The 25 Most Affordable Places to Rent in the U.S.

Scranton
Downtown, in the most affordable place to rent in the U.S. right now. ERIC BARADAT/AFP via Getty Images

While home prices have soared across much of the country over the past year as people moved due to COVID, rent increases have been far more modest, and in many large cities, they've flat-lined or even dropped. As a result, leasing a house or apartment has become a lot more affordable lately in many spots in the U.S.—with rents coming down particularly sharply in some of the nation's highest-end neighborhoods.

In fact, rent has become easier to afford in almost half of the 94 metropolitan areas regularly surveyed by Zillow, the online real estate and rental marketplace. Some spots, like New Haven, Connecticut and Grand Rapids, Michigan, have seen the share of household income spent on rent—the standard measure of affordability—drop by more than 5 percentage points over the past year.

What's driving the change? Many urban-dwellers left their apartments in search of new places to live outside of the city, where there were fewer crowds heightening the risk of COVID and more room in which to work from home and quarantine—especially as the appeal of being close to work and amenities, like bars, nightclubs, theaters and restaurants, diminished in the face of lockdowns, says Chris Glynn, principal economist for Zillow. Low interest rates also led growing numbers of still-employed workers to give up renting and buy a first home. Meanwhile, many college students moved back home when classes went online rather than continue paying rent in their university towns.

A greater inventory of empty apartments, in turn, put downward pressure on rents or at least became a stabilizing factor on prices. Another factor: Many of the people who relocated during the pandemic had higher-than-average incomes for their new location, boosting the household earnings portion of the affordability equation.

Not all locations became cheaper for renters during the pandemic. Affordability dropped modestly, by 1.5 percentage points or less, in a dozen metro areas. Meanwhile, more than a dozen other cities, including Stamford, Connecticut and Little Rock, Arkansas, saw rent affordability drop by more than 5 points.

Even in places where paying the rent has become more manageable in the past year, not all price cuts reached renters equally. Zillow found that the most-expensive parts of a city tended to see the largest price drops, while lower-income neighborhoods saw little change, with rents remaining "stubbornly high."

In San Francisco, for instance, rents in the most expensive neighborhoods were down 9.6 percent compared to last February, but those living in the city's least-expensive area saw rates drop just 1.8 percent. In New York City, rents dropped 11.6 percent in predominantly wealthy neighborhoods, while costs rose 1.8 percent in the city's most affordable neighborhoods, Zillow found.

"While the pandemic has cut into demand for rental housing, that has only translated into declining rents in expensive markets, and most acutely at the top-end of those markets," Zillow senior economist Jeff Tucker says. "This past year saw widespread adoption of work-from-home policies, especially for higher-income renters who previously paid top dollar for proximity to their workplace. Demand for these rentals took a hit as many leapt into homeownership, while the flow of new renters entering these sub-markets dried up, at least temporarily."

So far this year, even with COVID price drops, almost a quarter of the U.S.'s biggest metros continue to eat up more than 30 percent of your income in rent payments. These include bustling cities like New York, Los Angeles and Boston, destinations in expensive states like California and Hawaii, and several spots within the Sunshine State, which claimed the top two least affordable places to rent in the whole country.

On the other hand, there are still a couple dozen metros where rent will only total about a fifth to a quarter of your wages. Most of these spots center in the Midwest, Mountain West and South, though Pennsylvania claims the two most affordable locations for renters in the nation.

Here are the 25 most affordable places for renters currently, according to Zillow.

AR Oklahoma City
Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, at twilight. Sean Pavone/Getty

25. Oklahoma City, Oklahoma

Share of household income spent on rent: 26.4%
One-year change in affordability: 2.3%
One-bedroom median rent: $865
Two-bedroom median rent: $1,050
One-year change in rent prices: 3.6%

The capital of Oklahoma and the state's largest city is home to one of the world's largest livestock markets and a huge hub for the oil and natural gas industry. The area is also popular with the military as it hosts the Tinker Air Force Base and the U.S. Department of Transportation's Mike Monroney Aeronautical Center.

