The amount of space you can afford to rent on a normal person's income can vary depending on where you live, even in neighboring cities. In Washington, D.C., you may feel cramped squeezing into a tiny apartment, while in a nearby place like Baltimore, Maryland, or Arlington, Virginia, you're likely to get more square feet for the same price.
To determine how much space you can afford across the country, real-estate website RENTCafé compared the median monthly household income for renters to the average rent in the 100 most populous U.S. cities, using data from the U.S. Census Bureau and Yardi Matrix.
The researchers adjusted each city's median income for inflation to reflect 2019 values, then determined how many square feet you could afford if you don't spend more than the expert-advised 30% of your income on rent. Of the 100 places it considered, "only 14 cities offer a comfortable life while living within your means," the report says.
Here's what you could afford on a median income in D.C., as well as in Baltimore and Arlington, which are each less than an hour away from the nation's capital.
How much space you can afford on a median income: 465 square feet
Median monthly renter income: $4,436
Average apartment size: 745 square feet
Average rent price: $2,133
How much space you can afford on a median income: 541 square feet
Median monthly renter income: $2,743
Average apartment size: 823 square feet
Average rent price: $1,253
How much space you can afford on a median income: 902 square feet
Median monthly renter income: $7,464
Average apartment size: 866 square feet
Average rent price: $2,149
The data highlights that location matters: The more dense the city, generally, the less space you can afford without becoming rent-burdened. Expensive and crowded cities like D.C., for example, "are places where many dream of … having a better job, a bigger income, and thus, more accessibility to the downtown lifestyle," says RENTCafé.
However, "these cities offer the least amount of space one can afford to rent on a median income, even though they are among the cities with the highest average monthly incomes in the country."
On the other hand, you could afford 100 square feet more in a city like Baltimore and pay about $900 less in rent that you would in D.C.
Like this story? Subscribe to CNBC Make It on YouTube!