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22 Most Affordable Cities to Live in for Renters – Find Cheap Housing

How much does your apartment cost? Depending on where you live, your answer is likely to vary – a lot.

According to RentJungle, the average San Francisco apartment rented for $3,871 per month in January 2017. If you follow the old rule of spending no more than 30% of your income on housing, you’d need to earn at least $155,440 per year to afford the average San Francisco apartment. That’s a tall order, even with inflated average incomes.

High rents disproportionately impact people on the lower end of the income scale. In a 2016 report, the Joint Center for Housing Studies of Harvard University found that nearly half of all renters are “cost-burdened” – basically, they’re forced to spend too much of their income on housing. In most metropolitan markets, especially expensive regions such as Southern California and Florida, the vast majority of individual renters earning less than $15,000 per year are cost-burdened.

But these legitimate cost pressures aren’t everywhere. In many markets, apartments remain affordable, even for underemployed and part-time workers with tight budgets, limited or nonexistent savings, and little to no discretionary income.

If you live in an expensive coastal city like New York, Boston, or Seattle, these low-rent meccas are nowhere in sight. But they’re out there. The question is: Where?

Most Affordable U.S. Cities for Renters


Most affordable U.S. cities are far from the coasts. Typically, they are located in the Midwest, Mountain West, and South. Land in these areas tends to be cheaper, with more permissive zoning rules reducing the cost of building new housing and renovating or rehabilitating old housing.

I’ve crunched the numbers using exhaustive data sets from real estate intelligence companies like RentCafe and Yardi Matrix, compiling the results to find the most affordable housing throughout the United States.

If you’d like to play with the data on your own, use this handy rent calculator to see how much space you’ll get at various price points.

The calculator is especially useful in more expensive cities where $1,500-a-month apartments are hard to find. However, remember that all cited figures are averages – some renters get more than the average amount of space while others get less.

Also bear in mind that complex and volatile factors drive housing prices, including local land use policies, economic conditions, housing quality, and demand. In some seemingly affordable markets, especially in the industrial Midwest, a self-reinforcing cycle of economic stagnation and population outflows dampens housing demand. The fact that rents are low in these markets, where good-paying jobs tend to be scarce, doesn’t mean they’re necessarily desirable for working-age people.

Still, many cities on this list have strong economies, diverse employers, great lifestyle amenities, and vibrant cultures. For perspective, each entry includes recent unemployment and population figures. Unless otherwise noted, unemployment figures are sourced from the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Economy at a Glance application. Population figures are 2015 estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau.

1. Memphis, Tennessee

memphis tennessee blues clubs

  • Population: 655,770
  • Unemployment Rate: 5.5%
  • What You Get for $1,500 Per Month: 1,948 square feet
  • Price Per Square Foot: $0.77 per month
  • Average Apartment Size: 920 square feet
  • Average Apartment Rent: $704 per month

Downtown Memphis is perched on a bluff above the Mississippi River, and the city spreads outward in three directions from there. Many outlying communities in the Memphis metropolitan area, including portions of northern Mississippi and eastern Arkansas, are even more affordable.

Though the region’s economy has seen its share of ups and downs, it’s built on a solid base that includes the global headquarters of AutoZone, FedEx, and International Paper. Other major Memphis-area employers include Cargill Cotton, American Residential Services, Carrier, Merck, and Medtronic.

Memphis is known as a bastion of barbecue and music (locals brag about the distinctive Memphis style). The Memphis International Jazz Festival and Beale Street Music Festival are world-renowned. Nearby Graceland is a magnificent tribute to Elvis Presley and the musical genres he spawned. Memphis also hosted consequential events of the civil rights movement, including the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

2. Wichita, Kansas

wichita kansas

  • Population: 389,965
  • Unemployment Rate: 5.3%
  • What You Get for $1,500 Per Month: 1,948 square feet
  • Price Per Square Foot: $0.77 per month
  • Average Apartment Size: 787 square feet
  • Average Apartment Rent: $609 per month

Kansas’ largest city, not far from the geographic center of the United States, is amazingly affordable. Named for the Wichita people who lived in the area for centuries before the arrival of European settlers, the city is a diversified hub of industry, logistics, and services.

