Living In The Most Expensive Cities:
How Long Can We Keep This Up?

I've lived in San Francisco for 8 years, and whenever I talk with friends and family from other parts of the country they often remark, "So, I guess you're there to stay?" To which I reply by laughing ruefully and saying something like, "No, we all know we can't stay..." The trailing-off is meant to avoid an awkward discussion about money; replace the ellipsis with "$$$", and you've just about got it...

I've been perusing various rankings of Most Expensive and Least Affordable U.S. cities, and New York City is #1 on all of them, followed closely by San Francisco- though the National Low Income Housing Coalition (via Daily Mail) ranks San Francisco as the Most Expensive City For Renters. They compared income to the average monthly rent for a two-bedroom apartment, which is apparently $1,905 in San Francisco (doesn't that seem incredibly low?)- and New York didn't even make the list.

Average Cost to Rent Per Month*, Renting Wage, Median Income
  • San Francisco, California: $1,905 - $76,200 - $93,400
  • Stamford-Norwalk, Connecticut: $1,769 - $70,760 - $104,300
  • Honolulu, Hawaii: $1,767 - $81,700 - $70,680
  • Nassau-Suffolk, New York: $1,682 - $67,280 - $78,300
  • Orange County, California: $1,652 - $66,080 - $68,200
  • San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, California: $1,623 - $64,920 - $103,500
  • Westchester County, New York: $1,580 - $63,200 - $78,300
  • Bergen-Passaic, New Jersey: $1,515 - $60,600 - $78,300
  • Danbury, Connecticut: $1,512 - $60,480 - $78,300
  • Washington, D.C.: $1,506 - $60,240 - $103,500

* 2-bedroom apartment

Daily Mail aside, our two cities are incredibly expensive, especially if your income is nowhere near the average. According to Kiplinger, for example, housing costs in San Francisco are 3 times the national average, while our average income of $71,304 is $20,000 above average.

But what if your income is less than half that- much less, in fact, than the national average? Suddenly staying in San Francisco for the long term is glaringly impossible. A friend just told me about tiny artist studios in a shady part of the Mission selling for $150,000!

Anyway, the point of all this is not to play "My City Is So Expensive" (though that's always fun), but to discuss plans. Do you have a set amount of time you figure you can afford your fabulous city before you'll have to move to more affordable pastures? Are you holding on as long as possible, hoping for smashing success to come your way? Do you love your city so much that you plan to just pay crazy-high rent forever and forget about buying a home? Do you look forward to living somewhere that allows you to have more disposable income to spend on travel, etc? What's your plan? And what's my plan? I'm not sure.

Despite a good education, working more-than-full-time, and a rent-controlled studio apartment, things are still tight. I spend over half my income on rent, which doesn't allow me to put much away for the future, wherever that future might happen to take place. But for now, oh, I do love San Francisco...

(Image: Flickr user fototastisch licensed by Creative Commons via Signature Style of Great Cities: San Francisco)

219 Comments