By Neal Templin
WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) If the current crisis has you considering a move, there are some beautiful spots across the country that are super affordable.
The coronavirus recession is going to leave millions of Americans in a more precarious financial condition, and some will need to consider finding less expensive long-term lodging.
If you don’t have family ties to a particular city and can move, here are five livable towns with some of the cheapest apartments in the country. Before the recession, all had stable though not necessarily fast-growing economies, and all are likely to be less affected by the health crisis than the U.S. as a whole.
I started by looking at 35 towns with median rents of less than $1,000 a month, using rent calculations published by Abodo. I did a second screen using Moody’s Analytics data to eliminate towns whose economies are particularly vulnerable to the coronavirus-induced economic contraction.
To these two objective measures and I added a third, subjective one: towns that either impressed me when I visited them or that I’ve always wanted to visit.
Two are college towns: Gainesville, Fla., and Eugene, Ore. I have a weakness for river towns, which landed Tulsa, Okla., on the list. The idea of living in a state where the residents call themselves “cheeseheads” enthralls me, and where better than Green Bay, Wis.? And I spent five years as a young journalist in El Paso, Texas, which is a nice border community with arresting geography.
Before choosing a new hometown, I recommend you check out my colleague Dee Gill’s three-part series on the topic, which focuses on finding the neighbors you’d want to call friends and the right kind of social life, and making a wise financial decision in buying a home.
Tulsa ($880 a month rent)
I spent three days reporting a story here 20 years ago, and came away impressed. It has an historic downtown with Art Deco buildings and leafy residential neighborhoods and is perched above a lovely stretch of the Arkansas River. The city has memorable public art, including 60-foot-high bronze praying hands in front of Oral Roberts University and a 76-foot-high golden statue of a bare-chested oil driller at the state fairground. Tulsa has nonstop flights to 15 airports. Its economy has diversified in recent decades, but it still has strong ties to the energy industry, which has been hurt by tumbling oil prices. Go here for Tulsa housing costs and demographics: https://www.rate.com/research/tulsa-ok
-Green Bay ($800 a month rent)
In this age of glitzy sports franchises, wouldn’t it be cool to live in a relatively small town where the fans own the football team? That’s the case with Green Bay and its beloved Packers, the only publicly held NFL team. The city itself is surrounded by Lake Michigan and rivers and the beauty of northern Wisconsin. It gets cold. The Green Bay Airport only has nonstop flights to four cities but is a two-hour drive from the Milwaukee airport, which has broad domestic service. Green Bay’s economy remains heavily tied to manufacturing, which should fare better than many industries in the coronavirus slowdown. Data: https://www.rate.com/research/green_bay-wi
-Gainesville ($960 a month rent)
I have had a soft spot for this central Florida town ever since I stayed there with a cousin in the 1980s. She lived in the middle of a tranquil forest, and it seemed so different from the crowded South Florida I knew. Gainesville is home to the huge University of Florida main campus and birthplace of the late, great rocker Tom Petty; it has long had a good music scene. The biggest employers are healthcare and education, two industries that should hold up relatively well, and 43% of adults have college degrees. Gainesville only has nonstop flights to three cities, but it is a two-hour drive to the Orlando airport, where you can fly anywhere. Data: https://www.rate.com/research/gainesville-fl
-El Paso ($920 a month rent)
You might not think of it as a mountain town, but it is. El Paso sits at nearly 4,000 elevation with the towering Franklin Mountains almost slicing the border town in two. The altitude makes for pleasant summer nights despite blistering days. The University of Texas at El Paso, oddly, features Bhutanese-style buildings that look as if they were plucked from the Himalayas. El Paso is a long drive from anywhere, but it has direct flights to 14 cities. It sits right on Interstate 10, the southernmost cross-country highway. Its biggest employers are the stable healthcare and education industries. The city also supports U.S. manufacturers in Mexico, and its retailers draw thousands of Mexican shoppers. Data: https://www.rate.com/research/el_paso-t
-Eugene ($940 a month rent) This college town is a mecca for bikers, hikers and runners. It is home to the University of Oregon and boasts a plethora of museums. Eugene also prides itself on being a bastion of counterculture. Every year, it crowns its SLUG Queen. which is an acronym for the Society for the Legitimization of the Ubiquitous Gastropod. It started out as a gag, but the SLUG Queen now often appears at official events like ribbon cuttings. Eugene has nonstop flights to 10 Western cities, and is a two-hour drive from the Portland airport, which has broad domestic and international service. Its economy is heavily tied to education and healthcare, and 41% of adults have college degrees. One warning: Eugene has high pollen levels, and people with allergies sometimes have problems there. Data: https://www.rate.com/research/eugene-or
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