Though surrounded by farmlands, Wichita itself is heavily industrialized, historically one of the United States’ largest aircraft manufacturing hubs. Today, more than 50 aircraft companies and suppliers operate facilities in Wichita and surrounding communities.

Other major employers include Cargill Meat Solutions, Koch Industries, Coleman Company (an outdoor recreation supplier), and Chance Morgan (a roller coaster manufacturer). Wichita State University and Wesley Medical Center employ thousands, adding much-needed diversity to the local economy.

Wichita’s signature annual event is the Wichita Riverfest, which attracts nearly 400,000 visitors each year. The city also hosts the Tallgrass Film Festival, an international art film exhibition.

3. Winston-Salem, North Carolina

winston salem north carolina

  • Population: 241,218
  • Unemployment Rate: 4.9%
  • What You Get for $1,500 Per Month: 1,899 square feet
  • Price Per Square Foot: $0.79 per month
  • Average Apartment Size: 923 square feet
  • Average Apartment Rent: $729 per month

“Winston” (as it’s known locally) is located in the Piedmont Triad region of central North Carolina. It’s the fifth-largest city in North Carolina and the most affordable of its major population centers.

Once a hub for the tobacco and furniture industries, Winston-Salem has reinvented itself as a banking, medical, and technology center. Notable companies in the metro area include BB&T, Hanes Brands, Blue Rhino (a subsidiary of Ferrellgas), Reynolds American, and Krispy Kreme Doughnuts. Major medical employers include Novant Health and Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center. The Wake Forest Innovation Quarter, located in downtown Winston-Salem, is one of the most vibrant tech innovation hubs east of the Mississippi.

4. Fort Wayne, Indiana

fort wayne indiana

  • Population: 260,326
  • Unemployment Rate: 4.3%
  • What You Get for $1,500 Per Month: 1,899 square feet
  • Price Per Square Foot: $0.79 per month
  • Average Apartment Size: 869 square feet
  • Average Apartment Rent: $686 per month

Once little more than a trading post on the American frontier, Fort Wayne rapidly grew into an industrial hub upon the arrival of the railroad. By the early 20th century, it was one of the most important manufacturing centers between Pittsburgh and Chicago, with companies such as General Electric and International Harvester employing thousands of residents.

Sadly, the manufacturing economy collapsed in the 1970s and ’80s, hollowing out the city’s middle class and dramatically lowering local wages, living standards, and morale.

Lately, Fort Wayne focused on growing its logistics, healthcare, professional services, and defense exposures. Major employers include Do It Best (a hardware brand), North American Van Lines, Steel Dynamics, and Frontier Communications. The city’s signature annual event is the Johnny Appleseed Festival, which attracts some 300,000 visitors to the city park where the real-life John Chapman purportedly lies in repose.

5. Toledo, Ohio

toledo ohio at night

  • Population: 279,789
  • Unemployment Rate: 5.5%
  • What You Get for $1,500 Per Month: 1,852 square feet
  • Price Per Square Foot: $0.81 per month
  • Average Apartment Size: 807 square feet
  • Average Apartment Rent: $654 per month

Strategically located on the western edge of Lake Erie, the port city of Toledo is known as “Glass City” thanks to its once-dominant glass manufacturing industry. At one point, Toledo-based companies manufactured pretty much every type of glass in existence: windshields, windows, construction glass, bottles, and specialized artistic glass. Though the industry’s heyday has long since passed, glass manufacturers, including subsidiaries of larger industrial companies, still employ thousands in the area.

Toledo’s economy suffered during the de-industrialization of the late 20th century but remains rooted in heavy industry. Major companies with headquarters or large facilities here include Owens Corning, Owens Illinois, Dana Holding Corporation, Fifth Third Bank, The Andersons, and HCR Manor Care. The University of Toledo and University of Toledo Medical Center are the biggest education and healthcare employers in the area.

