Less than half of U.S. cities are affordable for people who earn a median income

2015-01-03

San Francisco is the least-affordable major U.S. city, according to an Interest.com survey. 

Most big American cities are no longer affordable for the average worker.

Home buyers earning a median income can only afford a median-priced home in 10 of the 25 largest metropolitan areas in the U.S., according to a survey by personal finance site Interest.com. That’s still a slight improvement on last year when only 8 of those metropolitan areas were affordable, but still lower than 2012 when 14 of those 25 areas were affordable for people on a median income in those regions.

Being priced out of buying a home in the country’s major cities means more multi-family buildings in big cities and more people moving into second-tier cities and rural areas, says Stuart Gabriel, director of UCLA’s Richard S. Ziman Center for Real Estate. “The consequences are large,” he says, “and they’re not just about affordability. It affects economic growth and economic viability of our major metropolitan areas.”

While some people will find ways to work from home, for instance, spiraling housing costs also hurt people who need to work in cities. “Teachers, firefighters and police, these are people who are absolutely essential to the functioning of our urban areas, are priced out of those areas and have to commute long distances to get to work,” Gabriel says. “It’s certainly true here in L.A.”

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Sacramento had the biggest drop in home affordability over the past 12 months, falling to No. 18 this year from No. 12 in 2013. But it’s still more affordable than the other three California metro areas on the list: Los Angeles (No. 22), San Diego (No. 24) and San Francisco (No. 25) where the median income is 46% less than what is required to buy a median-priced home here. New York is No. 23 on the list.

See also: Asking prices for houses accelerate in 40 metro areas

The cheapest areas are Minneapolis, Atlanta, St. Louis and Detroit. “Low mortgage rates are helping home affordability to some extent, but the key ingredient — which has been missing to this point — is substantial income growth,” says Mike Sante, managing editor of Interest.com. “Millennials, in particular, are struggling to overcome their student loans and save enough money for a down payment.”