The old real estate adage "location, location, location" still holds true — especially when it comes to your housing budget. The cost of an apartment can vary wildly depending on your neighborhood or town.
In New Jersey, for example, while you might feel cramped squeezing into 400-square-foot studio in Jersey City, you're likely to get more bang for your buck in the neighboring city of Newark.
Using data from the U.S. Census Bureau and Yardi Matrix, real-estate website RENTCafé compared the median monthly household income for renters to the average rent in the 100 most populous U.S. cities in order to determine how much space you can afford across the country.
The researchers adjusted each city's median income for inflation to reflect 2019 values, then determined how many square feet you could afford in each place if you don't spend more than the expert-advised 30% of your income on rent. Of the 100 cities it looked at, only 14 allow renters to live comfortably within their means, the site concluded.
Here's how much space you could afford on a median income in the two biggest cities in New Jersey, as well as in Manhattan, for comparison, which is less than 30 miles away from each New Jersey location.
How much space you can afford on a median income: 437 square feet
Median monthly renter income: $2,436
Average apartment size: 704 square feet
Average monthly rent: $1,176
How much space you can afford on a median income: 372 square feet
Median monthly renter income: $4,356
Average apartment size: 832 square feet
Average monthly rent: $2,925
How much space you can afford on a median income: 290 square feet
Median monthly renter income: $5,492
Average apartment size: 723 square feet
Average monthly rent: $4,113
The data highlights that location matters: The more populated the city, generally, the less space you can afford without becoming rent-burdened. Expensive and crowded cities like Jersey City "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 almost 70 square feet more in a city like Newark. The average rent there is about $1,200, compared to $2,900 in Jersey City and $4,100 in Manhattan.
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