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How Big or Tiny of an Apartment Can the Median Household Income Afford to Rent in the 100 Largest US Cities?

Summary:
In some cities, you get what is considered a walk-in closet of a McMansion. It’s not totally fair to compare rents in Tulsa with rents in San Francisco because household incomes are different as well. One way to look at this is to figure out how big of an apartment a household can rent by paying 30% of the local median household income in rent. And you guessed it, in a number of cities the local median household income, as high as it may be, can only rent what would be considered a walk-in closet in a McMansion. Many households in expensive cities such as New York City or San Francisco pay far more in rent than the 30% of their pre-tax household income. 50% is not unheard of. The median asking rent for a two-bedroom apartment in San Francisco currently runs ,600 a month. A

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In some cities, you get what is considered a walk-in closet of a McMansion.

It’s not totally fair to compare rents in Tulsa with rents in San Francisco because household incomes are different as well. One way to look at this is to figure out how big of an apartment a household can rent by paying 30% of the local median household income in rent. And you guessed it, in a number of cities the local median household income, as high as it may be, can only rent what would be considered a walk-in closet in a McMansion.

Many households in expensive cities such as New York City or San Francisco pay far more in rent than the 30% of their pre-tax household income. 50% is not unheard of. The median asking rent for a two-bedroom apartment in San Francisco currently runs $4,600 a month.

A household signing the lease today would have to make $184,000 a year before taxes to spend 30% of their income on rent. If that household makes “only” $110,000 in income, rent would eat up 50% of pre-tax household income.

So here is a look at the 100 most populous US cities (with New York City broken up into its boroughs), and what size apartment a household earning the median household income can afford by paying 30% of their pre-tax income in rent.

The analysis was done by RENTCafe, using average rent data from Yardi Matrix and median household income data from the Census Bureau’s 2017 ACS, adjusted for inflation to reflect 2019 values. Household income includes all forms of pretax income from wages, interest, dividends, Social Security, etc., earned by all members over the age of 15, but does not include capital gains. Median household income means that 50% earn more, and 50% earn less.

Average apartment size varies by city.

Before we get to what apartment size they can afford, there is the issue of average size, which varies sharply by city. The table below shows the 10 cities with the smallest average apartments. They include the usual suspects with the highest rents: Honolulu with the most minuscule average apartment size of 561 square feet, but also three boroughs of New York City (Brooklyn, Manhattan, Queens), Seattle, San Francisco, Washington DC, and Chicago … and the unusual suspect, Paradise, NV.

City/Borough State Avg size Avg. rent
1 Honolulu  HI 561 $1,603
2 Brooklyn  NY 697 $2,796
3 Seattle  WA 698 $2,045
4 Newark  NJ 704 $1,176
5 Manhattan NY 723 $4,113
6 Queens  NY 731 $2,195
7 Washington  DC 745 $2,133
8 Chicago  IL 747 $1,898
9 San Francisco  CA 748 $3,607
10 Paradise  NV 753 $863

At the other end of the spectrum are the cities with the largest average apartment sizes, all of them close to 1,000 square feet, and the sport reasonable average rents:

City/Borough State Avg size Avg. rent
1 Henderson  NV 991 $1,261
2 Chesapeake  VA 979 $1,207
3 Atlanta  GA 978 $1,425
4 Virginia Beach  VA 972 $1,176
5 Jacksonville  FL 966 $1,063
6 Gilbert  AZ 962 $1,240
7 Raleigh  NC 960 $1,164
8 Orlando  FL 958 $1,402
9 North Las Vegas  NV 958 $1,050
10 Scottsdale  AZ 948 $1,471

So what size apartment can that household afford?

To answer that question, RENTCafe looked at how many square feet you can rent with 30% of the median income of renter-occupied households, given the average rent per square foot in that city.

In only 14 of the 100 cities can 30% of this median household income rent an apartment that is larger than average for that city. At the top is Gilbert, AZ, where this household can afford the largest apartment (1,174 square feet). Some of the cities are on the list because household incomes are very high, and others are on this list because rents are low and apartments are on average larger:

City/Borough State Afford size Avg size Avg. rent
1 Gilbert  AZ 1,174 962 $1,240
2 Plano  TX 1,137 935 $1,278
3 Wichita  KS 965 792 $643
4 Tulsa  OK 960 820 $685
5 Chandler  AZ 1,069 940 $1,287
6 Oklahoma City  OK 973 849 $754
7 Virginia Beach  VA 1,077 972 $1,176
8 North Las Vegas  NV 1,033 958 $1,050
9 Irving  TX 912 852 $1,146
10 Paradise  NV 790 753 $863
11 Arlington  VA 902 866 $2,149
12 Fremont  CA 843 831 $2,406
13 Henderson  NV 995 991 $1,261
14 Bakersfield  CA 862 861 $992

And finally, here are all 100 cities in order of how big or tiny of an apartment, in square feet, these folks can rent with 30% of the median household income. For example, in Brooklyn’s case, these folks can afford to rent a bare room of 15 by 18 square feet, which is not exactly huge. You can search the list with the search function in your browser. If your smartphone clips the table on the right, hold your device in landscape position:

