America’s Most Affordable Cities

When looking for a place to plant some roots, affordability is generally one of the most concerning factors. Within that scope, other criteria should be weighed based on individual circumstances.

For some, home ownership may be the driving factor. In those cases, the top five affordable cities in the U.S. are all smack dab in the heart of the Midwest: Indianapolis, Detroit, Dayton, Youngstown, and Akron.

Here’s how they break down:

Indianapolis, IN
Median home price: $106,000
Median income: $68,100
Affordability score: 95.7%

Detroit, MI
Median home price: $86,000
Median income: $57,100
Affordability score: 93.4%

Dayton, OH
Median home price: $106,400
Median income: $62,100
Affordability score: 93.2%

Youngstown, OH
Median home price: $76,000
Median income: $54,300
Affordability score: 93%

Akron, OH
Median home price: $100,000
Median income: $65,000
Affordability score: 92.2%

If more than just housing prices are driving your decision-making process, then consider taking some advice from Forbes. Each year, they rank America’s cities based on their overall affordability. They compile data such as the current median asking price of homes and the median salaries of workers with bachelor’s degrees or higher.

Those statistics are then analyzed against a cost-of-living index that takes into account things like transportation, insurance, food, utilities, and other factors. Also, the most current unemployment rates are considered in order to evaluate the local economy.

Here’s the 2011 list from Forbes which is, once again, laden with Heartland cities. The only places that make both lists are Detroit and Indianapolis:

Omaha, NE
Asking Price Rank: 9
Salary Rank: 43
Cost-of-Living Rank: 5
Unemployment Rank: 1

Buffalo, NY
Asking Price Rank: 2
Salary Rank: 47
Cost-of-Living Rank: 1
Unemployment Rank: 12

Detroit, MI
Asking Price Rank: 1
Salary Rank: 15
Cost-of-Living Rank: 2
Unemployment Rank: 48

Indianapolis, IN
Asking Price Rank: 7
Salary Rank: 31
Cost-of-Living Rank: 4
Unemployment Rank: 24

Cincinnati, OH
Asking Price Rank: 4
Salary Rank: 25
Cost-of-Living Rank: 6
Unemployment Rank: 32

Pittsburgh, PA
Asking Price Rank: 5
Salary Rank: 41
Cost-of-Living Rank: 9
Unemployment Rank: 13

Minneapolis-St. Paul, MN
Asking Price Rank: 28
Salary Rank: 17
Cost-of-Living Rank: 19
Unemployment Rank: 5

Cleveland, OH
Asking Price Rank: 6
Salary Rank: 34
Cost-of-Living Rank: 3
Unemployment Rank: 27

Oklahoma City, OK
Asking Price Rank: 8
Salary Rank: 50
Cost-of-Living Rank: 10
Unemployment Rank: 4

Houston, TX
Asking Price Rank: 20
Salary Rank: 5
Cost-of-Living Rank: 29
Unemployment Rank: 19

Some of the rankings can be attributed to solid industries that kept unemployment low; others must be credited to a lack of inclusion in the housing crisis. Omaha managed to be in the latter category.

“Its home prices have stayed steady through the recession, owing to the fact that they never saw the inflation of the bubble era,” explains Tara-Nicholle Nelson, consumer educator for “In Omaha, it seems to be steady as she goes.”

On the flip side, Minneapolis-St. Paul owes its placement to a higher power… academia. “Minneapolis-St. Paul has very strong institutions of medical research and higher education, a highly educated population and a desirable amenity base,” says Stuart Gabriel, director of the Ziman Center for real estate at the University of California Los Angeles.

As for Detroit, Gabriel explains that “the low house prices in Detroit are no accident. They’re a reflection of depressed land values, depressed amenities, depressed employment.” And, sadly, the Detroit bargain may not yet be in the basement as far as depreciation goes.

In the end, affordability is absolutely a major concern, but the ultimate choice may well be made based on something else entirely.

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