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best cities for renters

Sometimes renting can be just as difficult as homeownership. The most recent data from the U.S. Census Bureau shows that the average renting household spends 29.9% of its income on rent. Over 10 million renting households spend at least 50% of their income on housing. But those are not the only struggles renters face. The threat of eviction looms for renters struggling to cover costs and many renters, especially in the most expensive cities, are forced into long commutes to find affordable accommodation. This leaves many renters unable to save for a mortgage or for retirement.

Below we look at a combination of these and other factors to find the best cities for renters. Specifically, we included in our analysis the percent of renters who are rent cost-burdened, the percent of housing stock dedicated to renters, entertainment establishment density, crime rate per 100,000 residents, average commute time, unemployment rate and eviction rate. Check out our data and methodology section below to see where we got our data and how we put it together to create our ranking.

Key Findings

  • Many renters are rent cost-burdened – Even across cities in our top 10, it is typical to see more than 40% of renters spending at least 30% of their income on rent. Even in Irving, Texas, which has the lowest share of rent cost-burdened renters, over a third of renters spend more than 30% of their income on rent. In Hialeah, Florida, which has the highest percentage of rent cost-burdened renters, around 55% of renters spend over 30% of their income on rent.
  • The Midwest is a good area for renters – The Midwest leads the way in our top 10 with four representatives. Madison, Wisconsin takes first, followed by Lincoln, Nebraska in fourth and the Twin Cities in seventh and eighth.

best cities for renters

1. Madison, Wisconsin

Madison leads the way in this analysis. This city is great for renters from a quality of life perspective. Crime, commute times and the unemployment rate are all low. In each of those metrics Madison ranks in the top 20.

Additionally renters should not worry too much about being evicted. Madison has an eviction rate of 0.56, which is the 13th-lowest in the study.

2. Boston, Massachusetts

When it comes to variety of rental options, it’s tough to beat Boston. Around 64% of homes here are rental units, meaning Boston renters who are looking to upgrade, downgrade or simply find a new apartment should have no trouble finding something suitable.

Boston is also a relatively safe city. Renters here enjoy the 16th-lowest crime rate in our study. In total Boston ranks in the top half for every metric but one: commute time. The average worker spends an hour a day getting to and from work.

3. Austin, Texas

Austin is an affordable city for renters. According to our data, around 54% of renters here spend less than 30% of their income on housing. Another plus for renters is the low eviction rate. Austin has an eviction rate of 0.92, which is the 24th-lowest rate in the study.

Renters also have access to plenty of economic opportunity. Austin has one of the strongest economies in the country, with an unemployment rate of only 3.4%.

4. Lincoln, Nebraska

Lincoln is another city where renters are able to fatten up their savings accounts thanks to affordable rent. Only 45% of renters here are rent cost-burdened, a top 25 rate. One reason for the low rent cost-burdened rate is the booming economy. Just about everyone who wants a job can find one in Lincoln. Less than 3% of residents are unemployed here.

The only definite downside to being a renter in Lincoln is the lack of variety in rental units. The majority of residents in Lincoln opt to buy instead of rent, leaving only 40% of housing units left aside for renters.

5. Arlington, Virginia

Renters in Arlington have done a great job finding affordable housing. Data from the Census Bureau shows that only 41% of renters spend over 30% of their income on housing. That is the fifth-lowest rent cost-burdened rate in the study. Arlington is also the third-safest city in our dat aset and has the seventh-lowest unemployment rate.

All of those great benefits to come with a fairly long commute, however. The average worker in Arlington spends nearly 29 minutes commuting to work.

6. Minneapolis, Minnesota

Both of the Twin Cities take spots in this top 10. As a renting city, Minneapolis shares much in common with St. Paul. As in St. Paul the majority of renters here spend under 30% of their income on rent and most renters do not have to worry about the threat of eviction. But Minneapolis has a solid edge in average commute time and unemployment rate, which vault it past its neighbor into sixth.

7. St. Paul, Minnesota

St. Paul takes seventh. This city has a low eviction rate and a decent amount stock of affordable housing for renters. In total only 45% of renters here are housing cost-burdened, which is a top 25 rate.

Renters should also be able to find good jobs, St. Paul has an unemployment rate below 4%. Renters who want to switch from renting to buying also might enjoy living in St. Paul where the majority of homes are owner-occupied.

