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The 12 Best U.S. Cities for Renters—and None of Them Are on the West Coast

Elsa Eriksson / Getty

Renters seeking the best value for their home should look past big coastal cities, according to a recent ranking of U.S. housing markets.

Instead, they should consider small towns and cities in the Midwest and Southwest.

Rankings published by personal finance website WalletHub didn't just examine rent prices — which have risen 14% year-over-year in the U.S. — but other affordability metrics for each market, too. These metrics include cost of living, average home square footage, average rental insurance costs, sublet laws, security deposit limits and tenant screening standards.

The scoring also included quality of life metrics, which accounted for up to 40% of a rental market's total score. These metrics included weather, school quality, crime rates, resident satisfaction surveys, average commute costs and the strength of the local job market.

Here's a look at the 12 best U.S. cities for renters, out of 182 of the biggest metro areas:

  1. Columbia, Maryland
  2. Overland Park, Kansas
  3. Sioux Falls, South Dakota
  4. Bismarck, North Dakota
  5. Lincoln, Nebraska
  6. Chandler, Arizona
  7. Scottsdale, Arizona
  8. Gilbert, Arizona
  9. El Paso, Texas
  10. Casper, Wyoming
  11. Cedar Rapids, Iowa
  12. Fargo, North Dakota

While major cities like New York, Los Angeles, Atlanta and Chicago populate the bottom half of the rankings, smaller cities and suburban enclaves in the Southwest and Midwest occupy the top half. 

Columbia, Maryland, a planned community outside Baltimore, ranked first. Markets in Arizona, Texas, Iowa and the Dakotas populate a good chunk of the top 50 rankings.

These markets are in less densely populated states that tend to have more vacancies and cheaper rent prices, although they don't always have the highest rankings for quality of life. For example, fourth-ranked Bismarck, North Dakota, ranked first overall for affordability, but only 157th for quality of life. 

Cities in California also appeared in the top rankings, with San Francisco ranked the highest at 14th overall, followed by San Jose, ranked 20th overall. As with these two cities, many California housing markets had high quality of life scores, but their rankings were often undercut by middling or poor rankings for affordability.

Rent affordability continues to be a pressing problem for consumers. Median U.S. rent prices increased by about $300 in the last year, for a total of $2,016 as of June 2022, according to data provided by Redfin, a real estate brokerage company.

For the rankings, WalletHub compared the 150 most populated U.S. cities, plus at least two of the most populated cities in each state. The analysis evaluated rental affordability and quality of life across 22 different metrics, using data from sources like the U.S. Census Bureau, National Association of Realtors and GreatSchools.org.

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