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The five most affordable cities in the US for apartment renters in 2021

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Lacy H.
Jan 19, 2021

First things first – what makes a city “affordable?” You could compare metrics such as a cost of living without rent versus the average rent cost, or the average cost of living including rent costs. Being that we’re in the business of apartments, we’re going to compare the median household income and the average monthly rent cost for each city to show why each city on our list is deemed “affordable.”

The rule of thumb when it comes to calculating a healthy monthly rent allowance for your apartment is that rent should be less than one-third of your monthly income. We’re applying that same rule when it comes to a citywide average income and rent costs! Based on our data, here are five cities we deem most affordable for an apartment renter in the US:

el paso texas

This western-most Texas city sits at the intersection of Texas, New Mexico, and Mexico borders and is rich with multicultural heritage and deeply-rooted Mexican influence. The backdrop of the Texas city is etched by the beautiful sight of the Franklin Mountains and the adjoining state park, and downtown was recently revived to reflect the vibrancy of the city’s culture.

The average median household income for residents of El Paso, Texas is right around $42k per year, approximately $10k less than the national average. However, the average rent cost in the city boasts a similar comparison, resting at around $1,100 per month. An article published last year that showcases a decade of national average rent evolution places rent cost in El Paso at about 25% lower than in other metropolitan areas throughout the country!

When it comes down to it, entering into a 12-month lease at $1,100/month would put someone at right about $13.2k in rent cost for the year. That’s less than a third of the city-wide median income of $42k, making El Paso an affordable city in our book!

phoenix arizona

This desert-kissed city is best known for its warm year-round temps, luxe spa resorts, and premier golf courses. Picture a city that rests in a valley surrounded by mountains and sprinkled with large cacti displays and native desert plants – that’s the gorgeous city of Phoenix.

When it comes to residents of Phoenix, Arizona, the average median household income sits at about $57.4k per year, according to the most recent census. The average rent cost for the city is about $1,340 per month, making the cost of a year-long lease term approximately $16k. That sits way outside our one-third rule when you compare it to the average median household income for the city! We love to see that.

memphis tennessee

Known as the birthplace of rock n’ roll, Memphis is Tennessee’s second-largest city behind Nashville. The city is home to a little over one million residents and has quaint, yet vibrant, Southern city draws. From a nationwide perspective, you’ll read in most articles and blogs such as this one that overall, the cost of living in Memphis is extremely desirable!

The median household income for Memphis, Tennessee is about $41.2k per year with a city-wide monthly rent average of about $1,100. In recent months, Memphis has experienced a little bit of a spike in average rent costs, but overall, entering into a year-long lease still lands you at just below the one-third rule. Being that the median household income for Memphis is below the national average, we like to see that it can withstand seasonal and annual rent fluctuation.

salt lake city utah

Salt Lake City doesn’t even feel fair to place on this list! It’s surrounded by the most beautiful mountain ranges and places its residents at prime range from nearby spots such as Ferguson Canyon for avid rock climbers, multiple snow ranges for skiers and snowboarders, and the Great Salt Lake.

For residents in Salt Lake City, Utah, the median household income is about $60.7k per year. That’s about $7k/year above the national average! The average cost of rent in Salt Lake City borders $1,200 per month. Entering into a 12-month lease at $1,200/month puts you close to $14.4k in rent costs for the year. With the median household income ranging a little higher than other metropolitan areas in the country, this gives you more wiggle room to possibly get approved for an apartment with refined finishes and added upgrades!

charlotte north carolina

This booming Southern city has people uprooting and transplanting at a notable rate. Between 2010 and 2020, the city grew by almost 20%. The city has experienced rapid growth with tons of new apartments and urban development taking place. We see why – Queen City has an excess of character and outdoor splendor to charm even the most avid of “city folk.”

Charlotte, North Carolina residents hold a median household income of about $62.8k annually according to the most recent census data. The average monthly rent cost sits right at $1,400 per month which, similar to Salt Lake City, leaves renters a healthy range of options that keep them well within our one-third rule of affordability. 

Overall, what we’re seeing is that while larger metropolitan areas are home to greater median household incomes, they also have higher-than-average rent costs. That’s not to say renters in those cities can’t afford them but is more so a situation where a healthy range of options is much tighter than the ranges of smaller metros throughout the country.

Did you enjoy reading our review of the top five most affordable cities in the US for apartment renters in 2021? Then, check out our blog, “The Great Debate: Austin vs. San Antonio,” to see why San Antonio, Texas has recently been named as the best big city for working from home!

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