Most affordable cities for renters in 2022

We crunched the numbers to find the best cities with cheap apartments to rent in the U.S.

Article image

By Liyao Xie

Logan SachonDerek Silva

By 

Logan Sachon

Logan Sachon

Senior Managing Editor, Research

Logan Sachon is the senior managing editor of research at Policygenius, where she oversees our insurance and financial data studies and surveys. Previously, she co-founded The Billfold, a groundbreaking personal finance site for millennials named one of TIME's 25 best blogs of the year.

 & Derek Silva

Derek Silva

Senior Editor & Personal Finance Expert

Derek is a former senior editor and personal finance expert at Policygenius, where he specialized in financial data, taxes, estate planning, and investing. Previously, he was a staff writer at SmartAsset.

Published January 31, 2022 | 17 min read

Policygenius content follows strict guidelines for editorial accuracy and integrity. Learn about our editorial standards and how we make money.

Over one-third of America’s households are renters, [1] but the size, quality, and price of their apartments and homes vary widely. While the Policygenius renters index looked at which cities were better suited for renters versus homeowners using metrics like the home price rent ratio, median rent, and average rent, for this study we kept homeownership and real estate data out of it and asked: where is rent the cheapest? To do this, we used data from Zillow to determine typical rent and the five-year rent change. 

To ensure we created a list of places with good job prospects, we also looked at average annual income, average unemployment rate, cost of living, and average commute time, so you can find a cheap apartment and a job to pay for it. And to ensure you could actually find somewhere to rent in each city, we also looked at rental vacancy data. 

If your rent is too darn high and you’re looking to make a move, this list could be a great place to start. 

For the 111 cities in our study, these are the averages for the metrics we measured: 

  • Typical monthly rent costs: $1,629

  • Five-year change in rent costs: $347

  • Rent costs as a percentage of income: 35.4%

  • Average annual income: $55,088

  • Cost of living: 98.7 (using the regional price parities metric, where the national average is 100) 

  • Rental vacancy rate: 6.3%

  • Unemployment rate: 4.1%

  • Commute time: 23.9 minutes

The top 25 most affordable cities for renters in 2022

1. Little Rock, Arkansas

Little Rock, AR tops our list of best cities with low rent. It has a typical monthly rent of $983, the third-lowest on our list and well below the average rent of all cities in the study ($1,629). The five-year change in rent costs is below average at $171, and rent as percentage of income is below average at 24.3%. Average annual income is below average at $48,450, but cost of living is also below average at 87.7 (using the regional price parities metric, where the national average is 100). Commute time is below average at 19 minutes, unemployment is below average at 2.5%, and the rental vacancy rate is above average at 14%, giving renters ample options to find a cheap apartment to rent that they love. 

2. Tulsa, Oklahoma

With a typical rent price per month of $1,149 and a five-year increase of $207, Tulsa, OK is number two on our list of best cities with affordable apartments. Rent as a percentage of income, also known as the income to rent ratio, is below average at 27.7%, and though average annual income is below average at $49,800, cost of living is also below average at 88.6 (using the regional price parities metric, where the national average is 100). Rental vacancy is above average at 9%, unemployment is below average at 2.2%, and average commute time is below average at 19 minutes. 

3. Omaha, Nebraska 

Number three on our list of the best cities with low rent is Omaha, NE. Typical rent per month is $1,135, the five-year rent increase is $213, and rent as a percentage of income is 25.7%, all below average. Average annual income is below average at $53,050, but cost of living is also below average at 91.7 (using the regional price parities metric, where the national average is 100). The rental vacancy rate is above average at 7.5%, and unemployment and commute time are both below average at 1.7% and 19 minutes, respectively. 

4. Des Moines, Iowa

With a typical rent of $1,157, Des Moines, IA is four on our list of the best cities to find affordable apartments. The five-year rent increase is below average at $121, as is rent as percentage of income at 24.9%. Average annual income is average at $55,660, and cost of living is below average at 92.3 (using the regional price parities metric, where the national average is 100). Rental vacancy is slightly below average at 5.8%, unemployment is below average at 2.8%, and commute time is below average at 19 minutes. 