6. Tulsa, Oklahoma

tulsa oklahoma

  • Population: 403,505
  • Unemployment Rate: 4.6%
  • What You Get for $1,500 Per Month: 1,829 square feet
  • Price Per Square Foot: $0.82 per month
  • Average Apartment Size: 819 square feet
  • Average Apartment Rent: $672 per month

Sometimes called “the Buckle of the Bible Belt,” Tulsa is a surprisingly cosmopolitan city located in northeastern Oklahoma, at the edge of the foothills of the Ozark Mountains. Once an oil boomtown, Tulsa suffered mightily as the center of American energy production shifted west. Following a long period of economic stagnation in the late 20th century, the city has rebounded and diversified.

In addition to oil and gas producers such as Williams Companies, Syntroleum, and ONEOK, its employment base is currently supported by the aerospace industry (including American Airlines’ local maintenance facility, the largest aircraft maintenance hub in the world) and the financial sector (including BOK Financial Corporation, a major regional bank).

Tulsa’s signature event is the Tulsa State Fair which attracts nearly one million visitors during a 10-day period each fall. The city is also known locally for its distinctive style of barbecue. The municipal park system, which features more than 100 parks and 6,000-plus acres of green space, is nationally recognized.

7. Greensboro, North Carolina

greensboro north carolina

  • Population: 285,342
  • Unemployment Rate: 5.2%
  • What You Get for $1,500 Per Month: 1,786 square feet
  • Price Per Square Foot: $0.84 per month
  • Average Apartment Size: 936 square feet
  • Average Apartment Rent: $785 per month

Not far from Winston-Salem, Greensboro is the largest municipality in the Piedmont Triad region of North Carolina. Like Winston-Salem, it was once a major seat of power for the tobacco industry, though employment in that sector has declined precipitously since the late 20th century. Textile manufacturing was also a big business here, but competition from cheaper markets such as Mexico and China has slowed production.

Still, Greensboro is doing quite well. The city is a regional hub for finance, logistics, healthcare, manufacturing, and high-tech research. Major employers in the area include Honda Aircraft, Volvo Trucks, Mack Trucks, Lincoln Financial Group, the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, FedEx, and the United States Postal Service.

8. Oklahoma City, Oklahoma

oklahoma city

  • Population: 631,346
  • Unemployment Rate: 4.4%
  • What You Get for $1,500 Per Month: 1,786 square feet
  • Price Per Square Foot: $0.84 per month
  • Average Apartment Size: 845 square feet
  • Average Apartment Rent: $711 per month

The capital of Oklahoma, Oklahoma City sprawls across three counties, making it the eighth-largest U.S. city by land area. The city’s housing market benefits from the seemingly inexhaustible supply of cheap, flat land surrounding the urban core. A strong economy has pushed developers to continue building new projects.

Though its economy is still reliant on energy and agriculture, Oklahoma City has largely freed itself from the destructive boom-and-bust cycles – fomented by volatile oil, gas, and cattle prices – that hampered its growth throughout much of the 20th century. Nevertheless, Oklahoma City is one of the few major cities situated atop an active oil field. Many residents earn income from oil and gas leases. The city is also home to Stockyards City, the world’s largest livestock market.

Aside from livestock and energy, Oklahoma City’s economy relies on logistics, aerospace, finance, healthcare, and state government. The area’s largest employers include the State of Oklahoma, Mike Monroney Aeronautical Center, Integris Health, Hobby Lobby, University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center, and Chesapeake Energy Corporation. Tinker Air Force Base, located beyond the city limits, is a major economic anchor for the region as well.

9. Indianapolis, Indiana

indianapolis indiana

  • Population: 853,173
  • Unemployment Rate: 4.2%
  • What You Get for $1,500 Per Month: 1,724 square feet
  • Price Per Square Foot: $0.87 per month
  • Average Apartment Size: 875 square feet
  • Average Apartment Rent: $758 per month

Fondly known as the “Crossroads of America,” or simply, “Indy,” Indianapolis is strategically located within a day’s drive of many of the United States’s largest cities, including New York, Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., and Chicago.

