The Newtonian laws of real estate dictate that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. So when the sales market for new homes crashed and immolated a decade ago, folks flocked en masse to rentals in America’s top metros. But here’s the thing: They never stopped flocking! More Americans are renting now than at any point since LBJ was in the White House, according to a Pew Research Center analysis last year—nearly 37% of households, in fact.
And with rents in America’s most seductive urban meccas rising just as fast as home prices, what was once considered a safety hatch has become more of a mousetrap. Urban dwellers shell out far more than they should for their monthly nut, making it ever tougher to save up for a home.
So what’s a city lover to do? You could ditch your urban dreams altogether—along with the career opportunities, social stimulation, and late-night Icelandic food deliveries they can bring. Or you could get smart, and make a few well-thought-out compromises. The penny-pinching data team at realtor.com® set out to find the neighborhoods in America’s biggest metros that boast the lowest rents.
“Because of high home prices and rising rents, people are getting creative and looking [for rental apartments] in areas that they might not have looked at before,” says Danielle Hale, chief economist for realtor.com. “When you’re looking for affordability, you’ve got to make trade-offs. … There might not be a grocery store or other fun things to do. It might take longer to get weekly errands done because it is a little farther from transit.”
To find these bargain neighborhoods, we started with the nation’s biggest metros, then analyzed median one-bedroom rent listing prices by ZIP code provided by rental site Zumper, calculated from over 1 million active online rental listings in May. We searched neighborhoods within a 45-minute commute to downtown during the morning rush hour, according to Google Maps, and made sure crime wasn’t over a certain threshold based on crime data provided by Sperling’s Best Places, a site that collects data on communities across the U.S. (We also eliminated neighborhoods that had too few rental listings.)
Now let’s go to the neighborhoods where renting makes cents. Lots of them.
Median one-bedroom rent*: $2,860
Most affordable neighborhood: Arrochar, Staten Island (ZIP code 10305)
Median one-bedroom rent: $1,475
Share of renter households**: 34.1%
Conservative-leaning Staten Island is often mocked by residents of the other boroughs of New York City as a stodgy suburb in disguise—it’s closer (in location and vibe) to New Jersey than Manhattan. But with much lower rent prices, S.I. might be getting the last laugh. Right next to the entrance of the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge connecting Staten Island and Brooklyn, the community of Arrochar has become an affordable option for commuters, especially those working in Brooklyn.
“A lot of people who live in Brooklyn are coming here, because the rent is so much less,” says Diane Yetman, a real estate agent at DiTommaso Real Estate in Staten Island. “And they want to be close to the bridge.”
The increase in young professionals has coincided with an uptick in bars and restaurants in the area. For warm-weather fun, this ZIP encompasses the borough’s main beaches, South Beach and Midland Beach, linked by a bike-friendly boardwalk. Arrochar also sits just south of the island’s bustling Sri Lankan community, whose restaurants draw foodies from across the city. (Try the dhal curry!)
Most folks in this area rent single-family homes, or units within multifamily homes. Rentals in Arrochar range from five-bedroom, Colonial-style homes such as this one for $2,900 a month, to units carved out of homes such as this one-bedroom with an entrance at the rear of a bungalow for $1,200 a month.
Median one-bedroom rent: $2,340
Most affordable neighborhood: North Hollywood/Sun Valley (91605)
Median one-bedroom rent: $1,623
Share of renter households: 61.8%
Just over the San Fernando mountains from the rest of Los Angeles, the adjacent neighborhoods of Sun Valley, a young and diverse community, and North Hollywood, a neighborhood with art galleries and craft beer bars, are the best deals for L.A. renters trying to save money.
A morning commute into downtown Los Angeles can take around 40 minutes during peak hours, and 25 minutes with no traffic. By Los Angeles standards, that’s a breeze. For those working in the movie and TV production studios in Burbank, like Warner Bros. and Disney, it’s more like 15 minutes.