5. Oklahoma City, Oklahoma

Number five on our list of best cities with cheap rent is Oklahoma City, OK. Typical rent is $1,198 and five-year rent increase is $189, both below average. Also below average: annual income at $50,010, cost of living at 89.8 (using the regional price parities metric, where the national average is 100), and rent as percentage of income at 28.7%. The rental vacancy rate is above average at 9.4%, unemployment is below average at 1.9%, and commute time is below average at 21 minutes. 

6. Wichita, Kansas

Wichita, KS is six on our list of best cities for low rent. Typical rent is lowest of all the cities on our list at $880, the five-year rent increase is $114, and rent as percentage of income is 22.2%, all below average. Annual income is below average at $47,590, but cost of living is also low at 87.9 (using the regional price parities metric, where the national average is 100). Rental vacancy is above average at 8.2%, unemployment is average at 4.5%, and commute time is below average at 19 minutes. 

7. Birmingham, Alabama

Coming in at number seven on our list of best cities with affordable rent is Birmingham, AL. Monthly rent is $1,266, five-year rent increase is $237, and rent as percentage of income is 29.8%, all below average. Average annual income is below average at $50,960, but cost of living is also below average at 88.3 (using the regional price parities metric, where the national average is 100). Rental vacancy is above average at 9.4%, unemployment is below average at 2.5%, and commute time is below average at 22 minutes. 

8. Milwaukee, Wisconsin 

With a typical monthly rent of $1,189, a five-year rent increase of $168, and a rent as percentage of income of 25.9%, Milwaukee, WI is eighth on our list of best cities with affordable apartments for rent. Average annual income is average for the cities in our study at $55,040, and cost of living is below average at 94.6 (using the regional price parities metric, where the national average is 100). Rental vacancy is average at 6.6%, unemployment is below average at 2.8%, and commute time is below average at 22 minutes.  

9. St. Louis, Missouri

St. Louis, MO is number nine on our list of most affordable cities for renters with a typical rent of $1,181. The five-year rent increase is below average at $198 and rent as a percentage of income is below average at 26.1%. Average annual income is just below average at $54,210, though cost of living is also below average 90.1 (using the regional price parities metric, where the national average is 100). Rental vacancy is above average at 8%, unemployment is below average at 3.2%, and commute time is average at 24 minutes. 

10. Dayton, Ohio

Coming in at number 10 on our list of the best cities with affordable apartments is Dayton, OH. Monthly rent is below average at $1,115 and the five-year rent increase is $250, both below average. Rent as percentage of income is 24.9%, also below the average for the 111 cities in our study. Average annual income is below average at $53,820, but cost of living is also below average at 87.6 (using the regional price parities metric, where the national average is 100). Rental vacancy is average at 6.7%, unemployment is average at 4%, and commute time is below average at 21 minutes. 

11. Syracuse, New York

Our list of the best cities for affordable rent continues with Syracuse, N.Y. at number 11. Monthly rent ($1,250), five-year rent increase ($264), and rent as a percentage of income (27.3%) are all below average. Average annual income is just below average at $54,890, and cost of living is also below average at 96 (using the regional price parities metric, where the national average is 100). Rental vacancy is high at 10.2%, unemployment is just above average of the cities in our study at 4.3%, and commute time is below average at 18 minutes. 

12. Augusta, Georgia

Twelve on our list of best cities for renters is Augusta, GA. The typical rent of $1,223 is below average, as is the five-year rent increase of $285 and the rent as percentage of income of 30.3%. While average annual income is below the average of the cities in our study at $48,460, cost of living is also low at 89.3 (using the regional price parities metric, where the national average is 100). Rental vacancy is above average at 10.7%, unemployment is low at 2.6%, and the commute time is low at 21 minutes. 

13. Baton Rouge, Louisiana 

Low monthly rent ($1,257) and low five-year rent increase ($106) help put Baton Rouge, LA at 13 on our list of best cities with affordable apartments. While average annual income is below average at $49,260, cost of living is also below average at 90.5 (using the regional price parities metric, where the national average is 100). Rent as percentage of income is 30.6%, below average. Rental vacancy is above average at 9.7%, unemployment is below average at 3.7%, and commute time is below average at 21 minutes. 

