Can You Afford to Live in Chicago in 2018?

Originally posted on August 20, 2018 8:20 am
Updated on October 12, 2018 10:51 am

Fewer than half of Chicago Neighborhoods are Affordable

Curious which parts of Chicago are actually affordable? With widely varying rents across the city ($850 in Riverdale vs $3,154 in River North for the median two-bedroom) it’s no surprise that some neighborhoods have rents that are just too damn high. Given that income varies across neighborhoods as well, this means that most expensive neighborhood isn’t necessarily the least affordable.

Some of our key findings this year include:

  • Of the 70 Chicago neighborhoods that we looked into, just 30 (43%) had affordable median rents according to the 40x rule of the median income for that neighborhood and three of those were right at the limit.
  • Some parts of the loop (specifically zip code 60604) manages to simultaneously be one of the most expensive places to live from a median-rent perspective ($2,405), but with the incredibly high household income, still manages to masquerade as “affordable” with a median household income of $150,125. With such a high median household income, the high rents “only” cost 19.2% of said income.
  • Anything that is affordable? Riverdale (zip code 60827) ($850 for a 2-bedroom), Greshan (zip code 60620) ($875), and Englewood (zip code 60621) ($888) are all very affordable from a rent perspective, but said affordability comes at the cost of convenience, with a longer commute to downtown Chicago.
  • Of Boston, Chicago, Miami, Los Angeles, and New York City, Chicago was ranked the most affordable city.

Affordability Across Cities

Of the 5 cities we looked at, Chicago was the most affordable. Though we commonly reference the 40x rule, which pegs recommended affordability of apartment rent representing 30% of pre-tax income, we added an additional 5% to make room for income growth that has taken place since the Census data was released.

With 35% being our benchmark, the number of zipcodes within a city that are affordable is as follows:

  • Chicago has 67.1% of zip codes that are considered affordable by our 35% of income metric.
  • Boston comes in second place, with 38.2% affordability.
  • In third place is Miami, with 28.8% of zip codes being affordable.
  • Los Angeles comes in fourth place, with only 8.8% of zip codes being affordable.
  • And last place (no surprise here), with only 7.6% of zip codes being affordable, is New York City

Of the 70 Chicago neighborhoods that we looked into, just 30 had median rents within reach (43%) of the median income for that neighborhood and three of those were right at the limit. Below, we’ve mapped out all the neighborhoods and their affordability. Further down is a table with all available neighborhoods, rents, and incomes.

To determine what is and is not affordable, RentHop data scientists used the most recent Census’ American Community Survey data for median household income as well as our own rental data.

The 40x Rule – 30% of Income

You may have heard you shouldn’t spend more than 30% of your income on rent. The way the math works out, your household’s yearly income should be 40 times the monthly rent to afford an apartment and many landlords won’t accept anyone who doesn’t.

For example: Gold Coast’s (zip code: 60611) $3,000 median two-bedroom rent would require household income of $120,000 to secure and the median household income is only $92,545. The average household would be spending nearly 40% of their income to rent a new apartment. Not good, but other neighborhoods are much worse!

There are exceptions to the rule: If you have vast savings or a guarantor whom makes 80 times the rent, a landlord is likely to let you slide without meeting the income requirements. It’s also not unheard of for a landlord to request last month’s rent in addition to the first month and security deposit for those with below average credit / income. Our “how much can I afford” guide can give you a little more info on these rules and some ways to overcome them.

So how much income DO you need in order to live in a Chicago neighborhood?

The Map Below Shows Income Required for a 2-Bedroom Apartment in Chicago

The map above shows the median cost of two-bedroom apartments across Chicago and how that relates to the income of those neighborhoods. Shades of red indicates less affordability. Green indicates that median household income would be enough to secure an apartment there and not pay over 30% of one’s income for rent.

It’s important to keep in mind that these are median asking rents and not the rent paid by all residents of these neighborhoods. Median rent means that half of apartments rent for less than this amount and half are above. Neighborhoods where RentHop didn’t have sufficient data will be grayed out.

These Chicago Neighborhoods Are The Least Affordable

Englewood (zip code: 60636) topped the list of unaffordable neighborhoods due to it high median two-bedroom rent ($1,525) and low median household income ($27,475). We found North Kenwood (zip code: 60653) with a $1,450 median 2Br rent to be the second least affordable, with one needing to spend almost 66% of the median household income ($26,176) to rent. Lawndale (59.8%) South Loop (56.8%) and Englewood (52.9%) round out the top 5.

The Table Below Displays All Two-Bedroom Median Asking Rents

It also shows the percent of income spent and income required in all neighborhoods for which we had sufficient data. You can sort by price, alphabetically, or (un)affordability by clicking the top of the column.

Is There Anywhere in Chicago That’s Actually Affordable?

Click a column head to re-sort the table in ascending order. This will show us the most affordable places in Chicago. Topping the list is a bunch of north side and far southwest side neighborhoods.

Certain parts of the Loop (e.g. zip code: 60604) have high enough median incomes ($150,125) to make the $2,405 median rent easily affordable, requiring just 19.2% of that income for an apartment. Norwood Park East apartments are easily within reach, at $1,350 for a two-bedroom requiring 20.5% of the $79,079 median income for rent.

Glenview (21.8% of income for a two-bedroom) Orland Park (22.6%) and Park Ridge (23.0%) round out the top 5 most affordable neighborhoods. Nearly all of these neighborhoods were helped along by the higher incomes and reasonable rents, highlighting the income disparity that exists in Chicago today.

What Does This Mean For You?

While these stats aren’t the only factor that determines what one can and cannot afford, they certainly give an advantage to anyone that didn’t know where to start when deciding where to live and how much they can afford. We encourage you to entertain all options when finding a new apartment, including having as many income-earners in the household as possible and looking at apartments with more bedrooms to bring down the average cost per bedroom.

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