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Published: Jul 08, 2024 4 min read
Aerial view of Hailey, Idaho. Little town in valley seen from Carbonate Mountain
Hailey, Idaho
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A record share of renters are now “cost-burdened,” meaning they spend a high percentage of their income on housing. But even as tenants in many parts of the United States stretch their budgets, there are still cities that stand out for affordability, according to a new report from the Harvard Joint Center for Housing Studies.

In places like Williston, North Dakota — an oil-rich town that’s seen a population surge in the past 15 years — or Jacksonville, Illinois — a small town in farm country — less than 20% of renters are considered cost-burdened.

The Harvard housing affordability report, which was released in June but uses data from 2022, defines a cost-burdened renter as one who spends more than the recommended 30% of household income on housing costs (including utilities).

A record-high 22.4 million met this definition of "cost-burdened" in 2022, an increase of 2 million in three years. With that rise, about half of renters are now putting at least 30% of their income toward housing.

“Rents have been rising faster than incomes for decades,” Alexander Hermann, a senior research associate, said in the report. “However, the pandemic-era rent surge produced an unprecedented affordability crisis that continues.”

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The most affordable cities for renters

If you’re looking to live in one of the cheapest cities in America, you may have to make some compromises, like dealing with extreme weather or living in a remote area.

Other cities that rank in the top 10 also include small towns in Idaho, Oklahoma, Tennessee, South Dakota and Minnesota.

Here’s the list of the 10 most affordable metro areas based on the share of "cost-burdened" renter households:

  1. Dickinson, North Dakota: 17.0% of renters considered cost-burdened
  2. Williston, North Dakota: 17.0%
  3. Jacksonville, Illinois: 18.4%
  4. Miami, Oklahoma: 23.7%
  5. Mountain Home, Idaho: 24.7%
  6. Hailey, Idaho: 24.7%
  7. Pierre, South Dakota: 25.2%
  8. Crossville, Tennessee: 25.2%
  9. Paris, Tennessee: 25.3%
  10. Fairmont, Minnesota: 25.5%

The least affordable cities for renters

On the flip side, renters appear to be struggling the most in cities where the median household income is low — earnings come in below $30,000 in five of the top 10 cities and below $40,000 in the five others. (For context, the typical national household income in 2022 was about $74,000.)

These cities also tend to have median rents of $1,000 or more despite residents' relatively low incomes.

Here are the least affordable metro areas based on the share of renter households that were "severely cost-burdened" in 2022, meaning over 50% of their income goes to rent:

  1. Stillwater, Oklahoma: 45.3% of renters considered severely cost-burdened
  2. Corvallis, Oregon: 42.4%
  3. Selma, Alabama: 42.1%
  4. Pullman, Washington: 41.6%
  5. Othello, Washington: 41.6%
  6. Port St. Lucie, Florida: 41.4%
  7. Auburn-Opelika, Alabama: 40.4%
  8. Bloomington, Indiana: 39.6%
  9. Athens-Clarke County, Georgia: 39.6%
  10. State College, Pennsylvania: 39.2%
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