Cheap Rent: A Saint Louis Advantage
Recently, I talked to a financial advisor (who did not live in Saint Louis) about whether I should buy property. To get a sense of whether owning or renting was my best way forward, the advisor asked, logically: “How much do you currently pay in rent?” I replied with my current monthly rent, after which there was a pause, and then the advisor responded: “OK that [the rent] is not realistic.”
Not being from Saint Louis, the advisor did not know that almost unrealistically cheap rent (from the rest of the country’s perspective) is readily available in the region. In fact, Saint Louis was just named the most affordable major city in the country for recent grads by Trulia Trends (“investigators of unconventional house hunting trends”).
Their analysis showed that a recent grad in Saint Louis would on average make just under $26,000, allowing them to afford almost 20 percent of units in Saint Louis. How expensive can it get in other cities? In Portland, Oregon, the median wage of recent grads is under $19,000, which would allow them to afford about 0.1 percent of rental units available. Following close behind Portland, in terms of unaffordability, are Riverside, Orange County, and Miami.
One might assume that the relationship here is one of growth and desirability. Saint Louis, with relatively low growth, is not as attractive as the fast-growing Portland or Miami. But economic growth is not the whole story, because following Saint Louis on the list of affordable metros are some of the fastest-growing metropolitan areas in the nation, including Houston, Dallas, Atlanta, and Phoenix. Most likely, multiple factors, including desirable weather and urban containment policies (of which Portland has been a very prominent example), are important in making a city unaffordable for young people. Put simply, it takes capped supply along with high demand for rent to become unattainable for the average grad.
As things stand, Saint Louis is in the opposite situation from cities like Portland or Boston, in that there is plenty of supply but not a whole lot of demand. That puts Saint Louis in a good position to attract startup businesses and startup graduates from more expensive metropolitan areas. However, if Saint Louis is to gather momentum in attracting businesses, it should keep a positive regulatory attitude toward new building and avoid restricting supply through urban containment.