The least affordable housing markets in America

The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) recommends spending no more than 30% of your income on housing. But in some cities across the country, people are forking more than half their income over to rent, or buying homes worth 10 times their annual salary. According to HUD's guidelines, these people are housing cost-burdened. Read on as SmartAsset takes a look at these and other affordability ratios to find the least affordable housing markets in America.

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In order to find the least affordable housing markets in America, we looked at data on three different affordability ratios. We looked at rent as a percent of income, average housing costs as a percent of median household income and median home value to median household income. Taken together they cover a range of housing affordability issues. Take a look at our data and methodology section below to see how we created our scores and where we got our data.

Key Findings

  • Triple trouble – Nineteen of the 20 least affordable cities in the country are located in three states: California, New Jersey and Florida. Only Bloomington, Indiana, ranked 14th, stops these three states from taking all 20 spots. California makes up the bulk of the top 20, with 14 cities, while New Jersey has three and Florida has two.
  • Not just rich cities – San Francisco often grabs the headlines for its eye-popping rent numbers. Indeed the average San Francisco renter, according to the Census Bureau, is paying about $1,660 per month. But when you make $92,000 per year in household income (which the average San Francisco household makes), $1,660 doesn't seem so bad. In this study, the least affordable cities are often places where rents have increased but incomes did not rise. In Passaic, New Jersey, for example, renters pay only $500 less than San Francisco renters. However, households in Passaic make almost $70,000 less per year than they do in San Francisco.

The most expensive US housing markets
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The most expensive US housing markets

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1. Passaic, New Jersey

Passaic is located just north of Newark. Our data shows that the 70,000 residents here face enormous difficulty affording housing. Renters pay over 50% of their income keeping a roof over their heads, on average. That’s the highest rate in the nation. Passaic homeowners are struggling to get by, too. Average housing costs eat up 53% of the average household’s budget. Part of the problem is that the median household income in Passaic is just under $27,000.

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2. Miami, Florida

We found that, in order to comfortably afford rent on a two-bedroom apartment in Miami, you would need to make around $90,000 per year. And our data shows that the average household in Miami makes $30,000 per year. That’s one-third less than we estimate they would need. (Readers should note that the U.S. Census Bureau differentiates between Miami Beach and Miami. Residents in Miami Beach earn just under $51,000, on average.)

Data also shows that Miami homes are largely outside of the reach of Miami residents. The average home is worth 9.5 times more than what the average Miami household earns per year putting it outside the affordable range. According to some experts, homebuyers can comfortably afford homes that are two or 2.5 times their annual gross income.

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3. Hawthorne, California

Residents in Hawthorne, California face the largest gulf between median annual income and home values. For average Hawthorne residents to buy the average home they would need to save 11.1 years’ worth of annual income. On other metrics, however, Hawthorne is faring better. The average renter pays about 38.5% of her income on rent, while average homeowners spend around 33% of their income on housing costs.

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4. Davis, California

Davis is another city, like Passaic, where renters are paying over 50% of their incomes on rent, on average. On average Davis residents are wealthier than Passaic residents, but they also face much higher housing costs. Davis homeowners fare better than their renting counterparts. Homeowners pay only 30% of their income on housing costs, on average, which is reasonable. But buying a home may be a struggle for many Davis residents. Average home values are about 10 times higher than the average household’s income.

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5. Baldwin Park, California

Folks in Baldwin Park, California pay, on average, 45% of their income on rent. That’s the sixth-highest rate in the country. The situation is a little less dire for those who own their homes. Homeowners pay only 34% of their income on housing costs, on average. But, like in Davis, it may be difficult for the average Baldwin Park resident to become a homeowner. The average Baldwin Park home is worth more than 7.5 times the average income.

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Power of waterfalls at Great Falls of Passaic River, Paterson, Passaic County, New Jersey, USA. Waterfalls are 77 feet (23 m) high. Part of Paterson Great Falls National Historical Park, administered by National Park Service. One of United States' largest waterfalls.
Photo of a Residential Neighborhood with Houses and Rooftops in the Inglewood area of Los Angeles, California, USA, shot from above.
An aerial view of the Marina, Marina Blvd, and looking up Divisadero Street in San Francisco, California. Sutro tower is visible on the mountains in the background. Neighborhood is the Marina and Cow Hollow district of San Francisco.
Aerial view of Hialeah city and Hialeah race track north of Miami international airport,Florida.

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Data and Methodology

In order to find the least affordable cities in America, SmartAsset looked at housing data for 584 American cities. We collected data on the following three factors:

  • Rent as a percent of income. This is the percent of income which renters pay on rent. For this metric, the Census caps the number at 50%. In cities where renters pay more than 50% of their income on rent, the Census writes 50+. In cases like this we used 50% as our metric. Data comes from the Census Bureau's 2015 1-Year American Community Survey.
  • Housing cost as a percent of income. This is the percent of income going to rent. We used median housing costs and median household income to find this statistic. Data comes from the Census Bureau's 2015 1-Year American Community Survey.
  • Ratio of median home value to median household income. Median household income and median home value come from the Census Bureau's 2015 1-Year American Community Survey.

We then ranked each city in each metric, giving an equal weighting to each metric. After ranking, we found each city's average ranking. We used this average ranking to create our final score. The city with the best average ranking received a 100. The city with the worst average ranking received a 0.

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