14. Madison, Wisconsin

Madison, WI is 14 on our list of best cities with affordable rent. Typical rent is $1,302, the five-year rent increase is $177, and rent as percentage of income is 27.1%, all below average. Average annual income is above average at $57,680, and cost of living is below average at 96.4 (using the regional price parities metric, where the national average is 100). Rental vacancy is below average at 3.1%, unemployment is below average at 1.8%, and commute time is below average at 20 minutes.

15. Cleveland, Ohio

With $1,232 typical monthly rent, Cleveland, OH is 15 on our list of best cities with affordable rent. The five-year rent increase is $187 rent as percentage of income is 27.1%, both below average. Average annual income is just below the average for the cities in our study at $54,620, and cost of living is low at 89.9 (using the regional price parities metric, where the national average is 100). Rental vacancy is average at 6.7%, unemployment is low at 3.7%, and commute is average at 24 minutes. 

16. Louisville, Kentucky

Louisville, KY is 16 on our list of best cities with good deals on rent with a typical rent of $1,141 and a five-year rent increase of $200, both below average. Average annual income is also below average at $49,200, but so is cost of living at 89.6 (using the regional price parities metric, where the national average is 100). Rent as a percentage of income is also below average at 27.8%. Rental vacancy is above average at 7.1%, unemployment is below average at 3.2%, and commute time is average at 23 minutes. 

17. Kansas City, Missouri

With below-average typical rent of $1,225, Kansas City, MO is 17 on our list of best cities with affordable rent. The five-year rent increase is $247 and rent as a percentage of income is 27%, both below average. Annual income is slightly below average at $54,530, and cost of living is also below average at 92.8 (using the regional price parities metric, where the national average is 100). Rental vacancy is average at 6.2%, unemployment is below average at 3%, and commute time is below average at 22 minutes. 

18. Akron, Ohio

Akron, OH is 18 on our list of best cities with affordable apartments with a typical monthly rent of $1,060 and a five-year rent increase of $200. Rent as a percentage of income is below average at 24.8%, average annual income is below average at $51,220, and cost of living is below average at 90 (using the regional price parities metric, where the national average is 100). Rental vacancy is below average at 5.9%, unemployment is below average at 3.9%, and commute is below average at 22 minutes. 

19. Toledo, Ohio 

Coming in at 19 on our list of cities with the most affordable rent is Toledo, OH. Typical rent is $1,098, the five-year rent increase is $204, and rent as percentage of income is 26.8%, all below average. Average annual income is below average at $49,100, but cost of living is also below average at 86.2 (using the regional price parities metric, where the national average is 100). Rental vacancy is average at 6.1%, unemployment is average at 4.2%, and commute is below average at 20 minutes. 

20. McAllen, Texas 

One of three cities on our list with sub-$1,000 typical rent, McAllen, TX is 20 on our list of best cities with affordable rent. Typical rent is $972, five-year rent increase is $139, and rent as a percentage of income is 29.6%, all below average. Average annual income is lowest than any city on our list at $39,450, but cost of living is lowest on our list, too, at 82.2 (using the regional price parities metric, where the national average is 100). Rental vacancy is above average at 8.9%, unemployment is above average at 7.6%, and commute time is below average at 20 minutes. 

21. Durham, North Carolina 

Durham, NC is 21 on our list of most affordable cities for renters, and the only North Carolina city to make the top 25. Typical rent is $1,491, the five-year rent increase is $276, and rent as percentage of income is 27.8%, all below average. Average annual income is above average at $64,430, but cost of living is below average at 94.8 (using the regional price parities metric, where the national average is 100). Rental vacancy is just above average at 6.9%, unemployment is below average at 2.9%, and commute time is average at 23 minutes. 

22. Albany, New York 

With a typical rent of $1,376, Albany, NY is 22 on our list of  cities with cheap rent. The five-year rent increase is below average at $215, as is rent as percentage of income at 28%. Average annual income is above average at $58,880 and cost of living is 99.3 (using the regional price parities metric, where the national average is 100). Rental vacancy is average at 6.5%, unemployment is below average at 3.7%, and commute time is below average at 19 minutes. 