8. San Francisco, California

San Francisco has a reputation for sky-high rents. And for good reason, the median gross rent for a place in San Francisco was just under $1,800 as of 2016, according to Census Bureau data. But, at least for the renters who managed to stay in the city, rents appear to be manageable. Only 37% of renters here are rent cost-burdened.

A major benefit to living in San Francisco is access to high-paying jobs. The median full-time worker here earns nearly $79,000 per year and with unemployment a low 3.2%, that number may continue to grow. San Francisco also scores in the top 10 for low eviction rate.

9. Jersey City, New Jersey

Only two cities in the study have more housing dedicated to renting than Jersey City. In total 70.4% of all homes in Jersey City are renter-occupied. Jersey City renters also do a fairly good job managing their rental costs. According to our data, 45% of renters here spend 30% or more of their income on housing, which is a top 25 rate.

The crime rate here is also fairly low. Jersey City has 216 crimes per 10,000 residents. According to our data, only seven cities are better.

10. Spring Valley, Nevada

Over 58% of the housing market in Spring Valley is dedicated to rental units. For that metric, Spring Valley ranks in the top 20. And despite a slightly above-average unemployment rate (5.4%), Spring Valley renters for the most part do a good job of budgeting. Only 46% of renters here are rent cost-burdened.

Hopefully that means renters here can get a head start on saving for retirement or saving up for a down payment on a future mortgage.

best cities for renters

Data and Methodology

In order to find the best cities to be a renter, we looked at data for 96 cities. We compared them across the following seven metrics:

  • Percent of renters who are rent cost-burdened. This is the percent of renter-occupied households who spend at least 30% of their income on rent. Data comes from the U.S. Census Bureau’s 1-year American Community Survey.
  • Percent of housing stock dedicated to renting. This is the percent of renter-occupied households as a percent of all households. Data comes from the Census Bureau’s 2016 1-year American Community Survey.
  • Eviction rate. This is the ratio of the number of renter-occupied households in an area that received an eviction judgement in which renters were ordered to leave. Data comes from Eviction Labs and is for 2016.
  • Density of entertainment establishments. This is the number of entertainment establishments as a percent of all establishments. Data comes from the Census Bureau’s 2015 County Business Patterns Survey.
  • Crime rate per 10,000 residents. Data comes from the FBI UCR database and is for 2016.
  • Unemployment rate. Data comes from the Census Bureau’s 2016 1-year American Community Survey.
  • Average commute time. Data comes from the Census Bureau’s 2016 1-year American Community Survey.

In order to create our final index, we first ranked each city in every metric. Then we found each city’s average ranking, giving equal weight to all metrics. Using this average ranking, we created our final score. The city with the best average ranking received a score of 100 and the city with the worst average ranking received a 0.

Tips for Switching From Renting to Buying

  • Prepare a down payment – While we showed in this article there are plenty of great places to rent, the truth is many renters dream of becoming homeowners. But the biggest hurdle for these renters is saving up enough money to save for a down payment. With home values rising just as fast as rents in many cities, finding some extra savings to afford a down payment can be difficult. It may be worth cutting back on your spending to speed up the down payment saving process.
  • Get an expert opinion – While there is lots of advice on the internet for how to become a homeowner you can’t beat personalized advice from a financial expert when it comes to securing your long-term financial health. With this in mind it may make sense to talk to a financial advisor about how switching from renting to buying affects your finances. If you are not sure where to find an advisor check out SmartAsset’s financial advisor matching tool, it does the hard work of finding a financial advisor who fits your specific needs.

Questions about our study? Contact press@smartasset.com. 

Photo credit: ©iStock.com/PeopleImages

Derek Miller, CEPF® Derek Miller is a graduate of the University of Edinburgh where he studied economics. He is passionate about using data to help people make better financial decisions. Derek is a Certified Educator in Personal Finance® (CEPF®) and a member of the Society of American Business Editors and Writers. He is a data journalist whose expertise is in finding the stories within the numbers. Derek's writing has been featured on Yahoo, AOL, and Huffington Post. He believes the biggest financial mistake people make is waiting too late to save for retirement and missing out on the wonders of compounding interest. Derek lives in Brooklyn.
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