How would you like your 2020 housing affordability crisis served up? Chilled, with a stark chaser of home buyer’s anxiety, or red-hot, with an extra helping of simmering renter’s anguish? While the frantic hand-wringing over ever-escalating home prices in America’s top cities has become a national obsession, far less attention has been paid to the skyrocketing rental costs in those very same markets—sending many renters into Thoreauvian “lives of quiet desperation.”
What’s a stretched city dweller to do? After all, folks flocked en masse to rentals over the past decade as prices for homes got further out of reach. For some, leasing was a safe harbor while trying to bank enough cash to buy a place; for others it was their only urban entry point. Now we have the highest percentage of renters in a generation, outnumbering owners in about a third of all big cities—and rental costs are going up, and up, and up. The harbor has become a holding pen.
But here’s the news: Even in the nation’s largest and priciest urban meccas, there are still pockets of affordability. And the thrifty data team at realtor.com® set out to find ’em! Granted, these neighborhoods may not be your first options. But if you pick the right area, you can live in the big city, stay safe, and maintain a reasonable commute.
You knew there would be a few compromises along the way, right? Because city living isn’t likely to get much cheaper in the foreseeable future.
“I expect affordability to very much remain a main challenge for the housing market in 2020 for both buyers and renters, partly because there’s very limited new-housing supply,” says George Ratiu, senior economist for realtor.com®.
The lack of new construction to meet demand has a trickle-down effect on the rental market, Ratiu continues, since people who are unable to find a home to buy are continuing to rent.
“For young professionals looking for a place to rent, the major trade-offs center around location, proximity to public transit and amenities, as well as building features,” he says.
To find out where, we partnered with the rental site Zumper to pinpoint rental prices in ZIP codes across the nation’s 10 largest metros. That data was then screened through crime data provided by Sperling’s Best Places to weed out ZIPs with high crime rates. We then plotted the areas on Google Maps from the city center and checked out weekday morning commutes, eliminating places that were more than 45 minutes away from the city.
These neighborhoods may be a little rough around the edges in some cases (we’re looking at you, Philly and DC) or a trek to the bright lights of downtown (hello, Miami), but they are the most affordable options for renters looking for a big-city experience.
Median one-bedroom rent: $2,960
Most affordable neighborhood: East Elmhurst (ZIP code 11370)
Median one-bedroom rent in East Elmhurst: $1,755
Located in Queens—the largest and second most populous of New York City’s five boroughs—and close to LaGuardia Airport, East Elmhurst offers cultural diversity, ethnic restaurants, and easy proximity to Manhattan via public transit. Once fancifully dubbed “The Coney Island of Queens” thanks to a huge Ferris wheel and pair of long-defunct amusement parks, the area still has its diversions: It’s home to Flushing Bay Promenade, a waterside park.
In the 1950s and ’60s, the neighborhood was home a number of notable African Americans, including Malcolm X, Ella Fitzgerald, and Willie Mays. In the ’70s it was one of the first neighborhoods where African Americans could buy homes. With homeowners staying for decades, the New York Times in 2011 called it “the city’s most stable neighborhood.”
Rentals are also relatively affordable. A newly remodeled one-bedroom apartment with a backyard, in-unit laundry, and modern kitchen with breakfast bar is asking $1,900 a month.
Median one-bedroom rent: $1,425
Most affordable neighborhood: Dunwoody (30360)
Median one-bedroom rent in Dunwoody: $871
The northern Atlanta suburb of Dunwoody is centered around the Perimeter Mall, a shopping destination surrounded by acres of office space. Located at the nexus of two main freeways, it’s a hub for workers, renters, and shoppers alike.
The area is also full of apartment complexes (we counted nearly 20 in a three-block radius) with amenities such as pools, gyms, and pet accommodations. The area is also close to schools, public transit, medical facilities, and downtown Atlanta. The historic heart of the town, Dunwoody Village features shops, restaurants, and boutiques, as well as the Dunwoody Farmhouse landmark.
