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Image shows a house with a lawn in a residential neighborhood. SmartAsset analyzed data from the Census Bureau for the 50 largest U.S. cities to conduct its latest study on where residents spend the most and least on housing.

Average monthly housing costs across the 50 largest U.S. cities are $1,268, or about 14% higher than median monthly housing costs nationally ($1,112). Additionally, residents spend an average of 23.88% of their annual pre-tax income on housing costs in those cities, while the average American spends 20.31%. Though large cities are often more expensive when it comes to housing – not to mention other living costs such as transportation and food – some cities are more expensive than others. 

In this study, SmartAsset identified the cities where people spend the most and least on housing. We compared the 50 largest U.S. cities across two metrics: median monthly housing costs and housing costs as a percentage of income. For details on our data sources and how we put all the information together to create our final rankings, check out the Data and Methodology section below.

This is SmartAsset’s second annual study on the topic. Check out the 2020 rankings here.

Key Findings

  • Denver and Atlanta are becoming more costly. Compared to last year’s study, Denver, Colorado and Atlanta, Georgia have become more expensive both in terms of median monthly housing costs as well as housing costs as a percentage of household income. Both tied for ninth in this year’s study, Denver ranked 13th last year while Atlanta ranked 18th.
  • Housing costs are high in the Northeast. None of the 10 cities where people spend the least on housing are in the Northeast. In fact, though Philadelphia, Pennsylvania ranks as the most affordable Northeastern city, it still ranks in the more expensive half of the study, at 25th out of 50. Median monthly housing costs in Philadelphia are $1,018 and residents spend about 26% of their income on housing.
  • Housing costs are less than the national average in 14 of the largest cities. Median monthly housing costs are less than the national average of $1,112 in 14 out of the 50 largest cities that were reviewed in our study. The five cities with the lowest median monthly housing costs are Detroit, Michigan ($729); Tucson, Arizona ($860); Tulsa, Oklahoma ($863); El Paso, Texas ($870) and Milwaukee, Wisconsin ($898).

Cities Where People Spend the Most on Housing

Like last year, Boston, Massachusetts ranks as the city where people spend the most on housing. Census data shows that median monthly housing costs among renters and homeowners in this city total $1,833 – the fifth-highest of the 50 largest U.S. cities. Boston ranks fourth-highest for our other metric, housing costs as a percentage of income, with median annual housing costs making up 27.84% of the city’s median household income.

Six California cities rank in the top 11 cities where people spend the most on housing. They include Los Angeles, San Diego, Long Beach, Oakland, San Jose and Sacramento. Of those six cities, San Jose has the highest median monthly housing costs (about $2,300) and Los Angeles has the highest housing costs as a percentage of income (more than 30%).

Cities Where People Spend the Least on Housing

Oklahoma City, Oklahoma takes the top spot as the city where people spend the least on housing. According to 2019 Census data, the median monthly housing costs for homeowners and renters in Oklahoma City total $916. Residents also pay the lowest percentage of income on housing costs in the study. Median annual housing costs make up only 19.81% of Oklahoma City’s median household income.

The second, third and fourth top-ranking cities where people spend the least on housing are also in the South. Tulsa, Oklahoma has the third-lowest median housing costs of any city in our study – at $863 per month – while Louisville, Kentucky ranks third-lowest for housing costs as a percentage of income – 20.56%. In El Paso, Texas, median monthly housing costs amount to $870, fourth-lowest overall.

Beyond those Southern cities, the remaining cities in the top 10 locales where people spend the least on housing are all in the Midwest and West. Midwestern cities include Omaha, Nebraska; Kansas City, Missouri; Columbus, Ohio; and Indianapolis, Indiana. Meanwhile, Albuquerque, New Mexico and Tucson, Arizona are the two most affordable Western cities when it comes to housing.

Data and Methodology

To find the best cities where people spend the most on housing, we compared the 50 largest U.S. cities across two metrics:

  • Median monthly housing costs. This is median monthly housing costs for homeowners and renters. Data comes from the Census Bureau’s 2019 1-year American Community Survey.
  • Housing costs as a percentage of income. This is median annual housing costs divided by median household income. Data for both metrics comes from the Census Bureau’s 2019 1-year American Community Survey.

First, we ranked each city in each metric. We then found each city’s average ranking, assigning both metrics an equal weight. We used this average ranking to create our final score. The city where people spend the most on housing received a score of 100. The city where people spend the least on housing received a score of 0.

Tips for Managing Housing Costs

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

Photo credit: ©iStock.com/jhorrocks

Stephanie Horan, CEPF® Stephanie Horan is a data journalist at SmartAsset. A Certified Educator of Personal Finance (CEPF®), she sources and analyzes data to write studies relating to a variety of topics including mortgage, retirement and budgeting. Before coming to SmartAsset, she worked as an analyst at an asset management firm. Stephanie graduated from Williams College with a degree in Mathematics. Originally from Philadelphia, she has always been a Yankees fan and currently lives in New York.
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