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Here’s why Cincinnati is among nation’s most affordable cities

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Erin Caproni
Digital Producer
Cincinnati Business Courier

Cincinnati is one of the most affordable places to live in the nation, according to a recent ranking.
Credit.com ranked the Queen City No. 8 on its list because only 30.4 percent of residents spend more than 30 percent of their income on housing. Compare that to 48.4 percent of residents in No. 1-ranked Los Angeles.

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Now, the personal finance website is taking a deeper dive to show just how much it costs to live in Cincinnati. According to Trulia, Cincinnati’s median home sales price is $132,500, while its median household income is $55,729. Credit.com also mentions Cincinnati’s unique Midwest experience, its small-town but major city feel and its surging development as great reasons to call the city home.

One good measure of affordability is this: How much of your paycheck do you spend on housing every month? Experts have traditionally pegged 30% as an optimal amount — people who spend more than that might be considered “housing poor” — though that number is fairly random, and the real answer is “it depends.” Lower-income folks who spend half their paycheck on rent live far more stressful financial lives than high-income folks who spend half their income on a mortgage — the latter group still has plenty left over at the end of the month.
But 30% is certainly a good measuring stick; once you climb over 40%, you are probably in a real danger zone for cash-flow problems. And if nearly half the people in a city spend more than 30% of their income on housing, we can all agree that’s an expensive place to live.

Housing affordability, or the rate of housing-poor citizens, is a nice data point to ponder because it takes several factors into account — home prices, salaries, even unemployment, to some extent.

While stories about housing unaffordablity pile up on news sites — rents are up, home prices are up, first-time homebuyers are disappearing — it’s easy to forget that the housing market is not one thing. It’s hundreds of smaller “things.” Lexington is not San Francisco. Columbus is not Seattle.

So here’s a little gem tucked into the Census Bureau’s 2014 American Community Survey, courtesy of the Berkeley Terner Center for Housing Innovation. Below you will find lists of the 10 most- and least-expensive metro areas to live in the U.S., based on the percentage of residents who spend more than 30% of their income on housing. The headline: People within the U.S. are living vastly different lives based on their housing costs.

Jed Kolko, who called attention to the data in his report on highlights from the recently-released 2014 Census data for the Berkeley Terner Center, told me that the calculation is performed based on a household income question and a monthly housing costs question.

“So it’s a calculation done by the Census based on self-reported data,” he said.

The areas used in the study are called CBSAs, or Core-Based Statistical Areas, as defined by the U.S. Census. Essentially, they group together cities and the suburbs from which workers in those cities might commute. It should be noted that within such large areas, residents’ lifestyles and financial stresses can vary wildly.

And as for the wide disparity between cities, there could be many reasons that fewer people might be housing poor in one area than another — a lot of long-timers, for example.

“Markets with long-term residents would have fewer cost-burdened households because they bought their home long ago and might not have a mortgage any longer,” Kolko said.

In other words, just because fewer people are housing poor in an area doesn’t mean you won’t be housing poor if you move there. Still, if you feel like housing eats up too much of your paycheck, it might be time to consider a move to a place near the top of this list.

Posted by: Marco Lacina on February 11, 2016
Posted in: Uncategorized