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

Happy renters
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Editor's Note: This story originally appeared on SmartAsset.com.

Housing insecurity and lack of protection from evictions have become even more pressing due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

According to a March 2021 report from the federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), an estimated 8.8 million renter households were behind on their rental payments as of December 2020. Staying ahead of and completing rental payments can be particularly difficult in areas where the rent-to-income ratio is high.

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

Specifically, we set a 28% rent-to-income ratio and calculated the income renters would need to afford the average one- and two-bedroom apartment rent in the 25 largest U.S. cities.

This is SmartAsset’s seventh study on the income needed to pay rent in America’s largest cities. Read the 2020 version here.

Though we calculated income needed for both a one- and two-bedroom apartment, cities are ranked on the latter figure.

For details on our data sources and analysis, check out our Data and Methodology section at the end.

Following are the incomes needed to pay rent in the 10 largest U.S. cities.

1. San Francisco, CA

San Francisco
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Zumper data shows that the average monthly rent for a two-bedroom apartment in San Francisco is $3,668 (more than $44,000 per year).

Assuming a maximum rent-to-income ratio of 28%, renters in San Francisco will need to earn $157,218 per year to avoid being burdened by housing costs.

For comparison, the median household income in San Francisco is less than $124,000.

2. Washington, D.C.

Washington DC
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The income needed to rent a two-bedroom apartment in Washington, D.C., is $120,457.

Average monthly rent in this city for a two-bedroom apartment is $2,811, which amounts to $33,728 per year.

While the median household income in the city ($92,266) is not enough to cover this amount, it is enough to afford the income needed for a one-bedroom apartment ($87,893).

3. New York, NY

NYC New York City skyline at night
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For a one- or two-bedroom apartment in New York City, households would need a yearly income of $108,789 or $119,189, respectively.

The average monthly rent for a one-bedroom NYC apartment is $2,538, or $30,461 per year.

Meanwhile, the average monthly rent for a two-bedroom apartment in the Big Apple is $2,781, or $33,373 per year.

4. Los Angeles, CA

The streets of Los Angeles, where median rent is relatively low
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In Los Angeles, average monthly rents are $1,990 for a one-bedroom apartment and $2,746 for a two-bedroom apartment.

In order to afford a two-bedroom apartment without being burdened by rental costs, a household would need an annual income of $117,686, or more than $9,800 per month.

5. San Jose, CA

The skyline of San Jose, which has a lower median rent than median mortgage payment
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According to Census Bureau data, the median household income in San Jose, California, is $115,893.

This is just about $200 more than the income needed to rent a two-bedroom apartment, $115,668 (assuming rental costs do not exceed 28% of income).

The average monthly rent for a two-bedroom apartment in San Jose is $2,699, or $32,387 per year.

6. Boston, MA

Boston, Massachusetts
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In Boston, the average two-bedroom monthly rent is $2,648 and the average one-bedroom monthly rent is $2,179.

This means potential renters might save almost $900 per month if they seek out a two-bedroom and live with a roommate.

In order to avoid being housing cost-burdened and still be able to pay the $31,781 in rent for a two-bedroom apartment, a household in Boston would need to earn $113,504 per year.

7. San Diego, CA

The skyline of San Diego, where median rent is well below median mortgage payments
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In San Diego, the average two-bedroom rent is $2,394 per month, or $28,723 per year.

A household in the West Coast city would need $102,582 in order to afford this amount.

By comparison, the median household income in San Diego is roughly $85,500, or about 17% percent lower.

8. Seattle, WA

Seattle, Washington Pike Place
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Seattle is the first city on our list that requires less than a six-figure income to afford the annual rent for an average two-bedroom apartment.

Annual rent for an average two-bedroom apartment in the city is $24,858, meaning that households need to earn about $88,800 per year.

9. Denver, CO

Denver skyline
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The average monthly rent for a two-bedroom apartment in Denver is $1,919.

This amounts to $23,027 over one year. The household income needed to afford this apartment and avoid being housing cost-burdened is $82,239.

The median household income in Denver is about 8% lower, at $75,646.

10. Chicago, IL

Chicago, Illinois
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In Chicago, a household would need $1,797 per month (or $21,568 per year) to cover rent for a two-bedroom apartment.

Assuming no more than 28% of income goes to housing costs, a household would need $77,029 to pay rent for a year.

This figure exceeds Chicago’s median household income, which is $61,811.

Data and Methodology

Man analyzing data on a laptop
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To find the income needed to pay rent in America’s largest cities, SmartAsset looked at data for the 25 largest cities in America. We estimated the household income renters would need to afford the average one- and two-bedroom apartment while paying no more than 28% of their total pre-tax income on rent.

To find these figures, we divided both the average annual cost of a one-bedroom and two-bedroom apartment by 0.28. The resulting numbers are the annual income needed for a rent costs to be equal to 28% of household income. We ranked the cities from highest to lowest based on the income needed to pay rent for a two-bedroom apartment.

Average one-bedroom and two-bedroom rent is from Zumper and for July 2020 through June 2021.

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