Best Cities for Renters in Arizona

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Best Cities to Rent in Arizona

If you’re looking to move to a bigger city in the Grand Canyon State, affordable rent is not impossible to find.

NerdWallet’s analysis of the best places to rent in Arizona found that of the top 20 cities four are near Tucson, home to the University of Arizona, and many more are in Maricopa County, where Phoenix is located.

But rents in Phoenix also are increasing as more people choose to rent, not buy, during the slow recovery of the state’s housing market. In 2014, renters saw a 5.7% rise in the cost of housing in the state’s biggest city, according to an Arizona State University report. In our analysis, though, we focused on finding areas that do have affordable rental units.

To determine what goes into a market that favors renters, we considered the following factors:

  1. Are rental units available? Using 2013 U.S. Census Bureau data, we equally weighted the percent of renter-occupied housing and the median rental vacancy rate. A high percent of renters was weighted positively, while rental vacancy rates were weighed more positively when the rate was closest to the average. Deviation from the average in either direction lowered a city’s score.
  2. Are jobs nearby? Using data from the 2013 census, we equally weighted average commute times and median household incomes to determine if residents have access to nearby jobs. Shorter commute times and higher incomes tend to reflect the competitiveness of the local rental market.
  3. Is rent affordable? From the real estate website Zillow, we gathered averages for the price-to-rent ratios (the median home price divided by a year’s worth of rental costs) and median monthly rents from July to September 2014. Using that median rent and the 2013 census data for median household income, we calculated rent as a percentage of income for each area. We equally weighted the price-to-rent ratio and rent as a percentage of income, where a higher ratio and a lower percentage scored positively.

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Our analysis revealed three key trends:

  • Rental units are available. Arizona has a rental vacancy rate that is about 3% higher than the national average of 7.3%, based on 2013 census figures. The biggest cities, including Phoenix and Tucson, have the most housing available for renters.
  • Renting is affordable. Residents in 18 of the top 20 cities will find that median rents are less than 30% of their income, which NerdWallet recommends as a healthy amount to spend. Median rents in 2014 ranged from $550 in Nogales to $1,833 in Scottsdale.
  • Cities around Phoenix rise above. This metropolitan area in Maricopa County is home to 11 of the top 20 cities on our list.

NerdWallet crunched the data for 56 places in Arizona — cities, towns and census-designated places. Only places with over 5,000 residents were analyzed. To see the full data set, click here.

Best cities to rent in Arizona

1. Sierra Vista

As the cultural and commercial center of Cochise County, Sierra Vista makes the list in part because its average commute time for residents is 15.8 minutes, one of the shortest among our top 20. Rent is affordable here, too, since residents on average spend just 20% of their income for housing. The area is known for the nearby Fort Huachuca, a U.S. Army post.

2. Tempe

Home to Arizona State University and one of the largest undergraduate populations in the country, this city sees more than half (55.7%) of its housing units occupied by renters. Tempe’s rents are 27.5% of the median income, which comes in under the 30% threshold for affordability.

3. Catalina Foothills

Nestled between the Santa Catalina Mountains and Saguaro National Park, Catalina Foothills is an affluent Tucson suburb with a median household income of $79,135. The 17.6% price-to-rent ratio — the third highest in our top 20 — illustrates that it’s cheaper to rent here than to buy.

4. Goodyear

Goodyear is fourth on our list because of its affordability and rental vacancy rate, which is almost exactly at the state average rate of 10%. Renters here pay 19.5% of the median household income of $70,627. The city that hosts the Cleveland Indians and Cincinnati Reds baseball teams during spring training was also 10th on our list of Best Places for Homeownership in Arizona.

5. Queen Creek

About an hour’s drive southeast of Phoenix, Queen Creek has the most affordable rent in our top 20. Here, tenants pay about 14% of their income toward rent, which on average is $982. However, only a small percentage of housing units, 18.9%, are available for renters. Queen Creek also made the top 10 in our studies of Cities on the Rise in Arizona and Best Places for Homeownership in Arizona.

6. Sedona

This popular tourist destination is known for its stunning red-rock landscape. According to Sedona’s price-to-rent ratio, the highest in the top 20, it’s better to rent than buy here. But at 8.9%, the city’s rental vacancy rate is below the state average of 10%.

7. Avondale

In this west Phoenix suburb near the Agua Fria and Gila rivers, renters live in more than a third of the city’s housing units and the vacancy rate is a high 10.4%. However, the area has a low price-to-rent ratio, which means buying could be more affordable than renting.

8. Chandler

Chandler, the largest city in our top 10, is about a 35-minute drive from Phoenix. With Intel the city’s largest employer, Chandler residents make about $71,000 a year, a good deal more than the state median of $49,774. However, rental units are not widely available — Chandler’s 5.9% rental vacancy rate is lower than both the state and national averages.

9. Scottsdale

Just north of Phoenix, Scottsdale boasts a vibrant scene with hotels, shopping and nightlife, but it’s an expensive place to live. The median rent is $1,800, the highest in our top 20. Still, rent is relatively affordable if you have a higher income — residents put just over 30% of their $72,154 median household income toward rent. At 8.2%, the city’s vacancy rate is lower than the state average.