23. Harrisburg, Pennsylvania

Harrisburg, PA is 23 on our list of affordable cities for renters with a typical rent of $1,219 and a five-year rent increase of $232. The average annual income is below average at $52,700 and so is the cost of living at 95.9 (using the regional price parities metric, where the national average is 100). Rental vacancy is above average at 7%, unemployment is average at 4.1%, and commute time is below average at 20 minutes. 

24. Jackson, Mississippi

Number 24 on our list of most affordable cities for renters is Jackson, MS. Its typical rent is $1,279, five-year rent increase is $169, and rent as percentage of income is 33.9%, all below average. Average annual income is below average at $45,230, but cost of living is also below average at 87.7 (using the regional price parities metric, where the national average is 100). Rental vacancy is above average at 7.5%, unemployment is below average at 3.6%, and commute time is below average at 21 minutes. 

25. Greenville, South Carolina 

Rounding out our list of the best cities for renters looking for cheap rent is Greenville, SC at number 25. Greenville has a typical monthly rent of $1,293, a five-year rent increase of $267, and rent as a percentage of income is 32.9%, all below average. While average annual income is below average at $47,100, cost of living is also below average at 90.7 (using the regional price parities metric, where the national average is 100). Rental vacancy is above average at 7.3%, unemployment is below average at 2.7%, and commute is below average at 20 minutes.

What about New York City?

Over two-thirds of New Yorkers (67%) [2] are renters, and none of them would be surprised that the Big Apple doesn’t make the cut for the best cities for cheap rent. Among the 111 cities in study, NYC came in at 98, in part due to its high typical monthly rent ($2,715), which is well above the average rent for the cities in the study, plus high rent as a percentage of income (45.9%) and high cost of living 125.7 (using the regional price parities metric, where the national average is 100). New York also has a low rental vacancy rate at 3.4% and a higher-than-average commute at 42 minutes. One consolation for New Yorkers? There are 13 cities that ranked worse for affordable rent than their hometown, all in Florida and California. Surprisingly, San Francisco ranked better than NYC for affordable rent, coming in at number 94, even with a typical monthly rent of $2,945, the second-highest on our list after San Jose, CA, where typical rent per month is $3,023.


The best cities for affordable rent, summed up

RankCityTypical monthly rent cost5-year rent changeRent as a percentage of incomeAverage annual incomeCost of living (U.S. average=100)Rental vacancy rateUnemployment rateCommute time (minutes)
1Little Rock, AR$983+$17124.3%$48,45087.7014.0%2.5%19
2Tulsa, OK$1,149+$20727.7%$49,80088.609.0%2.2%19
3Omaha, NE$1,135+$21325.7%$53,05091.707.5%1.7%19
4Des Moines, IA$1,157+$12124.9%$55,66092.305.8%2.8%19
5Oklahoma City, OK$1,198+$18928.7%$50,01089.809.4%1.9%21
6Wichita, KS$880+$11422.2%$47,59087.908.2%4.5%19
7Birmingham, AL$1,266+$23729.8%$50,96088.309.4%2.5%22
8Milwaukee, WI$1,189+$16825.9%$55,04094.606.6%2.8%22
9St. Louis, MO$1,181+$19826.1%$54,21090.108.0%3.2%24
10Dayton, OH$1,115+$25024.9%$53,82087.606.7%4.0%21
11Syracuse, NY$1,250+$26427.3%$54,89096.0010.2%4.3%18
12Augusta, GA$1,223+$28530.3%$48,46089.3010.7%2.6%21
13Baton Rouge, LA$1,257+$10630.6%$49,26090.509.7%3.7%21
14Madison, WI$1,302+$17727.1%$57,68096.403.1%1.8%20
15Cleveland, OH$1,232+$18727.1%$54,62089.906.7%3.7%24
16Louisville, KY$1,141+$20027.8%$49,20089.607.1%3.2%23
17Kansas City, MO$1,225+$24727.0%$54,53092.806.2%3.0%22
18Akron, OH$1,060+$20024.8%$51,22090.005.9%3.9%22
19Toledo, OH$1,098+$20426.8%$49,10086.206.1%4.2%20
20McAllen, TX$972+$13929.6%$39,45082.208.9%7.6%20
21Durham, NC$1,491+$27627.8%$64,43094.806.9%2.9%23
22Albany, NY$1,376+$21528.0%$58,88099.306.5%3.7%19
23Harrisburg, PA$1,219+$23227.8%$52,70095.907.0%4.1%20
24Jackson, MS$1,279+$16933.9%$45,23087.707.5%3.6%21
25Greenville, SC$1,293+$26732.9%$47,10090.707.3%2.7%20


