20 Cities Where the Middle Class Can No Longer Afford To Live

The high cost of housing is making it tough for Americans to afford to live in certain areas.

man going over his bills
Updated July 11, 2024
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Housing costs continue to escalate annually. Both owning and renting are becoming increasingly unattainable for middle-class individuals in high-cost cities, where a significant portion of their income goes towards accommodation and stops them from getting ahead financially

According to Census data, middle-class families earn between $50,000 and $150,000 per year. But when housing consumes more than 30% of household income, according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, it greatly limits spending on other essentials. 

Harvard University's Joint Center for Housing Studies identifies 20 cities where people are most burdened by their housing expenses. A large portion of residents spend over 50% of their income on housing, a situation that's not realistic for most middle-class families.

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10. Renting – Gainesville, Florida

Halfpoint/Adobe senior couple calculate expenses

A third of renter households in Gainesville are cost-burdened, while 38% are severely cost-burdened. The median income of a renter is $32,000, which just doesn’t cut it when the median monthly housing cost for rent is $1,138.

9. Renting – State College, Pennsylvania

Stock 4 You/Adobe couple troubled with expenses

The median income of renters in State College is $30,400, while the median monthly rent is $1,000. It’s no surprise that 38.1% of households are severely cost-burdened.

8. Renting – Eureka-Arcata-Fortuna, California

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In the metro area of Eureka-Arcata-Fortuna, 65% of renter households are cost-burdened, with 38.6% of those being severely cost-burdened. This is because the median renter’s income is $35,000, while the median monthly housing cost for renters is $1,190.

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7. Renting – Fort Madison-Keokuk, Iowa

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Nearly 40% of renter households in the Fort Madison-Keokuk area are severely cost-burdened, and 57.1% of all renters are considered cost-burdened. While the median monthly housing cost for renters is only $754, that’s significant when you consider the median income for a renter household is $22,400.

6. Renting – Chillicothe, Ohio

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In Chillicothe, 58.9% of renter households are cost-burdened, while 39.9% are severely cost-burdened. The median rental household income of $22,000 just can’t keep up with their median housing costs of $823.

5. Renting – Washington Court House, Ohio

JoshuAA/peopleimages.com/Adobe stressed woman reviewing bills at home

Washington Court House is southeast of Columbus and Dayton. Here, 58.9% of renter households are cost-burdened, and 39.9% are severely cost-burdened.

4. Renting – Sebastian-Vero Beach, Florida

Monkey Business/Adobe senior  couple reviewing bills

Sebastian-Vero Beach’s housing isn’t all sunshine for renters: 65.1% of renter households are cost-burdened, and 40.6% are severely cost-burdened. The renter median income is $29,270, while the renter median monthly housing costs are a soaring $1,110.

3. Renting – Bloomington, Illinois

Geber86/Adobe man going over home finances

In Bloomington, 59.6% of renter households are cost-burdened, but a whopping 42.7% are severely cost-burdened. That’s likely due to a median renter income of $25,000, with the renter median monthly housing costs at $940.

2. Renting – Auburn-Opelika, Alabama

Wayhome Studio/Adobe unhappy young couple

Renter median monthly housing costs of $860 simply don’t make sense with a renter median income of $23,500. That’s why 63.7% of renter households are cost-burdened, and 45% are severely cost-burdened.

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1. Renting – Burlington, Iowa

David Pereiras/Adobe young man checking bills

In this Mississippi River town, 64% of renter households are cost-burdened, while 46.9% are severely cost-burdened. A renter median income of $18,000 cannot keep up with renter median monthly housing costs of $754.

10. Owning – Orangeburg, South Carolina

Dragana Gordic/Adobe upset older man

Located in the middle of South Carolina, 27.8% of owner households are cost-burdened, while 17.5% are severely cost-burdened.

9. Owning – Los Angeles-Long Beach-Anaheim, California

WavebreakmediaMicro/Adobe worried couple going over their debt

While the owner median household income is $110,900 in Los Angeles-Long Beach-Anaheim, the owner median monthly housing costs are $2,150. This means 34.2% of owner households are cost-burdened, and 17.4% are severely cost-burdened.

8. Owning – Sonora, California

Kawee/Adobe senior male feeling worried

East of San Francisco, 40.2% of owner households in Sonora are cost-burdened, while 17.6% are severely cost-burdened. Here, the owner median monthly housing cost is $1,313, which doesn't leave much wiggle room on an owner median income of $74,100.

7. Owning – Key West, Florida

Tamani Chithambo/peopleimages.com/Adobe senior couple with worry for bills,

Owner median monthly housing costs of $1,240 are tight on an owner median income of $75,000, which is why 33.6% of owner households in Key West are cost-burdened; 18.3% are severely cost-burdened.

6. Owning – Miami-Fort Lauderdale-West Palm Beach, Florida

KMPZZZ/Adobe stressed couple calculating bills

In the metro area of southeast Florida, 34.5% of owner households in Miami-Fort Lauderdale-West Palm Beach are cost-burdened, and 18.4% are severely cost-burdened. The owner median income is $78,000, while the owner median monthly housing costs are $1,393.

5. Owning – Logan, West Virginia

Prostock-studio/Adobe married middle aged couple planning budget together

The owner median income in Logan is lower than others on the list at $37,300, with an owner median monthly housing cost of $446. But it’s all about the percentages that let a middle-class family thrive, and here, 18.4% of owner households are severely cost-burdened.

4. Owning – San Luis Obispo-Paso Robles-Arroyo Grande, California

Pormezz/Adobe shocked asian looking at expenses

In San Luis Obispo-Paso Robles-Arroyo Grande, 33.9% of owner households are cost-burdened, and 18.7% are severely cost-burdened. Their owner median household income is $97,400, but that doesn’t make for comfortable homeownership with an owner median monthly housing cost of $1,820.

3. Owning – Merced, California

Gorodenkoff/Adobe couple doing accounting using laptop

In Merced, 37.7% of owner households are cost-burdened, and 19.4% are severely cost-burdened. On a median owner household income of $72,000, they pay $1,258 in owner median monthly housing costs.

2. Owning – Kapaa, Hawaii

fizkes/Adobe Indian woman sorts out household bills

In Kapaa, 31.5% of owner households are cost-burdened, while 19.5% are severely cost-burdened. Owners pay a median monthly housing cost of $1,660 on a median owner household income of $89,000.

1. Owning – Truckee-Grass Valley, California

Creative Sparks/Adobe stressful woman holding card while using laptop for making online transactions

Nearly 20% of owners in Truckee-Grass Valley are severely cost-burdened, while 36.2% are cost-burdened. They pay a median monthly housing cost of $1,844 on a median household income of $91,300.

Bottom line

N Lawrenson/peopleimages.com/Adobe african american man consulting finance advisor

The high cost of housing is influenced by higher mortgage rates, increased demand, and low supply. For many homeowners, the need to find ways to pay the mortgage is a real issue. Even for retirees looking to downsize, the housing market can be challenging.

If you’re considering buying a home, be sure you do the math to try to keep your monthly payment to a third of your annual income. You may need to buy less house, but the peace of mind that you can cover your costs is a good tradeoff.

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Author Details

Heather Bien

Heather Bien is a writer covering personal finance and budgeting and how those relate to life, travel, entertaining, and more. With bylines that include The Spruce, Apartment Therapy, and mindbodygreen, she's covered everything from tax tips for freelancers to budgeting hacks to how to get the highest ROI out of your home renovations.