10. Tanque Verde

This Tucson suburb has the highest median income in our top 20, at $93,382, and residents on average spend about 21.8% of that on rent. But Tanque Verde also has the lowest percentage of residents (7.9%) living in rental housing units.

Check out this interactive map of our top 10 cities for renters in Arizona. Click on each icon to see the place’s overall score.

Top 20 cities for renters in Arizona

Cities Percent of renter housing in 2013 Rental vacancy rate in 2013 Median household income in 2013 Average commute time in 2013 Price-to-rent ratio in July through September 2014 Median rent in July through September 2014 Rent as percentage of income Overall score
1 Sierra Vista 44.40 12.6 59,696 15.8 12.18 996.67 20.03% 71.07
2 Tempe 55.70 10.1 47,941 20.6 13.93 1100.00 27.53% 70.71
3 Catalina Foothills 27.10 7.8 79,135 22.9 17.57 1650.00 25.02% 67.25
4 Goodyear 30.50 10.1 70,627 28.5 14.31 1150.00 19.54% 67.08
5 Queen Creek 18.90 9.8 83,702 32.2 13.81 981.67 14.07% 65.99
6 Sedona 36.80 8.9 48,450 17.0 18.47 1391.67 34.47% 65.69
7 Avondale 41.50 10.4 55,506 25.8 12.60 1041.67 22.52% 64.79
8 Chandler 36.50 5.9 71,083 23.8 14.80 1298.33 21.92% 63.01
9 Scottsdale 32.20 8.2 72,154 21.8 16.28 1833.33 30.49% 62.71
10 Tanque Verde 7.90 15.5 93,382 27.7 17.76 1700.00 21.85% 61.91
11 Kingman 34.20 13.5 44,433 17.0 11.33 741.67 20.03% 61.65
12 Corona de Tucson 15.80 11.5 87,649 34.1 12.76 1025.00 14.03% 61.32
13 Peoria 28.80 9.8 62,013 27.8 13.94 1225.00 23.70% 61.29
14 Mesa 38.10 11.5 48,547 24.8 12.73 1025.00 25.34% 59.90
15 Phoenix 44.50 11.6 47,139 24.4 12.17 1073.33 27.32% 59.77
16 Yuma 40.30 9.5 44,220 16.0 10.76 998.33 27.09% 59.75
17 Buckeye 32.10 8.4 62,800 32.4 12.40 950.00 18.15% 59.41
18 Nogales 47.60 12.3 26,333 15.4 9.87 550.00 25.06% 59.32
19 Tucson 49.60 10.2 37,032 21.7 11.22 920.00 29.81% 58.92
20 Gilbert 28.60 4.4 80,355 26.7 14.87 1316.67 19.66% 58.65

Methodology

The score for each place is from the following data:

  1. Percentage of renter-occupied housing is 20% of the score. The figures are from the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2013 ACS, data set DP04.
  2.  Median rental vacancy rate is 20% of the score. The figures are from the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2013 ACS, data set DP04.
  3.  Median household incomes are 10% of the score, and are from the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2013 ACS, data set DP03.
  4.  Average commute times are 10% of the score, and are from the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2013 ACS, data set DP03.
  5.  Price-to-rent ratio is 20% of the score. The data are from Zillow, which the real estate website aggregates from its historical listings.
  6.  Rent as percentage of income is 20% of the score. This percentage is Zillow’s median rent averaged from July to September 2014 and the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2013 median household income. Rental housing includes one- to five-bedroom homes, single-family residencies, condominiums and cooperative housing.

NerdWallet crunched the data for 56 places in Arizona — cities, towns and census-designated places. Only places with over 5,000 residents were analyzed. We excluded 33 places that lacked Zillow rent data, one place that didn’t have commute time data and two areas that impose residency restrictions. Although census data offer a detailed look at housing across Arizona, the figures provide a limited picture of the current rental market.

Best cities to rent in Arizona (full listings)

