BAM Key Details: 

  • A recent article on RentCafe highlights the top 10 U.S. cities where a renter’s income goes the furthest when it comes to rent and basic living expenses. 
  • Sunnyvale, CA, in Silicon Valley, takes the number one spot with its highest median wages making it easier for area renters to cover housing and other living expenses. 
  • Going by region, the Southwest has eight cities on the top 30 list, marking it as the region where a renter’s income goes the furthest. 

With housing affordability a continued challenge across the country, renters want to know where they can maximize their income.

A new report on RentCafe shows exactly where renters are getting the most out of their paychecks. And it’s not necessarily where renters earn the most—or where the cost of living is lower compared to other cities. 

It’s about finding cities where a typical renter can expect to earn enough to comfortably cover the cost of housing—plus other everyday living expenses. 

Would it surprise you if a Silicon Valley metro made the top 10 list? 

Sunnyvale, CA, actually took the number one spot. Residents here make the highest median wages in the U.S., making it easier to cover local rents and other monthly expenses. 

Read on for the full breakdown of the RentCafe report. And keep this in mind if you’re helping potential buyers in these renter-friendly cities. 

Top Cities for Renters—Where income goes the furthest

As mentioned above, Sunnyvale, CA, in Silicon Valley took the number one spot on the list, thanks to its high median income, which comfortably accommodates the cost of living there. 

Next on the list is a Phoenix suburb—Surprise, AZ—followed by three Washington, D.C. suburbs Arlington, VA; Bethesda, MD; and Alexandria, VA. In all these metros, renters find a good balance between income, rent, and monthly living expenses. 

Texas had the highest number of “sweet spot” cities for renters, with Round Rock as the highest-ranking Texas metro at number eight. 

At the other end of the spectrum were metros like the following: 

  • Buffalo, NY (#128)
  • Milwaukee, WI (#142)
  • Baltimore, MD (#145)
  • Cincinnati, OH (#157) 
  • Cleveland, OH (#174) 

In all five of the above, monthly rent and living expenses were lower than average, but so were household incomes, making it harder for renters to achieve (and maintain) financial stability. 

Top 10 U.S. cities where renters get the most out of their income:

  1. Sunnyvale, CA
  2. Surprise, AZ
  3. Arlington, VA
  4. Bethesda, MD
  5. Alexandria, VA
  6. Westminster, CO
  7. Scottsdale, AZ
  8. Round Rock, TX
  9. Plano, TX
  10. Broken Arrow, OK

How did RentCafe identify the top cities for renters?

RentCafe analyzed median household income, average rents, and average prices for basic necessities in 189 U.S. metros. 

They calculated the income-to-rent ratio for each city, then took the gap between income and rent (i.e., “disposable income”) to see how far this income went in covering local prices for typical monthly living expenses in several categories, including— 

  • Utilities—Phone and energy bills
  • Food—Bread, milk, eggs, steak, banana, frozen meal, chips etc.
  • Healthcare—One doctor’s visit, one dentist’s check-up, one optometrist’s visit, and over-the-counter medicine
  • Transportation—One gallon of gasoline and tire-balancing services
  • Goods & services—A couple of clothing items, a movie ticket, a yoga session, a haircut, a beauty salon visit, dry cleaning, etc. 

These are just some examples of the living expenses considered. Dollar amounts for each of the above categories are not total averages spent every month by renters but illustrative prices for everyday items and other living expenses (based on local price data).

In the table below, the top 30 cities are broken down to show exactly how far the average income goes. 

Source: RentCafe

Southwestern renters spend less of their income on rent & basic necessities

To identify the most renter-friendly cities, RentCafe assigned a score to each one based on the ratio of household income to monthly rent as well as other basic living expenses. 

Suburbs in the Southwest typically offer higher-than-average salaries while rents, utilities and living expenses are below the national average, earning this region the highest average total score of 40.9 points. 

The top Southwestern cities where renters enjoy more financial stability, thanks to a better balance between income and living expenses: 

  1. Round Rock, TX (#8)
  2. Plano, TX (#9)
  3. Broken Arrow, OK (#10)
  4. Cedar Park, TX (#12)
  5. Lawton, OK (#15)
  6. Austin, TX (#16)
  7. Allen, TX (#19)
  8. Tulsa, OK (#25)

Lawton, OK, in particular, stands out for the notable gap between income and living expenses: 

  • Typical annual income: $42,864
  • Average monthly rent: $830 (the lowest in the region)
  • Basic necessities: $1,069 per month (below the national benchmark)

The Mountain region took the next-highest score for renter-friendliness, with Surprise, AZ, ranking at number two on the list, followed by— 

  • Westminster, CO (#6)
  • Scottsdale, AZ (#7)
  • Denver (#29)
  • Phoenix (#34)
  • Colorado Springs, CO (#41)
  • Las Vegas (#67)
  • Reno, NV (#76)

It’s worth pointing out that Denver ranked at number 29 with its higher annual income (approaching $65K) combined with a monthly rent just under the $2,000 threshold and lower-than-average prices for other living expenses, including utilities and basic goods and services. 

Then there’s Phoenix, AZ, where renters earn a lower annual income ($54,852) but pay a smaller share of that on monthly rent, which sits below the national benchmark, and on basic utilities and services, which cost even less than in Denver. 

Meanwhile, the West Coast had three cities ranking among the top 30 cities for renters, with Sunnyvale, CA, at number one, followed by San Francisco (#13) and San Jose (#17). The first two—Sunnyvale and San Francisco—offer the highest median incomes of all the 189 cities in RentCafe’s report. San Jose offers the fifth-highest ($92,952). 

Pittsburgh leads other Northeastern cities where renters are more likely to enjoy financial stability. While the annual income for a Pittsburgh renter is below the national average, so is the monthly rent. As for basic living expenses, they’re close to the national benchmark. The numbers help this city earn a total score of 33 points and rank at number 98 on the list. 

Coming in at second and third place for Northeastern cities are Manchester, NH (#103) and Portland, ME (#111). While the average incomes for both cities are higher than in Pittsburgh, so are rents and monthly living expenses. 

Of all the regions in RentCafe’s analysis, the Southeast had the most cities in their top 30—nine. Ranking at number three, Arlington, VA was the most renter-friendly city in this region, with renters spending the smallest share of the typical monthly income on rent and living expenses. 

In the Midwest, Sioux Falls, SD (#14) offers renters the best income-to-expenses ratio, followed by Bloomington, IL (#20), and Columbus, OH (#22). 

Read the full RentCafe report for more information, including methodology and a table with metro-level stats for the full list of 189 U.S. cities.