The 91605 ZIP code is a heavy renter’s market, making up over half of households. Most of what’s on the market are one-story, three-bedroom homes priced from $2,500 to $3,500 a month. Then there are apartments like this newly renovated one-bedroom with a quartz kitchen and stainless-steel appliances for $1,700 a month.
Median one-bedroom rent: $1,500
Most affordable neighborhood: Dunning (60634)
Median one-bedroom rent: $950
Share of renter households: 28.7%
Located 13 miles north of downtown Chicago, Dunning’s suburban streets are lined with trees and brick bungalows with front porches built in the early 1900s.
“It’s a very residential area with lots of younger families, as well as a lot of city workers like police officers, firefighters, and teachers,” says Sonia Figueroa, a real estate broker with Century21 in Chicago. “It takes 45 minutes during rush hour to get into Chicago … but it’s worth it for the peace and quiet and tranquility of the neighborhood.”
When it comes to rentals, the market is dominated by single-family homes. Yet, in recent years the area has seen new apartment developments pop up. These apartment units are smaller and don’t have on-site parking, putting the rent on the cheaper side. But that doesn’t mean they skimp on other amenities. This three-bedroom, 1,375-square-foot apartment with granite countertops and access to an on-site workout center is priced at $1,900 a month.
Bonus: It’s only 15 minutes from O’Hare International Airport, making it great for frequent flyers.
Median one-bedroom rent: $1,310
Most affordable neighborhood: Lake Highlands (75238)
Median one-bedroom rent: $827
Share of renter households: 51.4%
About 20 minutes north of downtown Dallas, Lake Highlands is a community dotted with subdivisions and Texas-size homes. And Dallas millennials hitting their 30s are realizing suburbs such as Lake Highlands aren’t so bad after all.
The nearby bike and walking paths at the 1,200-acre White Rock Lake are a draw for younger folks, Pfeffer says.
The rental market in Lake Highlands is dominated by four-bedroom ranch homes. This one with a remodeled master bath, wood-burning fireplace, and open patio is available for $2,450 a month. But there are also some apartment complexes like South Pointe, where one- to two-bedrooms range from $750 to $1,100 a month.
Median one-bedroom rent: $1,300
Most affordable neighborhood: Fairbanks/ Northwest Crossing (77040)
Median one-bedroom rent: $733
Share of renter households: 47.2%
Renters looking to escape the escalating prices in Houston are making their way out to Fairbanks/Northwest Crossing, a suburb within 20 minutes of downtown.
“The people renting there can’t afford to live in the Inner Loop close to downtown so they go a little farther out,” says Greg Nino, a real estate agent at Re/Max Compass in Houston.
But renting here is often a strategic short-term choice. “A lot of young people out of college go there. … They are [positioning] themselves to save up for that 20% down payment,” Nino says.
A one-bedroom apartment in the area typically costs around $700 a month, while a two-bedroom is usually around $900. But the bulk of the market here is three- to four-bedroom homes, Nino says.
Median one-bedroom rent: $1,490
Most affordable neighborhood: Holmesburg (19136)
Median one-bedroom rent: $750
Share of renter households: 38.8%
Philadelphia has long been an affordable Northeastern alternative to Boston and New York City. But recently, housing costs have shot up here too. Just over the past year, the median rent in the city has jumped 8% for both one-bedroom apartments (to $1,490) and two-bedroom units (to $1,700). So it makes sense that folks are giving the neighborhoods of Holmesburg and Mayfair, where prices are half that, a second look.
“There’s a wide range of people moving there,” says Stacey Stier, a real estate agent in Philadelphia.
This area is known for its close-knit community and brick row homes, Stier says. Renters might take an entire three- or four-bedroom row home, or just a unit within one. One example is this three-bedroom, 1,000-square-foot row home for $1,300 a month.
Within 20 minutes of downtown, this area is great for commuters. But you don’t need to travel to have fun: Reviewers on niche.com give Holmesburg an A rating for nightlife.
Median one-bedroom rent: $2,140
Most affordable neighborhood: Michigan Park/Brookland (20017)
Median one-bedroom rent: $1,620
Share of renter households: 44.2%
These young renters band together in gaggles of three or four to occupy the area’s multibedroom homes, most of which were built after World War II for returning veterans, Bertini says. Rents for these homes range from $2,700 to $3,500 a month.