AR Little Rock
View of the state capitol building in Little Rock, Arkansas. Chris Boswell/Getty

24. Little Rock, Arkansas

Share of household income spent on rent: 26.3%
One-year change in affordability: 10.3%
One-bedroom median rent: $801
Two-bedroom median rent: $895
One-year change in rent prices: 6.3%

Arkansas's state capital has become a cultural center for parts of the south thanks to institutions like the Arkansas Museum of Fine Arts and the Arkansas Repertory Theatre. It's an economic hub as well, with major companies like Dillard's, Windstream Communications and Acxiom headquartered there.

AR Ogden Utah
View over the city of Ogden, Utah. RAphoto77/Getty

22. Ogden, Utah

Share of household income spent on rent: 26.2%
One-year change in affordability: 9.3%
One-bedroom median rent: $1,161
Two-bedroom median rent: $1,319
One-year change in rent prices: 6.2%

Located just 40 miles north of Salt Lake City, Ogden offers residents proximity to the state capital with a lower price tag on living costs. The area itself was once a major railway hub and still has ties to commerce, though many locals now work for the Internal Revenue Service, McKay Dee Hospital or Weber State University, three of the city's largest employers.

AR Allentown PA
View of Allentown, Pennsylvania and the Albertus L. Meyers Bridge. Ultima_Gaina/Getty

22. Allentown, Pennsylvania

Share of household income spent on rent: 26.2%
One-year change in affordability: -5.6%
One-bedroom median rent: $1,420
Two-bedroom median rent: $1,729
One-year change in rent prices: 8.6%

One of the fastest growing cities in Pennsylvania, Allentown sits only 55 miles northwest of Philadelphia and 85 miles west of New York City. The city itself has undergone major downtown redevelopment and transformation. It now has a business incubator to support new commercial and manufacturing companies as well as a new Riverfront district on the Lehigh River.

AR Knoxville Tennessee
Skyline of downtown Knoxville, Tennessee. SeanPavonePhoto/Getty

21. Knoxville, Tennessee

Share of household income spent on rent: 25.9%
One-year change in affordability: -0.6%
One-bedroom median rent: $1,022
Two-bedroom median rent: $1,240
One-year change in rent prices: 7.7%

Home to the University of Tennessee and the headquarters of the Tennessee Valley Authority, Knoxville is one of the largest cities in the Appalachian region. But where the city really shines is in its proximity to the great outdoors, acting as one of the gateways to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

AR Cincinnati Ohio
Cincinnati, Ohio skyline at sunset. Lavin Photography/Getty

18. Cincinnati, Ohio

Share of household income spent on rent: 25.8%
One-year change in affordability: 2.1%
One-bedroom median rent: $1,112
Two-bedroom median rent: $1,377
One-year change in rent prices: 5.2%

The third largest city in Ohio, Cincinnati is most synonymous with the three major sports teams and the university that call it home—the MLB's Cincinnati Reds, NFL's Cincinnati Bengals, and MLS's FC Cincinnati all play here. Also noteworthy: The University of Cincinnati, founded in 1819, is now among the 50 largest schools of higher education in the country.

AR Pittsburgh Pennsylvania
West Park in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. SerrNovik/Getty

18. Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Share of household income spent on rent: 25.8%
One-year change in affordability: 2.2%
One-bedroom median rent: $1,184
Two-bedroom median rent: $1,378
One-year change in rent prices: 1.8%

The second largest city in Pennsylvania is known both as the "Steel City" and the "City of Bridges" thanks to several hundred of each. But the city is now a hub for the health care and technology industries as well as the home of more than 60 different colleges and universities. It also boasts three major sports teams: the MLB's Pittsburgh Pirates, the NHL's Pittsburgh Penguins and the NFL's Pittsburgh Steelers.

AR Raleigh North Carolina
Skyline of Raleigh, North Carolina. Mark Howard/Getty

18. Raleigh, North Carolina

Share of household income spent on rent: 25.8%
One-year change in affordability: -8.8%
One-bedroom median rent: $1,133
Two-bedroom median rent: $1,354
One-year change in rent prices: 3.2%

North Carolina's state capital has become one of the fastest-growing cities in the country offering a quality of life and business opportunities it seems few can resist. It's home to North Carolina State University, making it one-third of the Research Triangle Park, along with Durham and Chapel Hill, that is now a major hub for the fields of science and technology. The North Carolina Museum of Art and the NHL's Carolina Hurricanes can also be found within its boundaries.

