The Reality of Renting on a $50K Salary in America
By Michelle Kung
Renters in New York, Chicago, and Atlanta find out what they can afford.
Though the average national salary of $50K goes farther than it did a couple of years ago, finding affordable apartments in popular U.S. cities like New York and Chicago is as hard as ever. The good news: after years of steep increases, monthly rents across the country have finally calmed down. (According to Trulia’s economists, Spring 2017 rents fell or were unchanged in nearly all markets from a year ago.) But when it comes to finding a home in a popular city, the question “How much house can I afford?” is as relevant as ever.
To visualize what’s possible on an average American salary, we dug into some current rental options for someone making $50K a year, the reported Bureau of Labor Statistics annual mean wage of May 2016. We sought out apartments in three of the most popular rental markets on Trulia, digging into three different neighborhoods in each city. We assumed renters would pay $1,250 a month, or 30% of their average gross income. (If you spend more than 30% of your income, the U.S. Census Bureau considers you “rent burdened.”)
The results are illuminating. While good deals can still be had, the reality of renting—even on a good salary—is that some renters are having to do a lot more with less.
What a $50K Salary Looks Like in Chicago
Best known for being a former home of former President Barack Obama, Chicago’s Kenwood neighborhood is fairly diverse. 57% of neighborhood residents are single and 54% are college educated. With a median monthly rent of $1,150, Chicago’s Kenwood district has plenty of options for workers with salaries of $50K—including 400 square-foot studios at the Algonquin Apartments. (If you want a one bedroom, you’ll have to up your budget to $1,350 a month.)
True to its name, Edgewater sits on the shore of Lake Michigan and has several beaches residents can enjoy in the warmer months. It’s also home to Lincoln Park, Chicago’s largest park, and is known for its affordable prices—despite its prime lakefront location. At complexes like The Bryn, studios start at $1,230 and residents can enjoy proximity to multiple grocery stores, coffee shops, access to multiple bus lines and the Red Line Bryn Mawr stop.
Home to the prestigious University of Chicago, Chicago’s Hyde Park is one of the city’s most famed areas. Filled with student-friendly cafes and bookstores, the area is also only a 20-minute public transportation ride to downtown Chicago. The Blackwood, a renovated 1920s hotel, offers 450 square foot one-bedrooms for $1,266 a month and access to a fitness center, concierge, and of course, a breathtaking, Art Deco-style lobby. And given that Hyde Park’s median monthly rent is $3,000 a month, paying around $1,250 is a real steal. You just need to be willing to live a minimalist lifestyle.
What a $50K Salary Looks Like in Atlanta
Given Ardmore’s average monthly rent of $2,000, renters on a $1,250 monthly budget are most likely looking at studios, such as this 560 square foot studio at apartment complex Row. Primarily residential, with a strip of restaurants to its eastern border, Ardmore is only a 20-minute commute to downtown and is full of single and college-educated renters.
In Lindbergh/Morosgo, average monthly rents are $1,295, so a $1,250 budget will get you slightly more space than in Ardmore. At the Sorelle apartment complex, one-bedroom, one-bathroom apartments can be had starting at $1,163—complex with a complex-wide fitness center, dog park, and pool. In general, Lindbergh has a high percentage of single residents (81%) and renters (84%).
Buckhead is one of Atlanta’s more affluent neighborhoods, so it’s hardly surprising to learn that that average monthly rent is $3,375 (and the median household income is $91,026.) Close to the Lenox Square mall, which is full of luxury stores like Louis Vuitton, Bulgari, and Prada, Buckhead is largely college-educated and single. And if you’re willing to go a little over one’s budget of $1,250, 1 bedroom, 1 bathroom apartments are currently available at the Gramercy complex, complete with a 24-hour courtesy officer and two swimming pools.
What a $50K Salary Looks Like in New York
As even casual NYC visitors would guess, SoHo is an expensive place to live. An abbreviation for South of Houston, it’s known for high-end boutiques and art galleries. It’s hardly surprising that median monthly rent here is $4,575. However, that’s not to say that you can’t find a deal if you’re willing to live in a smaller space. This one-bedroom, one-bathroom apartment for $1,200 a month is definitely small, but it also puts you at the center of one of New York’s most prized neighborhoods.
For Columbia University students looking for housing near campus—but trying to stay on a budget—best bets around $1,250 a month will be for rooms for rent in larger apartments. This Harlem four-bedroom currently has several rooms available for around $1,000 a month, but in exchange for sharing two bathrooms with three roommates, you’ll be close to both City College and Columbia, as well as Riverside State Park, a Fairway supermarket, restaurants, coffee shops, bars and more.
An extremely desirable neighborhood, Park Slope has a median monthly rent of $4,700. However, if you split that up between three or four roommates, a person with a $1,250 monthly budget could afford a room in an apartment like this four-bedroom apartment in a pre-war walk-up with dark hardwood floors and high ceilings. (It also has the New York renter’s holy grail: an in-unit washer and dryer!) It’s also within walking distance to great schools, restaurants, shopping, and the F/G/R subway trains into the city. If you’re willing to add roommates to the mix, asking “How much house can I afford?” is no longer a daunting question.