City living can be fun, but it can also be expensive.
Although living in a city can provide you unbeatable work opportunities and professional connections, being able to live close to those opportunities is becoming more and more difficult to afford. Incomes have stagnated while rent and general cost of living has increased, which is creating a less than favorable rent-to-income ratio in many areas.
So, if you’re considering a move to a new city, it’s important to know if you’ll be able to afford to live there comfortably. From coast to coast and everywhere in between, here are 166 cities where you can’t afford to live comfortably on the median income, as well as a closer look at the top 25 cities for income to rent disparities.
What percentage of my income should go towards rent?
When apartment-hunting, it’s important to know your budget and stick to it. It’s easy to be led astray by the perfect apartment that ticks all your boxes, causing you to justify going over your limit because you just have to have that breakfast nook or park-view windows. But you also have other essential expenses to consider like utilities, food, transport, entertainment and savings. That’s why there’s a general rule you should follow to make sure you’re setting yourself up for financial success as a renter.
Overall, the rule of thumb when considering the rent-to-income ratio is that you should only spend 30 percent of your gross monthly income on your rent. If you follow this rule, you should be able to budget for all your other necessary expenditures, including accounting for income taxes. But there are many cities where only spending 30 percent on rent is easier said than done.
The 25 most expensive U.S. cities by rent-to-income ratio
It probably won’t be a surprise to see that many of the most expensive cities in the U.S. are located on the coasts. These coastal cities have long been some of the country’s top centers of culture and commerce. But there are still a few that you probably wouldn’t have expected to see on this list, where the rent-to-income ratio has been inching up over the years.
25. Kissimmee, FL
- Median income: $35,574
- Average rent: $1,424 (monthly), $17,088 (yearly)
- Rent to income ratio: 48.0 percent
Residents of this central Florida city spend nearly half of their income on rent, which is a real surprise considering Kissimmee is located just south of Orlando. But therein lies its appeal. Kissimmee offers fast and easy access to the area’s many top amusement parks like Disney World, as well as outdoor recreation at local lakes and wilderness areas.
24. New Orleans, LA
- Median income: $38,423
- Average rent: $1,544 (monthly), $18,528 (yearly)
- Rent to income ratio: 48.2 percent
Living in the Big Easy isn’t so easy these days for renters, with almost half of the monthly checks going to rent. But it’s easy to see why people are still drawn to New Orleans, even with the steep cost of living. The city’s vibrant cultural life, diverse history, enthralling music, delicious food, party scene (including the famous Mardi Gras) and sense of community is second to none.
23. Yonkers, NY
- Median income: $60,436
- Average rent: $2,439 (monthly), $29,268 (yearly)
- Rent to income ratio: 48.4 percent
Can’t afford New York City prices? Decamp about half an hour up the Hudson to Yonkers. This Westchester County city is popular for its many historical attractions and green areas, as well as being easy commuting distance to N.Y.C. You’re still paying “close to New York City prices” when it comes to rent, but it’s still more affordable than the city itself or closer spots like the next city of the list.
22. Jersey City, NJ
- Median income: $72,561
- Average rent: $2,997 (monthly), $35,964 (yearly)
- Rent to income ratio: 49.6 percent
Expect to shell out nearly three grand per month for a one-bedroom in New Jersey’s second-largest city, which faces the island of Manhattan from the west over the Hudson River. But living in Jersey City gives you near-instant access to N.Y.C., as well as plenty of local attractions like the Liberty State Park, great museums like the Ellis Island Museum and dining to rival the food scene across the river.
21. Deerfield Beach, FL
- Median income: $45,172
- Average rent: $1,870 (monthly), $22,440 (yearly)
- Rent to income ratio: 49.7 percent
It’s a surprise that this neighbor to high-profile South Florida enclaves like Boca Raton and Palm Beach is even more expensive, taking a hefty chunk of change out of your pocket each month for rent. But for those craving the charms of Florida without the crowds that flock to neighboring cities and beaches, Deerfield Beach delivers with its under-the-radar amenities like pristine beaches, lush parks and urban green areas, numerous outdoor activities like golf and cable skiing, laid-back vibes and access to nearby Miami’s cosmopolitan thrills.
