To avoid spending more than a third of their income on rent, tenants paying average prices in 11 major U.S. markets would need to earn six figures, according to a recent analysis from university researchers.

In fact, the average renter in the U.S. overall would have to make almost $81,000 — about $10,000 more than the actual median household income — to afford typical rental prices and avoid falling into the “rent-burdened” category, which includes those who devote 30% or more of their income to housing and have less money for emergencies, healthcare and savings as a result.

“Not a lot of people make that kind of money,” Ken Johnson, an economist at Florida Atlantic University’s College of Business and one of the three university researchers involved in the report, said in a statement Tuesday. “This data illustrates perfectly what we’ve been saying about an ongoing housing-affordability crisis. Rents aren’t coming down significantly, if at all, so until incomes increase sharply, consumers in much of the country will continue to do without basic needs.”

Johnson, working with Shelton Weeks of Florida Gulf Coast University and Bennie Waller of the University of Alabama, found in an analysis that average renters need to make $100,000 or more to avoid being rent burdened in cities including New York, Miami, Boston and Honolulu, as well as California cities such as San Francisco, Los Angeles, San Diego, Oxnard, San Jose and Riverside. Bridgeport, Conn., also made the list. 

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The researchers have added similar rent-burden data to their monthly analysis on overpriced rental markets nationwide, relying on leasing data from Zillow’s Observed Rent Index to measure rent levels and “statistically model historical trends from 2014,” according to a statement from Florida Atlantic University. 

Though rent growth has softened this year after sky-high hikes earlier in the pandemic, their analysis nonetheless shows prices are above where they’d normally be based on historical data. For example, the average rent nationwide was $2,018 in April, according to the researchers’ most recent analysis. Where average rents should be, they said: $1,915. 

Higher prices can mean bad news for tenants who have little cash to spare. A person making less than $80,722 and paying the average U.S. rent would be considered rent burdened, the researchers noted, while a person making less than $48,433 would be considered severely rent burdened, meaning they spend half or more of their income on rent.

Still, some cities are more affordable than others. Wichita, Kan., where the average rental price was about $999 in April, is the least rent-burdened city in the U.S., according to the report: Tenants looking to afford the average price there need to clear just under $40,000 a year to avoid the rent-burden label, while tenants in the next-least-burdened city of McAllen, Texas, need to make around $47,700.

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Compare that to high-cost cities like San Jose, where a renter paying the average price of about $3,289 would need to make at least $131,563 to avoid being rent burdened. 

We want to hear from readers who have stories to share about the effects of increasing costs and a changing economy. If you’d like to share your experience, write to readerstories@marketwatch.com. Please include your name and the best way to reach you. A reporter may be in touch.


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