Unsurprisingly, Indy is a major manufacturing and logistics hub. The area is home to three Fortune 500 companies: Anthem, Simon Property Group, and Eli Lilly and Company. Other major companies with global headquarters or large facilities include Republic Airways Holdings, Finish Line, hhgregg, Calumet Specialty Products Partners, and Allison Transmission Holdings.

Indianapolis has a vibrant, diverse culture too. Its best-known event is the annual Indianapolis 500 auto race – by some measures the world’s largest single-day sporting event. Indy has also hosted the Super Bowl and the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament – not surprising given it’s the home to the NCAA headquarters, the governing body for collegiate athletics in the United States.

10. Lincoln, Nebraska

lincoln nebraska capitol building

  • Population: 277,348
  • Unemployment Rate: 3.0%
  • What You Get for $1,500 Per Month: 1,667 square feet
  • Price Per Square Foot: $0.90 per month
  • Average Apartment Size: 937 square feet
  • Average Apartment Rent: $843 per month

Nebraska’s second-largest city, Lincoln is the state capital and home of the flagship campus of the University of Nebraska, the region’s third-largest employer. Local culture is heavily influenced by the university and its huge student population. Nightlife resembles that of a much larger city, with college football nearly a religion.

In addition to the university, the State of Nebraska, Lincoln Public Schools, and several regional healthcare companies provide a solid, stable base of employment.

11. Omaha, Nebraska

omaha nebraska downtown

  • Population: 443,885
  • Unemployment Rate: 3.5%
  • What You Get for $1,500 Per Month: 1,667 square feet
  • Price Per Square Foot: $0.90 per month
  • Average Apartment Size: 928 square feet
  • Average Apartment Rent: $831 per month

Located about an hour northeast of Lincoln, Omaha is Nebraska’s largest city. The city began life as a cow town thanks to the massive Omaha Stockyards complex and nearby meatpacking plants. Today, it’s known as an insurance and railroad hub, a key center of finance and engineering, and the home of famed value investor Warren Buffett and his venerable conglomerate, Berkshire Hathaway.

Other major employers include Kiewit Corporation (a construction company), Valmont Industries, Green Plains Renewable Energy, Mutual of Omaha, and Union Pacific Corporation. The city is rumored to be the birthplace of the Reuben sandwich and the ski lift – somewhat surprising given the surrounding area’s gentle topography. Omaha’s best-known annual event is the College World Series, which attracts tens of thousands of baseball fans every year.

12. Columbus, Ohio

columbus ohio

  • Population: 850,106
  • Unemployment Rate: 3.9%
  • What You Get for $1,500 Per Month: 1,667 square feet
  • Price Per Square Foot: $0.90 per month
  • Average Apartment Size: 886 square feet
  • Average Apartment Rent: $800 per month

Located in the geographical center of Ohio, Columbus is a larger version of Lincoln, Nebraska – its state’s capital city and home of the flagship public university. Though Columbus is the biggest city in Ohio by population, the surrounding metropolitan area is only the state’s third largest.

Columbus’ first noteworthy industry was horse-drawn buggy manufacturing. Following that industry’s demise, the city quickly developed a more diversified manufacturing base, later expanding into professional services. Today, the city’s largest employers include Ohio State University, the state government of Ohio, Nationwide Mutual Insurance Company, Big Lots, Cardinal Health, Wendy’s, and Huntington Bancshares. The university supports a vibrant startup economy – somewhat unusual in the industrial Midwest.

13. El Paso, Texas

el paso texas

  • Population: 681,124
  • Unemployment Rate: 5.4%
  • What You Get for $1,500 Per Month: 1,667 square feet
  • Price Per Square Foot: $0.90 per month
  • Average Apartment Size: 815 square feet
  • Average Apartment Rent: $733 per month

Located in the westernmost corner of Texas, arid El Paso holds down the United States’ portion of the El Paso-Juarez metropolitan area, also known as Paso del Norte. With nearly 3 million residents, Paso del Norte is the largest contiguous urban area bisected by the U.S.-Mexico border.

