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Middle-Income Families in 13 U.S. Cities Can’t Afford Rent Near a Good School – [Infographic]

Access to free quality education is a right, but in some cities it’s starting to look more like a privilege. Because when it comes to public schools, the difference between a top-performing school and a low-ranking one is not just in test scores, but also in who can afford to attend it. You may not be paying tuition to attend a public school, but you will almost certainly be paying more for housing to live in the attendance zone of a good school. Increasing competition for enrolment in reputable city schools is not only adding property value, but also dragging rents upwards.

Rents are on average 25% higher near desirable city schools

We analyzed rents near public schools in urban areas and compared the cost to live in the attendance zones of above-average schools and below-average schools. The results suggest that on average rents are 25% higher in urban areas that have better schools.

In this study we used school data from GreatSchools.org, a website that grades schools based on their respective state standardized test scores and, in some states, other additional factors. Above-average schools are those top-performing schools with scores between 8-10 and below-average schools are the poorest-performing schools with scores between 1-3 (on a scale 1-10).

Good urban schools demand up to 70% higher rents

What do Fort Worth, Memphis and Dallas have in common? You must pay big bucks to live near a good school. 

The most striking rent difference is in Fort Worth, TX where the rent rates near top-ranking schools are 71% higher than those near low-ranking schools. In a somewhat affordable city — where the average rent is 20% lower than the national average of $1,217 — the extra rent for a family with school-aged kids adds up to over $6,800 per year, a big number on a low or middle-income budget. Only 9% of Fort Worth’s public elementary schools receive an above-average rating, and 39% are below-average. Fewer choices of good schools can increase demand for housing and rent prices. 

Top schools in Memphis, TN are in high-demand and it shows in housing prices. If you want to find rent near a good school, increase your rent budget by 65%! The average rent in Memphis is $715, but in the attendance zone of a top school is just over $1,000. 

In Dallas, TX rents are 56% more expensive near good schools, going for $1,551 per month on average. Out of 88 public elementary schools in Dallas, only 9 (or 10%) have above-average scores, while 39 (or 44%) perform below-average. 

Neighborhoods with top schools are also expensive in Las Vegas, NV and Houston, TX, demanding a premium of over 40% in rent. 

There are places where living near top schools is still relatively affordable. Rent comparisons in San Jose, CA, Louisville, KY, Seattle, WA, and El Paso, TX show that here you don’t have to pay more than 15% in additional rent to enroll your children in a good school. 

In Indianapolis the quality of schools does not appear to bear any weight on rent prices. Housing here has been historically more affordable for middle-income families than in other major cities. The city average rent is around $800 per month, about $400 below the national average. 

Good schools out-of-reach even for middle-income families in 13 cities

Can you afford a top-school neighborhood? Probably not, if you live in one of the 13 cities where rents near top schools surpass 30% of the city’s gross median household income. 

It’s not exactly news that Manhattan (New York), San Francisco, and Los Angeles rentals are grossly unaffordable for middle-income families. So when it comes to sending their kids to a good school, average-earning parents would need to spend more than half their household income on rent. In Manhattan in particular, rents near top schools eat up 68% of median income.   

Here’s how (un)affordable rents near the top schools really are: 

Look up cities in the interactive infographic below:

Greater housing costs, be it in the form of higher home prices or higher rents, mean that many parents are willing to make some sacrifices, including paying extra, to gain access to a top school. However, a lot of young couples are not interested to give up — once they become parents — the city, their urban lifestyle, and their short commute to work, in exchange for the suburbs and their good schools. Instead, they opt for paying a premium for housing in a city neighborhood with a good school. In many cases that translates into renting, since homes in prime neighborhoods can often be out of reach for young families.

Higher housing costs are often indicators of a safe neighborhood with good facilities and well-paying jobs. When it comes to education, money makes a difference. The funding the school district receives from property taxes and per-pupil spending both contribute to the quality of a school. Yet, there’s more that goes into the recipe for a good school.

The school and neighborhood, whether good or bad, go hand in hand. Parents will typically look for the type of environment that aligns to the goals they have for their children and has the potential to provide the best possible climate for their success. And in many cases, that means having to spend more by moving to a more affluent neighborhood.

Methodology: 

  1. Publicly available attendance boundary data was used (where available) to determine the average rent near schools in both categories – top-ranked and low-ranked schools.
  2. Where attendance boundary data was not available, a 1-mile radius was used to determine the average rent.
  3. Only public and public charter elementary schools were taken into account. 
  4. The value given for the average rents is a weighted average of  areas with top-rated elementary schools and a weighted average of areas with low-rated elementary schools. 
  5. The average rents are valid as of July 2016 and have been extracted from Yardi Matrix – an apartment intelligence service that tracks all apartment buildings 50 units or larger, in 123 markets across the US. We considered only apartment communities with 50+ units for this analysis.
  6. We only included cities where we have coverage in at least 50% of school zones. 
  7. Median household income data was obtained from Census. The “30% of gross income” rule-of-thumb was applied. Rent over 30% of income is considered unaffordable. 

About the author

Nadia Balint

Nadia Balint is a senior marketing writer for RENTCafé. She researches and writes about news and trends in U.S. real estate and their impact on our everyday life. Her expertise has been quoted in major national and local media outlets. Nadia has a B.S. in Business Management from the College of Business and Management at the Northeastern Illinois University in Chicago, and an extensive background in business, corporate, and real estate law. You can get in touch with Nadia via email.

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