What You Need to Earn to Afford Rent in the 50 Largest Cities in America

Since the start of the foreclosure, the country has seen a sharp drop in rents as people flee cities and a rise through the roof as offices reopen. Some residents who took advantage of low rents are now finding themselves away from the towns they have called home for the past two years. Many are considering taking over their home office and moving to a new, less expensive city.

But which are the most and least expensive cities for tenants? A key indicator of affordability for a city is whether a resident earning an average salary can afford an average apartment. What salary exactly do you need to rent an apartment in your city or the one you want?

We’ve researched the 50 largest cities in the United States and determined the rental prices for the average one- and two-bedroom apartment in each. Using the widely accepted rule that one should not spend more than 30% of one’s income on housing (i.e. rent), we calculated how much one would need to earn in each city to afford a mid-priced apartment. From big triple-digit salaries in the Northeast to falling costs of living in the Midwest, we’ve ranked each of the nation’s largest cities based on apartment affordability.

The cities where you have to earn the most to afford an average apartment

The cities where you have to earn the most to rent an average apartment are unsurprisingly along the coasts.

The two cities where you will need to earn the highest salary are New York and Boston. Each of the following seven most expensive countries is on the West Coast, six of which are in California. Three of the top eight are in the Bay Area and three of the top nine are in SoCal. Nine of the top 14 are West Coast cities.

Only six of the 20 cities with the highest rents are more than 100 miles from a coastline, with Chicago being the only non-coastal city to break the 10 most expensive. Six of the first 50 are in the desert southwest. Seven are in Texas. Every city ranked below 22nd for the highest required salary — and except for one (Jacksonville, FL) below 33rd — is a far cry from a coast.

Apartment Guide looked at the average rent, dollar increase, and year-over-year percentage change among the 50 most populous cities for a combination of one- and two-bedroom unit types. Below are several key takeaways from this data.

Takeaway #1: One-Third of Top 50 Cities Need a Wage Above the Median Household Wage

The average median household wage, according to the US Census Bureau, is $64,994 per year. Among the 50 largest cities, you would have to earn more than that in 60% of them to afford an apartment at the average price. There are eight cities where you should win double. Charlotte, NC, is just above the median, and Columbus, OH, is just below.

Of the cities above the median, six have increased their rents from this time last year and six have decreased. Only 11 of the 50 largest cities saw year-over-year declines in rent prices. Rents in Seattle are up the most from a year ago, up 45.21% and $1,125 per month. Baltimore rents fell the most, down 18.81% and $359 per month. Santa Ana, Calif., was the only city among the 14 highest needed salaries that saw a year-over-year decline, down 1.70% and $52.

Takeaway #2: The most populated cities don’t necessarily have the highest salaries needed to rent

Only half of the top 10 cities are also in the top 10 cities where you need to earn the most to rent. But, it always helps to live farther from the ocean. New York, of course, is both the most populous and the most expensive city. Los Angeles is the second largest but the fifth most expensive. The third largest Chicago is the 10th highest income needed.

San Antonio, as many don’t realize, is the seventh largest city in the country. But, located in the heart of Texas, it ranks 42nd in terms of the income needed to afford an average apartment. The Indianapolis Midwest is the 16th largest but 45th most expensive.

Santa Ana and Oakland, Calif., are both among the least populated cities in the top 50. But that doesn’t mean renters are doing great business. Oakland ranks 41st in terms of population, but requires the third highest income to rent an average apartment. Santa Ana is only the 49th largest city, but you would need the ninth highest income to rent on average.

Likewise, the city where you need the second highest income is Boston, just the 20th largest city. San Francisco is an expensive fourth, with only the 17th largest population.

Takeaway #3: The divide between the most and least expensive cities to rent is stark and requires vastly different wages

New York is the only city in the country where it takes more than $200,000 a year to rent an average apartment. That’s more than $66,000 more revenue than second-place Boston.

The average rent in the Big Apple is $6,351 per month, more than $1,600 more per month than Beantown at No. 2, with 12 times the population. New York saw a 20.73% increase over last year’s rents, 10th among the top 50. This represents an increase of $1,091 per month.

On the other hand is Wichita, KS. The so-called air capital of the world has the cheapest rents not only of the 50 largest cities, but from any city with a population of over 50,000. It’s the only city in the top 50 where you don’t need to make more than $40,000 a year to afford an average apartment. In fact, you don’t even have to earn $30,000. An annual salary of just $28,741 will allow you to pay average rent. That’s $15,270 less per year than in El Paso, TX.

However, all is not golden in Wichita. Even so close to the center of the country, residents are not immune to inflation. Rents in Wichita, averaging just $719 a month, are actually up 24.74% from the same time last year. The seventh-highest increase among the 50 largest cities, monthly rents climbed $143 year-over-year.

How much salary do you need to rent an apartment in the 50 largest cities

It’s pretty easy to see the fracture. The cities that charge the highest salaries to rent an average group of apartments in the Northeast and California. Meanwhile, cities among the 50 most populous that require lower annual revenues cut a strip from the Ohio Valley to Texas to the Arizona desert.

So how much salary do you need to rent an apartment in the city that suits you? View the full list of the 50 largest cities and find available units and detailed rental prices on Apartment Guide.


Rental data was extracted from Apartment Guide’s multi-family rental property inventory for one- and two-bedroom units in July 2022 and July 2021. A single price measurement for all unit types per time period has was calculated using a weighted average based on the number of available units. units. The top 50 cities by population in our analysis were determined by current population estimates from the US Census Bureau.

The rental information included in this article is used for illustrative purposes only. The data contained in this document does not constitute financial advice or a price guarantee for an apartment.

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