A one-bedroom at Dunwoody Glen starts at $999 a month, and features include hardwood floors, plentiful storage, upscale baths with tiled floors, and a gym and an outdoor pool for the complex.
Median one-bedroom rent: $2,500
Most affordable neighborhood: West Roxbury (02132)
Median one-bedroom rent in West Roxbury: $2,186
West Roxbury is a wicked nice place to live, as the locals might say, and it’s just 30 minutes to Boston proper. Residents here can enjoy the burbs while enjoying close proximity to the busy city.
The area features a main commercial hub with cafes, restaurants, and shops on Centre Street, while still offering up relatively affordable rents. And for those working in the heart of Boston, there’s easy access to Interstate Highway 95 and the commuter rail.
Local highlights include Millennium Park, with its 100 acres of playing fields, walking trails, and a canoe launch on the Charles River. Upscale shopping can be found at nearby Legacy Place in Dedham.
“You get the convenience of living in the city with a small town feel,” one resident posted on Niche, a website that ranks and reviews neighborhoods. “My neighbors are all really nice and I feel safe where I am. I live in a nice, quiet neighborhood with several buses around that I can just hop on to go to the city.”
Rentals currently available include this brand-new, pet-friendly one-bedroom complete with hardwood floors, a new kitchen with granite countertops, and in-unit laundry. The $2,000 monthly rent includes a parking space.
Median one-bedroom rent: $1,035
Most affordable neighborhood: Mission Bend (77083)
Median one-bedroom rent in Mission Bend: $700
Living in Mission Bend, 20 miles from downtown Houston, means a commute to work in the city center will take about a half-hour. Renters here can enjoy a more rural setting with parks, playgrounds, and good schools, without being too far from the big city.
Diversity in the town of 38,000 is a major plus.
“It’s great to be able to do things like pick up bubble tea in one shop and walk down the street to an African foods store to buy some hard-to-find ingredients for a new recipe,” notes one review on Niche.
Median one-bedroom rent: $2,199
Most affordable neighborhood: Windsor Hills (90056)
Median one-bedroom rent in Windsor Hills: $1,657
The hilltop area with views of downtown Los Angeles is a slice of what’s been dubbed “Black Beverly Hills.” Together with neighboring View Park, Baldwin Hills, and Ladera Heights neighborhoods, the area makes up the “highest concentration of black affluence” on the West Coast, according to the Los Angeles Times.
The area has been home to celebrities such as Ray Charles and Ike and Tina Turner. However, the historically African American community has seen a shift in its demographics, as new residents discover this “hidden gem” close to job hubs like downtown L.A. and Santa Monica.
The suburban feeling includes Mediterranean-style houses, palm trees, and views of the downtown skyline. But for shopping and nightlife, prepare to get in your car and head to nearby Culver City or Marina del Rey. Closer by, the Ladera Center includes a Ralph’s, a Starbucks, and a Wells Fargo. The neighborhood also boasts such parks as the sprawling Kenneth Hahn State Recreation Area.
If you want to get a foothold in the neighborhood, check out this one-bedroom apartment with new flooring and paint, available for $1,695 a month.
Median one-bedroom rent: $1,700
Most affordable neighborhood: Kendall West (33185)
Median one-bedroom rent in Kendall West: $1,251
Way, way west of Miami, this neighborhood is about as close a renter can get to the Everglades without actually living in the swamp. And that’s not to say the neighborhood is swampy—it’s just a hike from the bright lights of South Beach.
As one resident on Niche put it, “It’s a great place to live and not filled with the stress that you find in the eastern parts of the county.”
If there’s one complaint about the area, it’s the traffic. It will take a renter a while to get to Miami proper. But if you’re a renter looking for relative quiet, this might be an ideal spot to soak in the South Florida vibes.
Median one-bedroom rent: $1,495
Most affordable neighborhood: Somerton (19116)
Median one-bedroom rent in Somerton: $800
Philly has a well-earned rep for being vastly more affordable than New York City, but rent prices in the City of Brotherly Love have been on the rise. That said, there are still deals to be had.