20. Chicago, IL
- Median income: $57,238
- Average rent: $2,395 (monthly), $28,740 (yearly)
- Rent to income ratio: 50.2 percent
Chicago blows half of your monthly take-home out of your wallet each month to cover rent, but if you can take the high costs and blustery gales that earned this city its nickname, you’ll be rewarded. Sitting on the edge of Lake Michigan, Illinois’ largest city is home to one of the most happening performing arts scenes in the U.S., fantastic museums and cultural institutions, art-filled outdoor spaces like Millennium Park, diverse architecture and great food — you’ll quickly pick a side in the best deep-dish pizza wars.
19. Rochester, NY
- Median income: $35,403
- Average rent: $1,484 (monthly), $17,808 (yearly)
- Rent to income ratio: 50.3 percent
Sitting on the shores of Lake Ontario with Canada just across the border, the city of Rochester may not immediately come to mind as being so expensive, but its world-renowned universities and institutes and tech industry keep it a bustling place to live. Locals get to enjoy a fantastic music scene, intriguing museums and abundant green spaces and easy access to wilderness areas and activities close by.
18. Miami Beach, FL
- Median income: $55,058
- Average rent: $2,356 (monthly), $28,272 (yearly)
- Rent to income ratio: 51.3 percent
Connected to mainland Miami by bridges, the island paradise of Miami Beach costs a pretty penny for renters. Under the fierce Florida sun, the past and the present swirl together, with sleek, ocean-view high-rises setting up shop next to historic Art Deco buildings. Living here, it’s all about the good life, whether that’s chilling at the beach, going to parties and nightclubs, partaking of multicultural cuisine or shopping ’til you drop.
17. Oakland, CA
- Median income: $76,469
- Average rent: $3,371 (monthly), $40,452 (yearly)
- Rent to income ratio: 52.9 percent
As the cost of living in San Francisco soars, many Bay Area residents and new arrivals are heading across the waters to Oakland, where you can expect more than half of your monthly income to go to rent. But Oakland is a thriving, enthralling city in its own right, with a flourishing food scene, beautiful architecture, innovative art, ample parks and green areas and an entire lake near downtown.
16. Boulder, CO
- Median income: $62,207
- Average rent: $2,747 (monthly), $32,964 (yearly)
- Rent to income ratio: 53.0 percent
Nestled among the foothills of the Rockies, Boulder is one of Colorado’s fastest-growing cities, as outdoor recreation and nature lovers ditch Denver to live right next door to their beloved hiking and mountain-biking trails, and entrepreneurs come for the start-up culture. You can go rock climbing, hiking or cycling among the mountains in no time, then head back into town for craft brews, hearty eats and robust entertainment and fun thanks to a thriving arts scene.
15. Cleveland, OH
- Median income: $29,953
- Average rent: $1,342 (monthly), $16,104 (yearly)
- Rent to income ratio: 53.8 percent
Home to renowned museums and cultural institutions like the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, a network of protected nature reserves that offers easy access to outdoor fun and more, Cleveland finds the perfect balance between urban and natural fun. While more affordable than other East Coast metropolitan areas, you’re still looking at using mroe than half your monthly income for rent.
14. Hartford, CT
- Median income: $30,444
- Average rent: $1,410 (monthly), $16,920 (yearly)
- Rent to income ratio: 55.6 percent
Picturesque and rife with history, Hartford was a center for the abolitionist movement of the 19th century and home to legendary writers like Harriet Beecher Stowe and Mark Twain. Its rich past still shows through its architecture, monuments and museums. Sitting side by side with all that history are bustling modern industries like insurance and education, and plenty in the way of entertainment, dining and fun to keep locals happy.
