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In Search of the World’s Best City for Renters—Rental Affordability in the Finest Cities around the Globe

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The question is simple: what are the world’s best cities for renters? Coming up with an answer is where things get somewhat more complicated—what sets a good city apart from the rest, after all? Something most of us can agree upon is that a great city must present a good deal of opportunities to its population. It also certainly doesn’t hurt if you can afford living there.

We already looked at the rents in the top global financial centers recently, but this time we wanted to show you the world in a wider angle—not restricted to cities with outstanding activity in the financial sector, and bringing into the equation the affordability of local housing prices too.

In its latest Cities of Opportunity report, global professional services firm PwC has set up what is basically the shortlist of the world’s best cities to work and live in. Their top-30 ranking is the result of an in-depth analysis of the most prosperous global business, finance and culture capitals, which looks at 10 different indicators—including but not limited to infrastructure, intellectual capital, sustainability and ease of doing business—, all of them essential for a great environment. With the list in our hands, our job was to find out how much money do people earn in these cities and whether these salaries are enough to afford a rental apartment.

First, let’s see what PwC considers to be world’s best Cities of Opportunity:

1. London, GB11. Seoul, KR21. Shanghai, CN
2. Singapore, SG12. Berlin, DE22. Moscow, RU
3. Toronto, CA13. Chicago, US23. Mexico City, MX
4. Paris, FR14. Los Angeles, US24. Johannesburg, ZA
5. Amsterdam, NL15. Tokyo, JP25. São Paulo, BR
6. Manhattan (NYC), US16. Madrid, ES26. Bogotá, CO
7. Stockholm, SE17. Dubai, AE27. Rio de Janeiro, BR
8. San Francisco, US18. Milan, IT28. Jakarta, ID
9. Hong Kong, HK19. Beijing, CN29. Mumbai, IN
10. Sydney, AU20. Kuala Lumpur, MY30. Lagos, NG

As mentioned above, the next logical step was to check out the average rents in these markets, as well as the median incomes, and calculate the rent-to-income ratios. For this, our analysts aggregated rent and income data from various sources. In the case of the US cities, we used our internal rent data (click to see the average rent in Chicago, for example) and the income figures from the public databases of the US Census Bureau. (See the methodology for more details and the list of data sources for each market.)

Rent-burdened much? See how these cities rank by housing affordability

Traditionally, housing costs exceeding 30% of the household income have been viewed as a red flag, so this is also what we adopted as our first threshold. Thus, we considered the cities where the average rent was 30% or less of the local median household income to be burden-free. We also divided the remainder of the list in two: moderately (31-50% rent to income) and severely rent-burdened cities (upwards of 51%).

Here’s how lasts become firsts, and firsts become also-rans:

Renting in the world's top cities of opportunity - Is rent burden an issue in these markets?

This twist on the data puts things into a wholly different perspective. Granted, London sliding back 21 places when ranked by rental affordability is the sort of thing you may have expected to see… But what’s more impressive is that 7 out of the top 10 most affordable cities of opportunity were catapulted there straight from the lower third of the initial ranking.

Kuala Lumpur, Moscow and Johannesburg win the day as the most affordable cities of opportunity

A stunning slingshot maneuver launched this odd trio to the top, from the 20th, 22nd and 24th places of the original ranking, respectively. Still, the two South American markets on the 4th and 5th places, Bogotá and Rio de Janeiro have moved the farthest from their original positions—22 places up from 26th and 27th.

A great city is not necessarily unaffordable (although the best of them tend to be)

Surely, great cities come with price tags to match, as the all-important opportunities they offer must be paid for somehow. Therefore, paying the rent must be painful—or so you may have been led to believe…

Apartments in the best cities are expensive, so renters must make some sacrifices. Right? Well... Click To Tweet

Notice that in 13 of these coveted cities, the rent-to-income ratio is comfortably below that 30% threshold. And although TokyoHong Kong and Madrid technically fall into the moderately rent-burdened category, people in these cities still spend less than a third of their income to pay the rent. If you look at it this way, renting an apartment in more than half of the world’s cities of opportunity shouldn’t be an issue. Then again, we are talking about cities of opportunity, and what would be the use of all those opportunities if only a lucky few could afford to actually utilize them?
And this brings us to the lower end of the list:

Mexico CityManhattan and Lagos—the least renter-friendly cities of opportunity in 2017

Although opportunities are plentiful in these cities, no amount of indulgence is enough to overlook the rent burden issue. Renters in Mexico CityManhattan and Lagos face severe rent burden, meaning that the rent takes up more than half of a household’s income each month (60%, 59% and 57% respectively). In other words, in an average family with two earners, one of them works only to pay the rent, and it’s still not enough. Renters in Los Angeles also cash out 47%, almost half of their hard-earned Dollars on rent each month—and the situation is not that much better in Paris (46%) or Singapore (44%) either.
For a quick flyby of the most rent-burdened cities of opportunity, check out the video below:

Access to the great opportunities these cities offer requires some compromises. At least in the very best of them, it’s safe to argue that rental affordability is not a major charm. You’ve got to give something to get something—that’s just the way things work and there’s not much to do about it. The good news is that there are plenty of other great cities with a fertile ground for growth and success, but where renting an apartment is not an issue at all.

The following interactive table allows you to sort the cities by many different factors. Click on the header of each column to change the order of the entries.

#CityMedian Household IncomeAverage Rent / YearRent-to-Income RatioPWC Rank
1Kuala Lumpur, MY$22,400$4,50020%20
2Moscow, RU$29,200$6,24021%22
3Johannesburg, ZA$28,800$6,48023%24
4Bogotá, CO$24,900$6,60027%26
5Rio de Janeiro, BR$28,500$7,56027%27
6São Paulo, BR$29,100$7,80027%25
7Beijing, CN$31,000$8,40027%19
8Shanghai, CN$32,300$9,06028%21
9Sydney, AU$66,600$19,20029%10
10Milan, IT$42,800$12,48029%18
11Toronto, CA$60,500$17,76029%3
12Berlin, DE$45,800$13,56030%12
13Seoul, KR$48,500$14,76030%11
14Tokyo, JP$63,400$19,80031%15
15Hong Kong, HK$49,300$15,60032%9
16Madrid, ES$42,100$13,68032%16
17Stockholm, SE$43,100$14,46034%7
18Amsterdam, NL$50,500$17,70035%5
19Jakarta, ID$29,000$10,80037%28
20Chicago, US$50,700$19,08038%13
21Dubai, AE$80,800$31,20039%17
22London, GB$57,700$23,28040%1
23San Francisco, US$92,100$37,80041%8
24Mumbai, IN$18,800$7,80041%29
25Singapore, SG$100,500$44,40044%2
26Paris, FR$41,300$19,20046%4
27Los Angeles, US$52,000$24,66047%14
28Lagos, NG$7,500$4,26057%30
29Manhattan, New York, US$75,600$44,70059%6
30Mexico City, MX$14,500$8,64060%23

Methodology

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 RENTCafé.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 media@rentcafe.com.

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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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