A number of new developments have gone up in recent years, as well. Built in 2013, the Monroe Street Market apartment building in Brookland has climate-controlled units priced from $1,800 a month for a studio to $3,600 for a two-bedroom.
The area’s relatively low prices, however, come at a cost. Unlike much of DC proper, it doesn’t have the best public transportation options, so most folks drive, Bertini says.
Median one-bedroom rent: $1,800
Most affordable neighborhood: Sunset (33173)
Median one-bedroom rent: $1,300
Share of renter households: 28.7%
On a trip through the Miami neighborhood of Sunset, folks will notice the cottages and Mediterranean Revival–style homes that come with big front and back yards, and often have palm trees or bush fences that serve as barriers between the home and the road.
Home prices in Sunset, at a median of $378,700, aren’t all that much lower than the overall Miami metro (at $395,100). But renters can get a deal here. The median rent for a one-bedroom in Sunset is $500 lower per month than Miami as a whole. For example, this 700-square-foot, one-bedroom apartment in a complex with three pools and four tennis courts is $1,300 a month. A half-hour away, in downtown Miami, similar units are priced over $2,500. Yikes.
Median one-bedroom rent: $1,420
Most affordable neighborhood: Doraville (30360)
Median one-bedroom rent: $836
Share of renter households: 43.7%
In the 1950s, the community of Doraville saw a housing explosion as Atlanta commuters flocked to the suburb after General Motors built an assembly plant nearby. From 1950 to 1970, the town’s population shot from less than 500 to above 9,000—and has climbed to only 10,000 since.
The rentals here are heavy on single-family homes, but there are some recently built homes, too. But most of what renters will find on the market are one-story ranches and Mid-Century Modern homes built during the boom years of the ’50s and ’60s.
Median one-bedroom rent: $2,300
Most affordable neighborhood: Roslindale (02131)
Median one-bedroom rent: $1,600
Share of renter households: 44.9%
Bostonians looking to get bigger apartments for their growing families are often forced to move way out of the city to find rents within reach. Or they can relocate to Roslindale, a historically Greek community within city limits that’s about 30 minutes southwest of downtown.
“This area is probably the last place around here where rents are affordable,”says Rafael Hernandez, a real estate broker at A Plus Realty Group in Boston. “This is as cheap as you can get without having to leave the city.”
Roslindale also has a commuter rail station to whisk workers downtown.
The Roslindale rental market is full of single-family homes and apartment buildings. A two- or three-bedroom home can cost upward of $2,500 a month. However, most new residents go for apartments in the newer buildings, where a two-bedroom will fetch $1,150 to $1,400 a month.
“A bunch of new developments have gone up in the past few years. There are new condos, shops, and restaurants. … They’re making it more attractive and giving people more options to walk around,” Hernandez says.
Median one-bedroom rent: $3,490
Most affordable neighborhood: Parkmerced (94132)
Median one-bedroom rent: $2,588
Share of renter households: 56.4%
Sitting in the southwest part of San Francisco, Parkmerced is a planned community that dates to the 1940s, with streets dotted with low-rise garden apartment buildings. The community borders the 650-acre Lake Merced Park, popular among boaters and bicyclists.
Apartments here usually range from 500 to 1,400 square feet. Studios are priced at around $2,300 a month, while one-bedroom units can top $2,900. This one-bedroom townhome in Parkmerced is listed at $2,957—and like many of the apartments in Parkmerced, it has the added advantage of being rent-controlled.
Parkmerced hasn’t seen much new development in recent years, but that is changing. Earlier this year the community launched a master planned redevelopment, which will add over 5,500 new apartment units in the neighborhood. This includes construction of a 17-story residential building with almost 300 units at 1208 Junipero Serra Blvd., costing around $130 million.
* Citywide median rents in May
** Share of renter households based on U.S. Census Bureau’s 2012–16 American Community Survey
Allison Underhill contributed to this report.