AR Worcester Massachusetts
Worcester, Massachusetts, during rush hour. SeanPavonePhoto/Getty

17. Worcester, Massachusetts

Share of household income spent on rent: 25.7%
One-year change in affordability: -5.9%
One-bedroom median rent: $1,703
Two-bedroom median rent: $1,983
One-year change in rent prices: 6.6%

The second-most populated city in New England, Worcester sits just 40 miles west of Boston and 40 miles north of Providence. It is known for its diverse population, of which more than a fifth were born outside the U.S., and its nine colleges and universities, which include Holy Cross, Worcester Polytechnic Institute and Clark University.

AR Cleveland Ohio
The Cuyahoga River at dusk in Cleveland, Ohio. Sean Pavone/Getty

16. Cleveland, Ohio

Share of household income spent on rent: 25.6%
One-year change in affordability: -4.1%
One-bedroom median rent: $1,079
Two-bedroom median rent: $1,311
One-year change in rent prices: 4.9%

The largest city on Lake Erie, Cleveland has become a center for healthcare and bio-medicals as well as a place for culture and the arts. The city famously hosts the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as well other institutions like the Cleveland Museum of Art and the Cleveland Museum of Natural History, plus three major league sports teams: the NFL's Cleveland Browns, the NBA's Cleveland Cavaliers and the MLB's Cleveland Indians.

AR Toledo Ohio
Downtown Toledo, Ohio. Patricia Elaine Thomas/Getty

14. Toledo, Ohio

Share of household income spent on rent: 25.3%
One-year change in affordability: -2.3%
One-bedroom median rent: $923
Two-bedroom median rent: $1,226
One-year change in rent prices: 5.7%

Ohio's fourth largest city, Toledo serves as a major trade center for the Midwest with its Great Lakes position. In the past it was home to many glass manufacturers, earning it the nickname the "Glass City" but now offers residents a developing art community, auto assembly businesses and a revitalized entertainment district.

AR Youngstown Ohio
Youngstown, Ohio, skyline at dusk. Sean Pavone/Getty

14. Youngstown, Ohio

Share of household income spent on rent: 25.3%
One-year change in affordability: 0.8%
One-bedroom median rent: $580
Two-bedroom median rent: $700
One-year change in rent prices: 7.1%

Located on the Mahoning River just 65 miles southeast of Cleveland and 60 miles northwest of Pittsburgh, Youngstown has recently undergone revitalization efforts to its downtown to attract new bars and restaurants as well as complete the Youngstown Foundation Amphitheater. Outside downtown is historic Lanterman's Mill dating back to 1845.

AR Indianapolis Indiana
Monument Circle in Indianapolis, Indiana, at dawn. Sean Pavone/Getty

13. Indianapolis, Indiana

Share of household income spent on rent: 25.1%
One-year change in affordability: 2.4%
One-bedroom median rent: $989
Two-bedroom median rent: $1,161
One-year change in rent prices: 6.6%

Indiana's state capital and most populated city, Indianapolis, or Indy, is best-known for hosting the world's largest single-day sporting event, the Indianapolis 500, but it is also a hub for insurance and financial, professional services and wholesale industries. It is home to a few Fortune 500 companies, four universities and the world's largest children's museum.

AR Birmingham Alabama
Birmingham, Alabama, at dusk. Sean Pavone/Getty

11. Birmingham, Alabama

Share of household income spent on rent: 24.9%
One-year change in affordability: -0.2%
One-bedroom median rent: $1,061
Two-bedroom median rent: $1,230
One-year change in rent prices: 4.7%

Alabama's biggest city, Birmingham connects the Deep South, Piedmont and Appalachian regions of the nation, and, historically, was the primary industrial center of the South turning out iron and steel. Now banking, telecommunications, electrical power transmission and insurance have become its major industries. The city is also the headquarters of the Southeastern Conference or SEC, one of the biggest collegiate athletic conferences.