The city is a major hub for international trade and manufacturing. In fact, El Paso is the largest U.S. port of entry on the Mexico border, surpassing the San Ysidro and Otay Mesa crossings near San Diego. Though cartel violence is a legitimate concern on the Juarez side of the border, El Paso is no less safe than many U.S. cities of similar size.

Many El Paso residents work in the public sector. Fort Bliss, a massive military base near the city, is a major pillar of the economy. So are the local public school districts, U.S. Customs and Border Patrol, the City of El Paso, the County of El Paso, and the University of Texas at El Paso. Major private sector employers include Automatic Data Processing, DISH Network, University Medical Center, Western Refining, and Helen of Troy Limited (the parent company of recognizable consumer brands such as Dr. Scholl’s and OXO).

14. North Las Vegas, Nevada

north las vegas and downtown las vegas

  • Population: 234,807
  • Unemployment Rate: 6.0%
  • What You Get for $1,500 Per Month: 1,648 square feet
  • Price Per Square Foot: $0.91 per month
  • Average Apartment Size: 955 square feet
  • Average Apartment Rent: $861 per month

North Las Vegas is another desert city with beautiful mountain views and a sprawling metro area. Located north of Las Vegas proper, it’s heavily reliant on the Las Vegas Valley’s famous gaming and entertainment industries, with many locals working for casinos, resorts, entertainment companies, and the various support businesses. However, the area is gaining regional recognition in the technology sector, thanks to the availability of cheap land.

It’s worth noting that North Las Vegas was devastated by the housing collapse of the late 2000s, with the city’s comparatively low rents partially an artifact of that crisis. That said, the local economy is in much better shape than in the immediate aftermath of the collapse.

15. Louisville, Kentucky

louisville kentucky

  • Population: 615,366
  • Unemployment Rate: 4.1%
  • What You Get for $1,500 Per Month: 1,648 square feet
  • Price Per Square Foot: $0.91 per month
  • Average Apartment Size: 924 square feet
  • Average Apartment Rent: $841 per month

Located on the lower Ohio River, downstream from Cincinnati, Louisville is the economic and cultural hub of northern Kentucky and southern Indiana. Once a thriving river port and railroad town, Louisville remains a 21st-century logistics hub, thanks to the massive United Parcel Service sorting facility at the city’s international airport.

Economically, Louisville is diverse and healthy. In addition to UPS, major employers include the University of Louisville, Humana, Brown-Forman, Kindred Healthcare, PharMerica, and Yum! Brands (the parent company of Kentucky Fried Chicken, Taco Bell, and Pizza Hut). Culturally, Louisville is best known as the host of the Kentucky Derby, the world’s most famous horse race.

16. Lexington, Kentucky

lexington kentucky

  • Population: 314,488
  • Unemployment Rate: 3.5%
  • What You Get for $1,500 Per Month: 1,596 square feet
  • Price Per Square Foot: $0.94 per month
  • Average Apartment Size: 896 square feet
  • Average Apartment Rent: $838 per month

Located east of Louisville, Lexington is Kentucky’s second largest city. Despite Louisville’s claim to the Kentucky Derby, Lexington bills itself as the “horse capital of the world,” thanks to the surrounding Bluegrass region’s deeply ingrained equestrian culture. It’s also a major educational center for the Mid-South, with the University of Kentucky and Transylvania University collectively educating tens of thousands of students each year.

Despite its agrarian roots, Lexington’s economy is diverse and surprisingly forward-looking. In addition to the University of Kentucky, major employers include UPS, Amazon, Trane, Toyota (which operates a major manufacturing plant nearby), IBM, Lockheed-Martin, Lexmark International, and Link-Belt Construction Equipment (a crane manufacturer).

