The Income Needed to Pay Rent in the 10 Largest U.S. Cities

Couple paying bills on laptop
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This story originally appeared on SmartAsset.com.

As a result of the coronavirus pandemic, many Americans have had trouble covering expenses — especially rent — in recent months.

According to data from the National Multifamily Housing Council, less than 88% of apartment households made a full or partial July rent payment as of the 13th of the month.

Though this marks an increase relative to April 2020, it is roughly 3 percentage points lower than one year earlier. In July 2019, 90.1% of rent payments were made by the 13th of the month.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) recommends a rent-to-income ratio of less than 30% and considers households that spend more than 30% of their income on housing to be cost-burdened. Using HUD’s guidelines, SmartAsset set a 28% rent-to-income ratio and examined the income needed to pay rent in America’s largest cities in this study.

In this study, SmartAsset looked at rent data on the 25 largest U.S. cities. We estimated the household income renters would need to afford the average two-bedroom apartment while paying no more than 28% of their total income in rent. To find this number, we divided the average annual cost of a two-bedroom apartment by 0.28.

We ranked cities from highest to lowest according to the resulting figure, i.e., the annual income needed for rent costs to be equal to or less than 28% of household income.

Data on two-bedroom rents for each city is the average from January 2020 through April 2020 and was pulled from Zumper, a company that publishes research on houses and apartments for rent throughout the U.S.

10. Chicago

Chicago, Illinois
f11photo / Shutterstock.com

The average two-bedroom rent in Chicago is $1,730 per month.

To pay 28% or less of one’s income for that rent, an individual must earn more than $74,000 per year, or about $6,200 per month.

9. Denver

Denver skyline
Andrew Zarivny / Shutterstock.com

The income needed to pay rent in Denver without being housing-cost burdened is about $82,300.

Between January 2020 and April 2020, the average two-bedroom monthly rent was roughly $1,900.

8. Seattle

Seattle, Washington Pike Place
Carter / Shutterstock.com

The income needed to pay rent on the average two-bedroom apartment in Seattle and not be housing-cost burdened is $98,162.

With a 2018 median household income of $93,481, Seattle comes the closest of any city in our top 10 to having a median household income that matches up with the income needed to pay rent.

Specifically, the income needed to pay that average rent of $2,290 is only about 5% higher than the median household income.

7. San Diego

The skyline of San Diego, where median rent is well below median mortgage payments
Dancestrokes / Shutterstock.com

The average monthly rent for a two-bedroom apartment in San Diego is roughly $2,400, according to Zumper data.

Assuming a maximum 28% rent-to-income ratio, a San Diego household of renters needs to earn six figures — specifically, $101,250 — to avoid being housing-cost burdened.

6. Boston

Boston, Massachusetts
ESB Professional / Shutterstock.com

Housing costs in Boston tend to be high. Between January 2020 and April 2020, the average rent for a two-bedroom apartment in the city was about $2,900, according to data from Zumper.

To cover that and not spend more than 28% of income on rent, a household must earn $124,200.

5. Los Angeles

The streets of Los Angeles, where median rent is relatively low
Sean Pavone / Shutterstock.com

Los Angeles is the third of four California cities that rank in our top 10.

Between January 2020 and April 2020, the average two-bedroom monthly rent in Los Angeles was about $3,000, which makes the average annual rent roughly $36,100.

Los Angeles residents need to earn roughly $129,100 annually to have a rent-to-income ratio of 28% or lower.

4. San Jose, California

The skyline of San Jose, which has a lower median rent than median mortgage payment
stellamc / Shutterstock.com

U.S. Census Bureau data shows that in 2018, the median household income in San Jose, California, was $113,036 — the highest in our study.

Despite this, the income needed to pay the average $3,012 rent on a two-bedroom apartment in the area — $129,086 — is still 14.2% higher than the median household income.

3. Washington, D.C.

Washington DC
Orhan Cam / Shutterstock.com

The income needed to pay the average rent on a two-bedroom apartment in the District of Columbia is about $132,600.

This figure is more than 55% higher than the 2018 median household income in the city, which is $85,203.

2. New York City

NYC New York City skyline at night
Songquan Deng / Shutterstock.com

Between January 2020 and April 2020, the average two-bedroom monthly rent in New York City was roughly $3,300.

This means that a two-bedroom apartment costs about $39,400 annually, and a household needs to make close to $140,900 to pay rent while not being housing-cost burdened.

1. San Francisco

San Francisco
Pius Lee / Shutterstock.com

Like last year, San Francisco takes the top spot in our study. Our data shows that the average monthly rent for a two-bedroom apartment in the city exceeds $4,500, or more than $54,000 annually.

Assuming a maximum 28% rent-to-income ratio, a household of renters in San Francisco needs to earn roughly $194,800 annually to avoid being housing-cost burdened.

Though San Francisco has the second-highest median household income of the largest U.S. cities, that figure ($112,376) falls well below the estimated income needed to pay the rent.

Disclosure: The information you read here is always objective. However, we sometimes receive compensation when you click links within our stories.

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