AR Greenville South Carolina
Aerial view of downtown Greenville, South Carolina. Kruck20/Getty

11. Greenville, South Carolina

Share of household income spent on rent: 24.9%
One-year change in affordability: -6.7%
One-bedroom median rent: $1,008
Two-bedroom median rent: $1,143
One-year change in rent prices: 3.4%

Located halfway between Atlanta and Charlotte, North Carolina, Greenville is one of the fastest growing cities in the country. While the city historically dealt in textile manufacturing, today it is home to the headquarters for major companies like Michelin, Synnex, United Community Bank, AVX Corporation and Ameco. It also hosts a center for automotive research and emerging technologies.

AR Louisville Kentucky
View of downtown Louisville, Kentucky, at night. Jason Morales/Getty

10. Louisville-Jefferson County, Kentucky

Share of household income spent on rent: 24.8%
One-year change in affordability: -1.9%
One-bedroom median rent: $956
Two-bedroom median rent: $1,113
One-year change in rent prices: 3.6%

Kentucky's largest city, Louisville is well known for a number of things: being the home of the Kentucky Derby, Colonel Sanders' famous Kentucky Fried Chicken and Slugger baseball bats. But it is also a bustling commerce center, headquartering three Fortune 500 companies, while its airport serves as the worldwide hub for UPS.

AR Columbus Ohio
A view of downtown Columbus, Ohio, and the Scioto Mile looking north into the city. Sean Reid/Getty

9. Columbus, Ohio

Share of household income spent on rent: 24.7%
One-year change in affordability: -1%
One-bedroom median rent: $1,050
Two-bedroom median rent: $1,307
One-year change in rent prices: 5.5%

Ohio's state capital, Columbus, is the second largest city in the Midwest, after Chicago. It acts as a hub for many different industries ranging from insurance and banking to defense and aviation. Five Fortune 500 companies as well as the world's largest research and development foundation, Battelle Memorial Institute, and one of the country's largest universities: Ohio State University, can also all be found within its boundaries.

AR Grand Rapids Michigan
View of Grand Rapids, Michigan. benkrut/Getty

8. Grand Rapids, Michigan

Share of household income spent on rent: 24.6%
One-year change in affordability: -8.8%
One-bedroom median rent: $993
Two-bedroom median rent: $1,294
One-year change in rent prices: 2.9%

Michigan's second-largest city sits along the Grand River about 30 miles east of Lake Michigan and is one of the fastest-growing areas in the Midwest. Known for its furniture manufacturing—Grand Rapids is home to five of the world's largest office furniture companies—it also hosts companies focused on information technology, aviation, automobiles, and consumer goods production. More recently the city has embraced the craft beer movement and made a name for itself as a purveyor of pints.

AR Milwaukee Wisconsin
Aerial view of Downtown Milwaukee, Wisconsin, at sunrise. Marchello74/Getty

6. Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Share of household income spent on rent: 24.4%
One-year change in affordability: -5.7%
One-bedroom median rent: $1,275
Two-bedroom median rent: $1,569
One-year change in rent prices: 2.5%

Located on the shores of Lake Michigan, Milwaukee is Wisconsin's largest city and has been undergoing a development boom in the past two decades leading to a riverwalk, a streetcar system, an expansion to its art museum and an arena renovation. It's also home to the music festival Summerfest, two major league sports teams (the NBA's Bucks and the MLB's Brewers) and several Fortune 500 companies, including Northwestern Mutual and Harley-Davidson.

AR Wichita Kansas
Wichita, Kansas, at dusk. Sean Pavone/Getty

6. Wichita, Kansas

Share of household income spent on rent: 24.4%
One-year change in affordability: 1.9%
One-bedroom median rent: $665
Two-bedroom median rent: $833
One-year change in rent prices: 3.9%

Kansas' largest city dominates in aircraft production, which began booming back in the 1920s but continues today, with Textron Aviation, Learjet, Airbus and Spirit AeroSystems all operating design and manufacturing facilities in Wichita. Fast food lovers may know this city better though as the birthplace of Pizza Hut and White Castle. Others may be familiar with the two largest privately held companies in the country, Koch Industries and Cargill, both of which are headquartered here.