17. Kansas City, Missouri

kansas city missouri

  • Population: 475,378
  • Unemployment Rate: 4.9%
  • What You Get for $1,500 Per Month: 1,596 square feet
  • Price Per Square Foot: $0.94 per month
  • Average Apartment Size: 881 square feet
  • Average Apartment Rent: $830 per month

Kansas City is the anchor of a major metropolitan area straddling the Kansas and Missouri borders. Thanks to its central location within the continental United States, Kansas City is a major logistics hub and a central operation for the Federal Government. In fact, more than 100 federal agencies have a presence in the city and its suburbs, including the Internal Revenue Service, the National Nuclear Security Administration, the General Services Administration, and the Social Security Administration. When it arrived in the 20th century, the federal employment base provided valuable stability in an agricultural region previously prone to economic boom-and-bust cycles.

Aside from the Federal Government, Kansas City’s employment base includes heavy manufacturing, pharmaceuticals, and agriculture. Ford and General Motors both have major manufacturing plants here. So does Honeywell, whose Kansas City facility manufactures non-nuclear components for the U.S. nuclear weapons arsenal. Sanofi-Aventis, a pharmaceutical giant, has an important research facility that focuses on animal health. Dairy Farmers of America, one of the country’s largest agricultural cooperatives, is headquartered in the area as well.

18. Jacksonville, Florida

jacksonville florida

  • Population: 868,031
  • Unemployment Rate: 4.7%
  • What You Get for $1,500 Per Month: 1,579 square feet
  • Price Per Square Foot: $0.95 per month
  • Average Apartment Size: 961 square feet
  • Average Apartment Rent: $909 per month

Covering 747 square miles of land, Jacksonville is the largest U.S. city by land area and the 12th largest by population. Located in northeastern Florida’s First Coast region, Jacksonville has been inhabited by native peoples for thousands of years. It also housed some of the first permanent European settlements in the continental United States, established years before the British arrived in Massachusetts and Virginia.

Following the Civil War, Jacksonville has been an important hub for the U.S. Navy. And, since it’s one of the most affordable places in Florida, it has gained favor as a budget-friendly vacation town and retirement destination.

Jacksonville isn’t entirely about fun in the sun though. Lots of people work here, especially in the finance, logistics, and retail sectors. Major companies include CSX Corporation, Fidelity National Financial, Southeastern Grocers, Swisher International, RailAmerica, and the Port of Jacksonville.

19. Las Vegas, Nevada

las vegas suburban neighborhood

  • Population: 623,747
  • Unemployment Rate: 6.0%
  • What You Get for $1,500 Per Month: 1,546 square feet
  • Price Per Square Foot: $0.97 per month
  • Average Apartment Size: 893 square feet
  • Average Apartment Rent: $867 per month

Las Vegas is a unique, contradictory place. Beyond the Strip (most of which is actually located in the neighboring unincorporated towns of Winchester and Paradise) and the kitschy downtown casinos, Las Vegas looks much like any other large city in the southwestern United States, with tidy gated communities and Mission-style houses sprawling out toward the mountains rimming the valley.

Though tens of thousands of locals work in the hospitality, gaming, food service, and transportation industries, tech companies have been growing as well – putting the area on the radar for young, mobile professionals who have no interest in the gaming industry.

20. Glendale, Arizona

glendale arizona

  • Population: 240,126
  • Unemployment Rate: 5.0%
  • What You Get for $1,500 Per Month: 1,546 square feet
  • Price Per Square Foot: $0.97 per month
  • Average Apartment Size: 787 square feet
  • Average Apartment Rent: $766 per month

Best known as the home of the Arizona Cardinals NFL team, Glendale is a Phoenix suburb that’s cheaper than its urban parent. Economically, Glendale is hard to separate from the rest of the Phoenix area. Residents work in a wide variety of industries, including state government (Phoenix is Arizona’s capital), education (Arizona State University is located in nearby Tempe), mining (Freeport McMoran is headquartered in Phoenix), and retail (PetSmart is headquartered in Phoenix too). Other notable employers within easy commuting distance of Glendale include Avnet, Intel, Honeywell Aerospace, U-Haul, Best Western, and Republic Services.

Glendale is no stranger to high-profile events. University of Phoenix Stadium, where the NFL Cardinals play their regular-season games, has hosted two Super Bowls and one BCS National Championship Game. Glendale and surrounding communities also house spring training facilities for MLB teams, drawing tens of thousands of diehard baseball fans in late winter and early spring.