Make your way to Somerton, in the far northeastern part of the city, and you’ll find a mix of single-family homes and apartments, as well as townhomes, for rent. The area includes supermarkets, restaurants, and a Wawa convenience store. It’s close to public transit for those who work in Center City. If you’d rather drive, expect about a 15- to 30-minute commute down Interstate Highway 95. Nearby schools attract college students, and the area is in close proximity to highways and malls.
If you’re sold, you can find a one-bedroom right in the heart of Somerton for $900 a month.
Median one-bedroom rent: $3,473
Most affordable neighborhood: Sunset District (94116)
Median one-bedroom rent in Sunset District: $2,380
San Francisco renters can justifiably feel like urchins with noses pressed against the glass when visiting the city’s trendy neighborhoods like the Mission District and South of Market. The great nightlife! The fab restaurants! The easy commutes! The crazy, crazy prices!
But those willing to brave the fog and a slightly longer schlep to work can hop on a streetcar and head farther out to the Sunset District. There, you’ll find an almost suburban quiet and somewhat affordable rents.
While there are stretches of single-family homes, there are also business districts such as Taraval Street, which offers shops, restaurants, and the Taraval streetcar. Ocean Beach is at the far end of the neighborhood, a brisk mile-and-a-half walk. Along with the streetcar for a 40-minute downtown ride, the area also has easy access to the freeway for those who work in Silicon Valley.
“It’s always been a very residential section of the city,” says Chris Galassi, managing broker and co-owner of Goodwin Realty. “A lot of families are renting out here because there are a lot of schools, and many are reputable.”
While he notes that rentals are affordable “relative to other parts of the city, they’re not the cheapest.” Here’s proof: A two-bedroom, one-bath home with a recently remodeled kitchen is asking $3,200 a month.
Median one-bedroom rent: $2,200
Most affordable neighborhood: Chevy Chase (20015)
Median one-bedroom rent: $1,838
It’s not that Chevy Chase. Although it shares the name of the famously well-heeled Maryland suburb, this northwest DC neighborhood is just across the border.
“They’re right next to each other,” says listing agent Maile Ramzi.
Those who live here “still see themselves as urban dwellers,” according to the website urbanturf.com—even if the homes resemble suburbia. Residents enjoy a walkable shopping district, a nearby Metro station, and access to downtown DC.
The area also offers a commercial district offering everything from locally owned cafes such as the Booeymonger sandwich shop to the multinational Whole Foods supermarket, to high-end shopping at Neiman Marcus. So residents don’t need to leave the neighborhood if they don’t want to.
And the main tenants in this upscale locale? “The diplomats like the area,” Ramzi says. “It’s very close to Embassy Row on Massachusetts Avenue.” Plus, the townhomes offer garage parking, another hard-to-find perk.
“It’s a nice place to live,” Ramzi adds.
Median one-bedroom rent: $1,450
Most affordable neighborhood: Elmwood Park (60707)
Median one-bedroom rent: $1,150
Just about 30 minutes from downtown, this lovely urban-suburban village has long been a predominantly Italian-American neighborhood.
And the neighborhood offers plenty of perks, with “bars, restaurants, coffee shops, and parks,” according to Niche. Plus, the schools are highly rated.
For those looking to rent, look no further than this brand-new, two-bedroom, two-bath apartment with high-end finishes, an open fireplace, an electric fireplace, and a balcony. It’s available for $1,950 a month.
Median one-bedroom rent: $1,180
Most affordable neighborhood: Northwest Dallas (75229)
Median one-bedroom rent: $747
This particular corner of Northwest Dallas has a cool cluster of Korean businesses and restaurants. If you’re in the mood for kalbi, karaoke, and cheap rents, this slice of Big D offers all the spice (and singing) you’ll need. Although the area doesn’t have the official designation of Koreatown, there’s plenty of Seoul to spread around.
And if soju isn’t your beverage of choice, this densely residential suburb also offers plenty of other bars, restaurants, and coffee shops.
And rents are cheap, including this one-bedroom at the Residence at Midtown, now available for $875 a month.