AR Kansas City Missouri
Kansas City, Missouri at night. Derrick Rose/Getty

5. Kansas City, Missouri

Share of household income spent on rent: 24.1%
One-year change in affordability: -0.5%
One-bedroom median rent: $1,079
Two-bedroom median rent: $1,311
One-year change in rent prices: 4.1%

Well-known for its historic vaudeville theater and special barbecue, Kansas City is home to major companies like Cerner Corporation, AMC Theaters, H&R Block and Hallmark Cards as well as notable attractions like the National World War I Museum, the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art and the Kansas City Zoo. The NFL's 2020 SuperBowl Champs, the Chiefs, hail from this spot too.

AR St. Louis Missouri
St. Louis, Missouri, at twilight. f11photo/Getty

4. St. Louis, Missouri

Share of household income spent on rent: 23.6%
One-year change in affordability: -1.8%
One-bedroom median rent: $1,039
Two-bedroom median rent: $1,232
One-year change in rent prices: 3.4%

St. Louis and its 630-foot Gateway Arch have attracted major companies like Anheuser-Busch, Wells Fargo Advisors, U.S. Bank, Anthem BlueCross and Blue Shield and Express Scripts to put down roots in the city as well as a diverse population of residents. It can also boast of two major league sports teams: the MLB's Cardinals and the NHL's Blues, as well as the second-largest herbarium in North America, located in the Missouri Botanical Garden.

AR Dayton Ohio
An aerial view over a park looking towards downtown Dayton, Ohio at sunset at the confluence of the Great Miami and Mad Rivers. Nicholas Smith/Getty

3. Dayton, Ohio

Share of household income spent on rent: 23.4%
One-year change in affordability: -4.8%
One-bedroom median rent: $925
Two-bedroom median rent: $1,133
One-year change in rent prices: 6.1%

Dayton is a city with ties to the sky. The National Museum of the United States Air Force sits within its borders, it is the birthplace of aviation pioneer Orville Wright, and the Wright-Patterson Air Force Base drives much of the city's emphasis on developing the fields of aeronautical and astronautical engineering. Outside flying, Dayton offers residents an economy focused on defense, healthcare and insurance as well as the largest network of paved off-street trails in the country—340 miles.

AR Harrisburg Pennsylvania
The downtown city center area in Pennsylvania's state capital Harrisburg. Chris Boswell/Getty

2. Harrisburg, Pennsylvania

Share of household income spent on rent: 22.7%
One-year change in affordability: -7.8%
One-bedroom median rent: $1,024
Two-bedroom median rent: $1,223
One-year change in rent prices: 4.7%

Pennsylvania's capital city lies on the banks of the Susquehanna River, about 110 miles west of Philadelphia. It's attractions include an incredibly diverse population; proximity to Hershey, home of the famous chocolate maker; the largest annual free indoor agriculture exposition in the country, the Pennsylvania Farm Show; the largest annual outdoor sports show in North America; and Motorama, a two-day car show with motocross and remote control car racing.

AR Scranton Pennsylvania
Vintage train cars and locomotives rest on tracks in Scranton, Pennsylvania. Jonathan W. Cohen/Getty

1. Scranton, Pennsylvania

Share of household income spent on rent: 21.5%
One-year change in affordability: -4.6%
One-bedroom median rent: $899
Two-bedroom median rent: $975
One-year change in rent prices: 6.9%

The most affordable place to rent in the country is probably best known as the childhood home of President Joe Biden and the setting of the hit TV show The Office. But it has other charms: Once defined by its thriving coal industry, Scranton now has booming healthcare and manufacturing sectors and is pushing to revitalize its downtown with a mix of nightlife, small shops, and local restaurants.

NOTES: Data provided by Zillow; the only exception: rental prices for one- and two-bedroom apartments in Scranton, Pennsylvania came from Zumper, as Zillow did not have those figures available. Housing affordability, expressed as the percentage of typical income a household would spend on lodging costs, is as of January 2021, the most recent data available. The percentage change in affordability is from January 2020 to January 2021; a negative value indicates a spot has become easier to afford. Median cost for a one- and two-bedroom rental unit in each city is as of February 2021; the total price change for the entire rental market in each area is from March 2020 to February 2021.