21. Tucson, Arizona

tucson arizona

  • Population: 531,641
  • Unemployment Rate: 5.4%
  • What You Get for $1,500 Per Month: 1,546 square feet
  • Price Per Square Foot: $0.97 per month
  • Average Apartment Size: 750 square feet
  • Average Apartment Rent: $731 per month

Located about 150 miles southeast of Glendale, Tucson is a smaller, slower-paced, slightly cooler alternative to the Phoenix metropolitan area.

The region’s economy is supported by the University of Arizona, a massive campus that employs thousands of support staffers and educates tens of thousands of students, and the aerospace and defense industries, which employ tens of thousands in Tucson proper and surrounding communities. The largest employers include the university, Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Raytheon Missile Systems, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, the United States Army Intelligence Center at Fort Huachaca, the government of Pima County, and Banner University Medical Center Tucson.

Tucson’s sunny weather and beautiful surroundings make it a natural destination for tourists and retirees who gravitate to nearby communities such as Catalina Foothills, Vail, Tanque Verde, and Oro Valley. Notable events include the Tucson Gem and Mineral Show, the Tucson Folk Festival, and the Fourth Avenue Street Fair.

22. Albuquerque, New Mexico

albuquerque new mexico

  • Population: 559,121
  • Unemployment Rate: 6.4%
  • What You Get for $1,500 Per Month: 1,531 square feet
  • Price Per Square Foot: $0.98 per month
  • Average Apartment Size: 813 square feet
  • Average Apartment Rent: $799 per month

Albuquerque likely didn’t welcome the spotlight when it was chosen as the setting for the violent AMC drama “Breaking Bad.” Still, the popular show certainly raised its profile, for better or worse.

Contrary to what “Breaking Bad” suggests, Albuquerque is affordable enough to live and work in without resorting to illegal activity, despite an uneven economy that continues to recover from the housing bust.

Like El Paso, a few hundred miles down the Rio Grande, Albuquerque’s economy relies heavily on the public sector. Its major employers include Kirtland Air Force Base, Sandia National Laboratories, the University of New Mexico, and Central New Mexico Community College. Major private employers include Intel and Northrup Grumman. Tourism is important to the local economy too, with the nearby city of Santa Fe and fascinating Petroglyph National Monument attracting hundreds of thousands of visitors each year.

Least Affordable U.S. Cities for Renters

Let’s also take a look at the five most expensive U.S. markets for renters. We’ll use the same $1,500-per-month benchmark, but keep in mind that average rents in these five cities are all much higher than that, so the selection of studio or one-bedroom apartments that actually rent for $1,500 is likely to be thin. If you can’t afford to spend more than $1,500 per month on housing, you’re probably best served by finding roommates to share a multi-bedroom apartment.

1. Manhattan, New York

manhattan central park new york city

  • Population: 1,644,518
  • Unemployment Rate: 5.4% (includes all of New York City)
  • What You Get for $1,500 Per Month: 271 square feet
  • Price Per Square Foot: $5.54 per month
  • Average Apartment Size: 727 square feet
  • Average Apartment Rent: $4,031 per month

Manhattan needs no introduction. Nor is anyone likely to be surprised by the fact that the United States’ densely packed media and finance capital is an expensive place to live. With just 24 square miles of land area and a population north of 1.6 million (and growing), Manhattan simply has too many people competing for too little space.

The good news for the vast majority of New Yorkers who don’t work on Wall Street or Madison Avenue is that the outer boroughs – Brooklyn, Queens, The Bronx, and especially Staten Island – are comparatively cheap. Sure, commute times are a lot longer in far-flung outer neighborhoods, but at least you don’t have to live in a shoe box.

2. San Francisco, California

san francisco lombard street

  • Population: 864,816
  • Unemployment Rate: 3.4%
  • What You Get for $1,500 Per Month: 342 square feet
  • Price Per Square Foot: $4.38 per month
  • Average Apartment Size: 738 square feet
  • Average Apartment Rent: $3,275 per month

Taken in its entirety, San Francisco is more expensive than New York City, after accounting for the Big Apple’s outer boroughs. That’s because housing shortages and a long-running tech boom exacerbate issues stemming from a development-averse political culture.