Insurance tips for renters

Expert advice protecting yourself as a renter, from Policygenius experts: 

It’s not always required, but you need renters insurance 

Homeowners who take out a mortgage are required to have homeowners insurance, and  states require car owners to have a minimum amount of auto insurance, but unless your landlord requires it, no one will make you buy renters insurance. You should buy it anyway, says Policygenius senior editor and licensed insurance expert Pat Howard. “It’s the best way for renters to protect themselves and their stuff,” he says. 

Renters insurance provides three kinds of protection most renters are not getting anywhere else: personal property protection (which protects your stuff if it’s damaged or destroyed while in your house — or out of it) , personal liability protection (which protects you if you accidentally hurt someone), and loss of use protection (which reimburses you if your apartment becomes uninhabitable). 

Have an animal? Up your liability coverage

Renters insurance policies come with liability coverage which protects you if you accidentally injure someone, and it also applies if your pet hurts someone. If you have a dog, experts recommend that you should have at least $100,000 in personal liability coverage, which you can get through most renters insurance policies. 

Have a home business? You may need extra protection

Most renters insurance policies include some coverage for business equipment, and if you have your employer’s equipment at your home, their insurance should cover it. But if you work for yourself, you may need more home business coverage than renters insurance provides. Ask about additional coverage or look into a business insurance policy. 


Methodology

Policygenius found the best cities for renters by comparing 111 of the largest cities in the country across eight factors:

Typical monthly rent costs: Rent data came from the Zillow Observed Rent Index (ZORI) and was for August 2021. [3] Cities with lower monthly rent costs ranked higher. 

Five-year change in rent costs: Using data from the Zillow Observed Rent Index (ZORI), we found the change in rent values from August 2016 to August 2021. Cities with lower rent increases ranked higher. 

Average annual income: Average incomes were from the May 2020 Occupational Employment and Wage Statistics survey from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). [4] Cities with higher annual incomes ranked higher. 

Rent costs as a percentage of income: Using the typical monthly rent for August 2021 from Zillow and the average annual income from the BLS (both as described above), we found the annual cost of rent in a city as a percentage of the average income in that city. Cities with lower percentages of ranked higher. 

Rental vacancy rate: This is the percentage of the city’s rental inventory that is vacant for rent, according to Census Bureau data. [5] Cities with higher vacancy rates ranked higher. 

Cost of living: The cost of living in a city is represented by regional price parities from the Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA), [6] which measure the relative cost of all goods and rents in a metro area for 2020, on a scale where the U.S. average is 100. Cities with lower ratings ranked higher. 

Unemployment rate: Unemployment rates, which were available at the level of metropolitan area, came from the BLS and were for October 2021. [7] Cities with lower unemployment rates ranked higher. 

Commute time: This is the average commute to work (in minutes) in the city and comes from the Census Bureau. [8] Cities with lower commute times ranked higher. 

We ranked the cities based on their overall scores across all eight factors. Top scores were awarded to the cities with the lowest typical monthly rents, the lowest five-year rent changes (higher changes would indicate that rents are rising more quickly), higher annual incomes, lower values for rents as a percentage of incomes (lower values mean people spend less of their yearly income on housing), higher rental vacancy rates (renters have greater choice and more bargaining power if more rental units are available), lower costs of living, lower unemployment rates, and shorter average commutes.

About Policygenius

Policygenius is the online insurance marketplace combining cutting-edge technology with the expertise of real licensed agents to help people get the coverage they need to protect their family, property, and finances with confidence. Since 2014 we’ve helped over 30 million people shop for insurance and placed more than $150 billion in coverage from our headquarters in New York City and Durham, North Carolina.

For reporters

To request more information about the data, or to speak with one of our experts, contact press@policygenius.com.