13. Lawrence, MA
- Median income: $41,356
- Average rent: $1,919 (monthly), $23,028 (yearly)
- Rent to income ratio: 55.7 percent
This diverse, multicultural city full of nature and history is just a short drive from Boston, making it an ideal option for commuters who don’t mind the drive. If you’re looking to avoid the prices in the Boston area, Lawrence is much more affordable but still on the higher end of the scale, with the average rent-to-income ratio being more than 50 percent.
12. Philadelphia, PA
- Median income: $46,116
- Average rent: $2,146 (monthly), $25,752 (yearly)
- Rent to income ratio: 55.8 percent
Pennsylvania’s largest city is also one of the most important in early American history. It was in Philadelphia that the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution were signed at Independence Hall, as well as being the home of the Liberty Bell. History buffs will always have a field day here, but there’s plenty else to enjoy, including sports (the city is home to the Eagles, Phillies, Flyers and the 76ers for football, baseball, hockey and basketball, respectively) and noshing on famous local foods like hoagies and Philly cheesesteaks.
11. New Haven, CT
- Median income: $41,950
- Average rent: $2,058 (monthly), $24,696 (yearly)
- Rent to income ratio: 58.9 percent
New Haven is the archetypal image of a quaint New England town, full of historic buildings, leafy trees and sprawling green parks. With history stretching back to the 1600s, it’s best known for being the home of Yale University. As a college town, you’ll find plenty of academic diversions, such as elegant libraries and museums, and the natural beauties of New England’s forests and waterways offer plenty of outdoor activities. But to live in such rarified air doesn’t come cheap, at a rent-to-income ratio of nearly 60 percent.
10. Providence, RI
- Median income: $42,347
- Average rent: $2,129 (monthly), $25,548 (yearly)
- Rent to income ratio: 60.3 percent
Providence‘s past glory as a center of manufacturing has evolved into a sterling reputation for higher education, thanks for local Ivy League member Brown University and the Rhode Island School for Design, one of the nation’s top art schools. Outside of education, healthcare is also a major player. All this demand for top talent and the transitory nature of college towns keeps rents up.
9. Detroit, MI
- Median income: $31,283
- Average rent: $1,591 (monthly), $19,092 (yearly)
- Rent to income ratio: 61.0 percent
Although Detroit fell from the lofty heights of being the home of the U.S. auto industry and birthing Motown, through hard work and dedication, it’s slowly starting to rebound, with new industries taking hold, urban revitalization and the renewal and preservation of some of the city’s architectural treasures. With a storied past as a center for music, art and culture, the city is rediscovering its roots and rising from the ashes. But there’s still a long way to go, so even with new jobs and opportunities popping up, the cost of rent is still high compared to income.
8. Los Angeles, CA
- Median income: $62,474
- Average rent: $3,200 (monthly), $38,400 (yearly)
- Rent to income ratio: 61.5 percent
The scenic California coast. Good weather year-round. The one and only Hollywood. Los Angeles needs no introduction. Everyone with a dream of making it big in the movies comes here, and many come here anyway just for the fine weather, endless art and entertainment and diverse food. But even this sprawling city is packed to bursting, and the average rent prices prove it. Be prepared to pony up over 60 percent of that paycheck for those silver screen dreams.
7. Boston, MA
- Median income: $71,834
- Average rent: $3,757 (monthly), $45,084 (yearly)
- Rent to income ratio: 62.8 percent
Another giant of education, history and culture, Boston’s prowess in higher education, booming start-up market, thriving industries like finance and IT and world-class arts and culture scenes have kept this legendary city among the top East Coast metro areas since its founding. But it’s also one of the most expensive cities in the U.S., and although median incomes are high, so is the rent.