Restrictive development policies are ideal for wealthy San Francisco residents and visitors searching for charming, well-preserved row houses and comparatively quiet streets, but they are terrible for longtime middle-class residents and new arrivals seeking affordable housing. Though housing is somewhat cheaper in the suburbs of the East Bay, the commute into the city can be nightmarish.

3. Boston, Massachusetts

boston brownstone houses

  • Population: 667,137
  • Unemployment Rate: 3.3%
  • What You Get for $1,500 Per Month: 399 square feet
  • Price Per Square Foot: $3.76 per month
  • Average Apartment Size: 827 square feet
  • Average Apartment Rent: $3,111 per month

Boston‘s charming wood-frame and brick houses hearken back to a simpler time before indoor plumbing and internal combustion. Everything seems a bit cozier here – streets are narrower, blocks are shorter, and houses are smaller. So it’s not surprising that dwellings in Boston and the many smaller, just-as-densely populated surrounding suburbs tend to be modestly sized too. The upshot of Boston’s cozy, pricey housing stock is a diverse, perennially strong economy fueled by innovative healthcare companies, major financial firms, global insurance organizations, and some of the world’s top universities.

4. Jersey City, New Jersey

jersey city seen from new york city

  • Population: 264,290
  • Unemployment Rate: 5.2%
  • What You Get for $1,500 Per Month: 473 square feet
  • Price Per Square Foot: $3.17 per month
  • Average Apartment Size: 857 square feet
  • Average Apartment Rent: $2,715 per month

Located a short ferry or train ride across the Hudson River from lower Manhattan, Jersey City is a densely populated strip of land with a great view of the Statue of Liberty and an eye-poppingly expensive housing market that’s closely tied to its larger neighbors.

Many Manhattan-based financial companies have secondary headquarters in the area, so not everyone who lives here has to commute across the river. However, due to escalating prices in Manhattan, many new arrivals are choosing to do just that. In the process, they’re increasing demand for housing in Jersey City and pushing rents up along with it.

5. Oakland, California

oakland lake merritt

  • Population: 419,267
  • Unemployment Rate: 4.7%
  • What You Get for $1,500 Per Month: 510 square feet
  • Price Per Square Foot: $2.94 per month
  • Average Apartment Size: 802 square feet
  • Average Apartment Rent: $2,354 per month

Just a few miles from San Francisco, Oakland has its own look and feel. By the Bay Area’s inflated standards, its housing stock is a bargain. Still, Oakland has fewer high-paying jobs (again, by Bay Area standards) and a smaller employment base, so many locals find themselves commuting across the bay or to nearby Berkeley, where the University of California’s flagship campus supports a vibrant innovation economy.

Final Word

The old cliché about every real estate market being different holds true. In fact, it’s not uncommon to see stark differences across short distances. For example, in the Phoenix suburb of Scottsdale, Arizona, $1,500 per month rents 1,172 square feet, on average. In nearby Glendale, also part of the Phoenix metropolitan area, $1,500 per month rents an average of 1,546 square feet.

My own backyard reflects this reality. I live in Minneapolis, where $1,500 is enough for 847 square feet. Across the Mississippi River, in St. Paul, $1,500 rents 1,136 square feet. Maybe that’s part of the reason buying a house in an up-and-coming Minneapolis neighborhood seemed like such a good deal to me and my wife – though we did agonize over whether to rent or buy for months before diving into the home search process and ultimately making an offer on a house.

Do you feel like you’re getting enough space for your money in your city? Did we miss any bargain cities?

Brian Martucci
Brian Martucci writes about frugal living, entrepreneurship, and innovative ideas. When he’s not interviewing small business owners or investigating time- and money-saving strategies for Money Crashers readers, he’s probably out exploring a new trail or sampling a novel cuisine. Find him on Twitter @Brian_Martucci.

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