,047$38,200-$2,15394%
Louisville, KY$30,063 $31,800-$1,73795%
Norfolk, VA$34,088$36,000-$1,91295%
Jacksonville, FL$34,476$35,840-$1,36496%
Boise, ID$33,740$35,000-$1,26096%
Chesapeake, VA$42,547$44,000-$1,45397%
Austin, TX$45,713$46,880-$1,16798%
Albuquerque, NM$28,886$29,560-$67498%
Lexington, KY$30,592 $31,200-$60898%
Dallas, TX$36,759$37,200-$44199%
Fremont, CA$91,101$92,160-$1,05999%
Lubbock, TX$30,834$31,000-$16699%
Houston, TX$36,131$36,160-$29100%
Glendale, AZ$31,102$31,120-$18100%
Lincoln, NE$31,421$31,400$21100%
Colorado Springs, CO$35,878$35,800$78100%
Indianapolis, IN$28,949$28,800$149101%
Reno, NV$37,603$37,000$603102%
Corpus Christi, TX$36,341$35,560$781102%
San Antonio, TX$36,143$35,360$783102%
Raleigh, NC$40,597$39,680$917102%
Omaha, NE$32,341$31,600$741102%
Toledo, OH$24,731$24,000$731103%
Las Vegas, NV$35,066$34,000$1,066103%
Phoenix, AZ$34,060$33,000$1,060103%
Tucson, AZ$27,852$26,760$1,092104%
Kansas City, MO$33,274$31,920$1,354104%
Fort Worth, TX$36,500$35,000$1,500104%
Mesa, AZ$35,564$33,920$1,644105%
Memphis, TN$26,976$25,720$1,256105%
Arlington, TX$36,159$33,800$2,359107%
Winston-Salem, NC$28,836$26,800$2,036108%
Henderson, NV$44,069$40,880$3,189108%
North Las Vegas, NV$39,008$35,800$3,208109%
Greensboro, NC$32,064$29,360$2,704109%
El Paso, TX$30,926$28,200$2,726110%
Virginia Beach, VA$46,407$42,200$4,207110%
Scottsdale, AZ$52,045$46,200$5,845113%
Garland, TX$38,897$34,400$4,497113%
Fort Wayne, IN$29,867$26,000$3,867115%
Irving, TX$46,029$39,200$6,829117%
Columbus, OH$35,226$29,960$5,266118%
Bakersfield, CA$40,446$34,000$6,446119%
Wichita, KS$28,114$23,400$4,714120%
Tulsa, OK$30,946$25,640$5,306121%
Oklahoma City, OK$32,880$27,160$5,720121%
Plano, TX$57,935$47,200$10,735123%
Chandler, AZ$53,972$41,760$12,212129%
Gilbert, AZ$58,166 $40,720$17,446143%

Disappointing doesn’t even begin to describe the circumstances in Boston, where one would need almost three times the median income to be out of the woods. And now that low-income housing is excluded from the equation, suddenly the two NYC boroughs we mentioned earlier don’t look too rosy either. And note how the same San Francisco that the Census data presented as a top performer, now slid closer to the troublesome end of the list with the median income accounting for just 54% of what would be needed to escape rent burden. And even that neat $72,428 paycheck wasn’t enough to prevent that from happening—you’d still need an additional $61,412 to comfortably afford the median rent…

The good news is, however, that there are quite a lot of cities where the median rent takes up almost exactly 30% of the median income, such as Glendale, AZ, Colorado Springs, CO, Lincoln, NE or Houston, TX. (Sort the entries by Actual median income as a pct. of non-burdened income and see the results closest to 100%.) Fremont, CA is also very close to this threshold, while also boasting the fattest median income of the top 100 largest cities—with rents to match, obviously.

Coastal Markets Farthest below the Affordability Threshold

The following map shows the 15 cities where the median income is the smallest compared to the income needed to afford a market rate rent:

Difference between the median income and the income needed to escape rent burden

As it turns out, living on the East Coast has its challenges. Based on the first chart you may have expected Hialeah to lead the pack, but due to the smaller incomes compared to cities like NYC, obviously, the fallback expressed in dollar amount is smaller too. This however does not mean that it’s easier to offset the difference, practically for the same reason. Speaking of NYC: both boroughs included in this study have outrageously low incomes compared to the rental levels, but still it costs you $18,000 less to live in Brooklyn than Manhattan. Not to mention Jersey City, where the median rent is “only” $60,000 short of cutting the mustard. Go to the West Coast and you’re likely to see differences of the same magnitude in cities within a few miles from one another. As seen from San Francisco, the hefty paychecks coupled with slightly cheaper rents make the neighboring San Jose look especially tempting under these circumstances, but that almost $40,000 is a lot of money even by Silicon Valley standards—yes, it looks like you need to earn six figures to afford the median rent in San Jose. Oakland is also just a stone’s throw from San Francisco, but the difference in rent to income ratio puts Oakland $5,000 closer to the affordability threshold. Not much, but let’s value what we have while we still have it, because Oakland was among the cities recording the highest increase in rent: no less than 6.3% Y-o-Y.

Southwestern Suburbs Well above the Affordability Threshold

But enough of the depressing stuff. Let’s see the other extreme, the cities where the rent-to-income ratio is better than just good enough to afford a fair market rent. The narrative remains the same: we compared the median income with the smallest non-rent-burdened income, only that in this case the former is larger than the latter.

The map below shows the top 15 cities by how much this difference translates to in a year:

Difference between the median income and the smallest income needed to avoid rent burden

Southwestern metro areas seem to excel when it comes to cheap rents compared to income, the Phoenix area and the northern Dallas region in particular. Gilbert, AZ is the number one city for renters; the median household income here is $17,400 above the minimum amount needed to avoid rent burden. Only one California city made it to the top and that’s Bakersfield with $6,400 extra in renter income. Note that there’s no sign of New York State and Florida on this map–Virginia Beach represents the whole East Coast, and according to our latest market report, the city has recorded a 4.4% increase in rent Y-o-Y—slightly above the national rate of 4.3%.

Is Your Household Rent-Burdened?

By now you must be dying to know how your household measures up to all this. If you’ve already whipped out your trusty old abacus, you may as well put it away because we have something that will put it to shame. Again, the smallest non-rent-burdened income is what you’d need to earn so that you’d pay 30% of it in rent.

Move the horizontal sliders to check if your household is rent-burdened, and see how a different scenario would affect your financial situation:

Use the code below to embed the calculator on your website:

Who is RENTCafé and How Was the Data Compiled?

    • RENTCafé is a nationwide apartment search website that enables renters to easily find apartments and houses for rent throughout the United States.
    • To compile the first part of this report, RENTCafé’s research team extracted the gross median income of renter-occupied households (representing the sum of the income of all people 15 years and older living in a rental household) as well as the median rent (across all property types) in the 100 most populous US cities from the latest official reports issued by the U.S. Census Bureau (as of early November, 2016).
    • For the second part of the report we used the same income data, while the median market rents were provided by Yardi Matrix. Yardi Matrix is RENTCafé’s sister company, an apartment market intelligence source which researches and reports on all multifamily properties containing 50 or more units across 124 markets in the United States, that are not part of a regulated affordable housing program and do not benefit from any government subsidies.

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.

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About the author

Balazs Szekely

Balazs is a qualified journalist with a thing for real estate. This obsession comes in handy in his work as an online content developer and creative writer for RENTCafé. When he’s not thrashing his keyboard, he takes pleasure in photography, aquascaping and all kinds of DIY projects. Feel free to get in touch with Balazs via email or Twitter.

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