6. Santa Monica, CA
- Median income: $96,138
- Average rent: $5,066 (monthly), $60,792 (yearly)
- Rent to income ratio: 63.2 percent
For a one-bedroom apartment in Santa Monica, you’ll be looking at a sticker-shock price of more than five grand. But for all that, you get to live close to some of California’s most scenic beaches, enjoy famous attractions like the Santa Monica Pier and Third Street Promenade, treat yourself to cutting-edge cuisine, max out your credit cards at some of the best shopping anywhere in the world and soak up that SoCal beach lifestyle.
5. Camden, NJ
- Median income: $25,928
- Average rent: $1,496 (monthly), $17,952 (yearly)
- Rent to income ratio: 69.2 percent
One would assume that Camden — located just across the Delaware River from Philadelphia — would be more affordable than its big-city neighbor but not so. The median income is low, and the rents are high, taking nearly 70 percent of monthly income. However, it’s easy to commute back and forth from Philly for work, you can live close to a major cosmopolitan center, and Camden has plenty of undercover charms, like cool museums and lush parks.
4. Newark, NJ
- Median income: $37,642
- Average rent: $2,181 (monthly), $26,172 (yearly)
- Rent to income ratio: 69.5 percent
New Jersey’s largest city is also its most expensive in rent-to-income ratio, with one-bedroom apartments taking nearly 70 percent of your monthly earnings. Compared to N.Y.C., which isn’t far away, it’s still a steal, though. In Newark, you’ll find some lovely parks, interesting art and history museums and the famous Cathedral Basilica of the Sacred Heart.
3. Alhambra, CA
- Median income: $57,432
- Average rent: $3,439 (monthly), $41,268 (yearly)
- Rent to income ratio: 71.9 percent
A short drive from downtown L.A., the city of Alhambra probably won’t immediately ring a bell like other more famous parts of Los Angeles County. Flying under the radar has allowed this city to develop a charming small-town atmosphere while being almost in the heart of L.A., with quaint homes and apartments, great eats and a laid-back vibe. But it doesn’t come cheap, at more than 70 percent rent-to-income ratio.
2. Miami, FL
- Median income: $41,818
- Average rent: $2,535 (monthly), $30,420 (yearly)
- Rent to income ratio: 72.7 percent
As Florida’s most happening city for art, culture, entertainment and commerce, Miami holds great appeal. From its famous beaches to vibrant party life, there’s never a dull moment. But it’s not all fun and games when it comes to being able to live in this balmy seafront paradise, as, on average, more than 70 percent of your monthly take-home goes to rent.
1. New York, NY
- Median income: $63,799
- Average rent: $4,333 (monthly), $51,996 (yearly)
- Rent to income ratio: 81.5 percent
It should come as no surprise that New York itself is the least affordable city for rent-to-income ratio, as residents pay a whopping 81.5 percent of their gross monthly income to cover the rent. But ask any New Yorker, and they’ll swear up and down it’s worth it. They’re at the center of the universe, as many like to call N.Y.C., living in a global epicenter for commerce, art, food and culture.
The 166 most expensive cities in the U.S.
In addition to the top 25 cities we just covered, here’s the full list of the 166 cities around the U.S., where rent will eat up the most of your monthly income.
The key to city living is balance, affordability
Living in an urban environment is always exciting, no matter what city you’re in. But if the income to rent ratio is too high, you won’t have the money to enjoy all the unique activities your city has to offer, as well as to live comfortably and to put away savings. So, it’s important to find a city that allows you to live within your budget, follow the 30 percent rule and still be able to go out and have fun.
Rent prices are based on a rolling weighted average from Apartment Guide and Rent.com’s multifamily rental property inventory of one-bedroom apartments. Data was pulled in August 2020 and goes back for one year. We use a weighted average formula that more accurately represents price availability for each individual unit type and reduces the influence of seasonality on rent prices in specific markets.
Income data comes from the U.S. Census Bureau.
The rent information included in this article is used for illustrative purposes only. The data contained herein do not constitute financial advice or a pricing guarantee for any apartment.