Cities Percent of renter housing in 2013 Rental vacancy rate in 2013 Median household income in 2013 Average commute time in 2013 Price-to-rent ratio in July through September 2014 Median rent in July through September 2014 Rent as percentage of income Overall score
1 Sierra Vista 44.40 12.6 59,696 15.8 12.18 996.67 20.03% 71.07
2 Tempe 55.70 10.1 47,941 20.6 13.93 1100.00 27.53% 70.71
3 Catalina Foothills 27.10 7.8 79,135 22.9 17.57 1650.00 25.02% 67.25
4 Goodyear 30.50 10.1 70,627 28.5 14.31 1150.00 19.54% 67.08
5 Queen Creek 18.90 9.8 83,702 32.2 13.81 981.67 14.07% 65.99
6 Sedona 36.80 8.9 48,450 17.0 18.47 1391.67 34.47% 65.69
7 Avondale 41.50 10.4 55,506 25.8 12.60 1041.67 22.52% 64.79
8 Chandler 36.50 5.9 71,083 23.8 14.80 1298.33 21.92% 63.01
9 Scottsdale 32.20 8.2 72,154 21.8 16.28 1833.33 30.49% 62.71
10 Tanque Verde 7.90 15.5 93,382 27.7 17.76 1700.00 21.85% 61.91
11 Kingman 34.20 13.5 44,433 17.0 11.33 741.67 20.03% 61.65
12 Corona de Tucson 15.80 11.5 87,649 34.1 12.76 1025.00 14.03% 61.32
13 Peoria 28.80 9.8 62,013 27.8 13.94 1225.00 23.70% 61.29
14 Mesa 38.10 11.5 48,547 24.8 12.73 1025.00 25.34% 59.90
15 Phoenix 44.50 11.6 47,139 24.4 12.17 1073.33 27.32% 59.77
16 Yuma 40.30 9.5 44,220 16.0 10.76 998.33 27.09% 59.75
17 Buckeye 32.10 8.4 62,800 32.4 12.40 950.00 18.15% 59.41
18 Nogales 47.60 12.3 26,333 15.4 9.87 550.00 25.06% 59.32
19 Tucson 49.60 10.2 37,032 21.7 11.22 920.00 29.81% 58.92
20 Gilbert 28.60 4.4 80,355 26.7 14.87 1316.67 19.66% 58.65
21 Flagstaff 55.80 5.9 49,771 16.0 14.95 1583.33 38.17% 58.50
22 Oro Valley 24.20 6.2 71,950 27.5 15.19 1315.00 21.93% 57.54
23 Glendale 42.20 12.4 47,474 26.5 12.45 1096.67 27.72% 57.42
24 Bullhead City 38.00 13.9 37,492 17.4 12.53 875.00 28.01% 57.37
25 Florence 27.50 9.4 47,822 21.8 12.88 1013.00 25.42% 57.31
26 Gold Canyon 11.50 18.2 67,164 31.5 18.24 1198.33 21.41% 56.87
27 Vail 16.00 5.4 80,439 30.2 16.12 1325.00 19.77% 56.00
28 Bisbee 38.10 17 33,038 18.0 11.19 625.00 22.70% 55.96
29 Snowflake 16.20 13.6 60,215 24.6 11.02 800.00 15.94% 55.53
30 Prescott 34.70 6.4 44,224 16.7 15.69 1208.00 32.78% 55.40
31 Fountain Hills 17.50 12.1 73,537 26.7 15.94 1881.67 30.71% 55.27
32 Surprise 24.20 11.7 58,455 33.1 13.46 1096.67 22.51% 55.11
33 Casa Grande 30.70 15.5 44,949 22.9 11.83 830.00 22.16% 55.07
34 Douglas 39.60 9.8 27,638 17.2 9.56 631.67 27.43% 54.46
35 Marana 25.30 4.2 73,149 28.7 13.97 1108.33 18.18% 54.35
36 Anthem 27.90 3.5 75,355 29.5 15.69 1358.33 21.63% 54.35
37 El Mirage 35.80 8.1 47,159 31.8 11.25 900.00 22.90% 52.19
38 Cave Creek 16.40 6 77,853 30.3 18.13 1965.00 30.29% 52.04
39 Prescott Valley 38.30 5.2 42,864 21.5 12.70 925.00 25.90% 51.99
40 Apache Junction 25.10 10 37,403 26.6 12.67 898.00 28.81% 50.08
41 Youngtown 47.30 9.7 33,884 30.2 8.22 766.67 27.15% 49.78
42 Catalina 16.10 11.3 46,948 28.1 14.39 1145.00 29.27% 48.90
43 Lake Havasu City 30.10 5.7 42,552 17.3 13.82 1166.67 32.90% 47.88
44 Eloy 37.50 14.9 28,612 26.5 7.90 540.00 22.65% 46.34
45 Benson 31.20 21.2 31,111 22.3 11.21 658.33 25.39% 45.30
46 Coolidge 37.30 26.2 42,632 23.8 9.59 766.33 21.57% 45.11
47 Sahuarita 19.30 3.9 64,231 27.3 12.64 1165.00 21.77% 45.09
48 Litchfield Park 19.80 0 77,481 28.0 14.13 1163.33 18.02% 44.97
49 Safford 33.30 3.2 42,669 17.3 11.09 950.00 26.72% 44.13
50 Show Low 33.80 6.5 38,098 20.1 12.63 1200.00 37.80% 42.72
51 Tucson Estates 12.50 19.1 47,741 33.3 13.00 985.00 24.76% 40.14
52 Drexel Heights 23.60 5.4 44,059 26.8 10.54 941.67 25.65% 39.97
53 Rio Rico 19.90 0.6 47,621 22.5 10.83 793.33 19.99% 36.56
54 Green Valley 14.30 24.5 46,361 20.4 10.72 1196.67 30.97% 33.37
55 Flowing Wells 30.10 4.2 31,800 20.8 9.03 956.67 36.10% 29.83
56 Valencia West 13.20 0 54,381 36.0 11.88 1004.67 22.17% 27.19

 

Sunset in Scottsdale, Arizona, image via Shutterstock.