Housing in Milwaukee Is More Affordable Than Most Cities, According to This New Study

Compared to other large metro areas, Milwaukee-Waukesha ranks in the top five for affordability.

The pandemic has led to significant changes in rent prices across the country, with major metropolitan areas like New York City seeing sharp decreases as work went remote, and smaller cities like Boise seeing increases as people flocked from major Californian cities. Yet amidst these changes, Milwaukee has remained relatively affordable, according to recent data.

A recent piece from Bloomberg Opinion comparing the average cost of rent with median area wages found that Milwaukee ranked in fifth place out of 15 large metropolitan areas for affordability.

The data looked at the average rent of a two-bedroom apartment in April of this year from ApartmentList.com and compared the cost to the median income from the Bureau of Labor Statistics in May 2020. In Milwaukee, those numbers came in at approximately $1,038 a month for rent, and an average income of $20.86 an hour, for an estimated 49.8 hours of work per month to cover rent.

Milwaukee beat out areas like Detroit, Columbus and Indianapolis for affordability, and was preceded by Cincinnati, Louisville and Pittsburgh. Cleveland came in at the most affordable with the average apartment costing $925, and an average of only 45 work hours to cover rent.

Milwaukee is also the seventh most affordable metropolitan market for homebuyers according to the American Enterprise Institute. According to Move.org, it has the 22nd best “cost of living” out of the United States’ top 75 cities, accounting for monthly expenses like rent, utilities, food and gas.

While Milwaukee offers a competitive cost of living, community organizers say progress still needs to be made in overall affordability, especially for lower-income populations. Milwaukee has a notable reputation for its high eviction rates, which were famously highlighted in the Pulitzer-prize-winning book Evicted by sociologist Matt Desmond. A 2018 study by the Wisconsin Policy Forum found that “In 2016, a Milwaukee County household earning the median monthly income ($2,631) would have been $45 short of paying the county’s median monthly rent without spending more than 30% of its income on housing.”

In 2016, Milwaukee had a 4.25% eviction rate, or roughly one in every 24 renter households. The city saw a 44% increase in eviction filings last June, following the end of Governor Tony Evers’ COVID-related ban on evictions. Evictions have since fallen, following an eviction moratorium from the CDC enacted in September. However, this moratorium is set to expire at the end of June.

The City of Milwaukee has begun several programs and initiatives to increase affordable living in the area over the past few years, including the City of Milwaukee’s Anti-Displacement Plan, Mayor Tom Barrett’s 10,000 Homes Initiative, and a $15 million allocation of CARES Act funding to rent assistance last year.

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