City/Borough State Afford size Avg size Avg. rent
1 Brooklyn  NY 265 697 $2,796
2 Boston  MA 266 813 $3,325
3 Manhattan NY 290 723 $4,113
4 Los Angeles  CA 333 792 $2,463
5 Oakland  CA 340 794 $2,684
6 Philadelphia  PA 368 798 $1,592
7 Chicago  IL 370 747 $1,898
8 Cleveland  OH 372 805 $1,076
9 Jersey City  NJ 372 832 $2,925
10 Detroit  MI 376 803 $1,055
11 Hialeah  FL 376 830 $1,363
12 Miami  FL 388 892 $1,692
13 San Francisco  CA 407 748 $3,607
14 Queens  NY 419 731 $2,195
15 Newark  NJ 437 704 $1,176
16 Long Beach  CA 443 797 $2,006
17 Buffalo  NY 448 781 $1,061
18 Honolulu  HI 463 561 $1,603
19 Washington  DC 465 745 $2,133
20 Minneapolis  MN 465 790 $1,551
21 Seattle  WA 479 698 $2,045
22 New Orleans  LA 515 897 $1,133
23 Santa Ana  CA 516 862 $1,922
24 Milwaukee  WI 519 854 $1,158
25 Pittsburgh  PA 521 816 $1,210
26 Portland  OR 534 769 $1,480
27 Baltimore  MD 541 823 $1,253
28 St. Paul  MN 544 829 $1,260
29 San Jose  CA 551 885 $2,706
30 San Diego  CA 552 876 $2,154
31 Cincinnati  OH 563 871 $972
32 Chula Vista  CA 565 866 $1,729
33 Denver  CO 572 840 $1,618
34 Stockton  CA 573 790 $1,144
35 Anaheim  CA 585 845 $1,786
36 Riverside  CA 589 844 $1,538
37 Sacramento  CA 600 823 $1,370
38 Baton Rouge  LA 611 942 $1,040
39 Tampa  FL 619 925 $1,298
40 Richmond  VA 620 867 $1,081
41 Tucson  AZ 621 757 $856
42 Atlanta  GA 621 978 $1,425
43 St. Louis  MO 632 840 $923
44 Nashville  TN 639 889 $1,335
45 Fresno  CA 640 895 $1,059
46 St. Petersburg  FL 642 873 $1,282
47 Reno  NV 652 853 $1,237
48 Madison  WI 654 845 $1,233
49 Orlando  FL 656 958 $1,402
50 Aurora  CO 668 841 $1,325
51 Toledo  OH 678 812 $713
52 Dallas  TX 679 844 $1,199
53 Glendale  AZ 695 793 $953
54 Albuquerque  NM 717 812 $869
55 Irvine  CA 717 917 $2,380
56 Norfolk  VA 719 881 $1,071
57 Phoenix  AZ 727 799 $1,037
58 Colorado Springs  CO 741 837 $1,122
59 Winston-Salem  NC 750 918 $841
60 Mesa  AZ 751 810 $1,009
61 Austin  TX 751 864 $1,369
62 San Antonio  TX 756 853 $1,018
63 Houston  TX 757 879 $1,094
64 Louisville  KY 766 932 $941
65 Arlington  TX 771 824 $1,012
66 Durham  NC 777 937 $1,132
67 Fort Worth  TX 788 871 $1,088
68 Lubbock  TX 788 914 $927
69 Paradise  NV 790 753 $863
70 Lincoln  NE 796 943 $959
71 Indianapolis  IN 797 879 $858
72 Kansas City  MO 798 899 $979
73 El Paso  TX 800 814 $770
74 Memphis  TN 806 910 $788
75 Garland  TX 807 870 $1,036
76 Lexington  KY 810 901 $898
77 Las Vegas  NV 820 894 $1,051
78 Charlotte  NC 825 944 $1,190
79 Jacksonville  FL 838 966 $1,063
80 Fremont  CA 843 831 $2,406
81 Corpus Christi  TX 845 849 $965
82 Greensboro  NC 858 937 $876
83 Bakersfield  CA 862 861 $992
84 Fort Wayne  IN 866 882 $760
85 Columbus  OH 878 885 $918
86 Raleigh  NC 893 960 $1,164
87 Arlington  VA 902 866 $2,149
88 Omaha  NE 905 924 $905
89 Irving  TX 912 852 $1,146
90 Chesapeake  VA 914 979 $1,207
91 Scottsdale  AZ 924 948 $1,471
92 Tulsa  OK 960 820 $685
93 Wichita  KS 965 792 $643
94 Oklahoma City  OK 973 849 $754
95 Henderson  NV 995 991 $1,261
96 North Las Vegas  NV 1,033 958 $1,050
97 Chandler  AZ 1,069 940 $1,287
98 Virginia Beach  VA 1,077 972 $1,176
99 Plano  TX 1,137 935 $1,278
100 Gilbert  AZ 1,174 962 $1,240

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How Big or Tiny of an Apartment Can the Median Household Income Afford to Rent in the 100 Largest US Cities?

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Wolf Richter
Founder, Wolf Street Corp. In his cynical, tongue-in-cheek manner, he muses on WOLF STREET about economic, business, and financial issues, Wall Street shenanigans, complex entanglements, and other things, debacles, and opportunities that catch his eye in the US, Europe, Japan, and occasionally China.

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