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Most and Least Affordable Cities in North Carolina for Homeowners and Renters

Most and Least Affordable Cities in North Carolina for Homeowners and Renters

While North Carolina's largest cities are affordable for homeowners, the state's renters will have a harder time finding affordable housing. According to ValuePenguin, only 44% of the largest cities in the state are affordable for most renters.
Which cities in North Carolina are the most and least affordable for its residents?
Which cities in North Carolina are the most and least affordable for its residents? Source: Getty Images

We surveyed the largest cities in North Carolina and found that it's much less affordable to be a renter than a homeowner in the state. On average, renters spend 31% of their income on housing, while homeowners spend just over 18%.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, when housing expenses exceed 30% of a household's total income, those households are considered burdened by unaffordable housing. We used this figure as a benchmark to evaluate which cities in North Carolina are the most and least affordable for homeowners and renters.

Key findings

  • Although it's affordable to own a home in each of the state's cities with over 20,000 people, housing for renters is unaffordable in 24 of the 43 cities we surveyed. Low incomes often drive unaffordability among renters: In 17 of the 24 cities where housing is unaffordable, residents make less than the state's median income of $32,220.
  • Raleigh has a concentration of affordable cities surrounding it. Raleigh's well-paying tech industries and low overall unemployment seem to have benefited residents in nearby cities and suburbs, like Cary, Apex and Holly Springs. Raleigh is a good city for residents looking to move, and those with high-paying jobs may find the city's satellite communities even better.
  • Despite its growing numbers of newly arriving millennials, Charlotte doesn't stand out in our data — and neither do its suburbs. While the median income in Charlotte is among the state's highest at over $40,000, monthly costs mean that renters spend over two-thirds of their income on housing.
  • Homeowners and renters insurance is affordable for most residents. The average cost of home insurance with flood protection in North Carolina represents about 3% of the typical homeowner's housing expenses. For renters, the same coverage also equals about 3% of income.

For homebuyers, high-paying job opportunities make North Carolina more affordable

All of the cities we included in this study were affordable for homeowners, with living costs in each place comprising less than 30% of median homeowner incomes. This means that even the most expensive cities in North Carolina offer homes for purchase at prices that most local families can afford.

Homes in North Carolina's inland expanse tend to be more affordable than in cities to the east. Raleigh's proximity to the research triangle — anchored by Duke, the University of North Carolina and North Carolina State — serves as a draw for businesses and high-paying tech jobs that compensate for the area's comparatively high housing costs.

Most affordable cities for North Carolina homeowners

The most affordable city for homeowners is Cary, where residents pay 15% of their incomes on housing. Cary also ranks well for renters. However, it's not an inexpensive place to live. Cary's homeowners have a median income of over $120,000, and the monthly costs of owning a home are higher compared to most of the other locations we included.

Homeowners in Hickory and Chapel Hill also spend just under 16% of their income on housing. Chapel Hill's homeowners have an income of over $131,000, but they also pay the most per month in housing costs. Hickory, which isn't near Raleigh, houses data centers for tech giants Apple and Google. Here, homeowners make a median of $63,024 per year while paying only $820 per month in housing costs.

Shelby's residents expend a little over $700 per month on housing. Shelby is an outlier among this study's top five most affordable cities for homeowners. Affordability in Shelby isn't a reflection of the area's high incomes, unlike other cities. Homeowners here make a mean of about $53,000, which is less than the state's median of $63,390. Rather, Shelby's affordability evinces its low costs, the third lowest among homeowners in the state.

Located outside of Raleigh, Apex rounds out the top five most affordable cities for homeowners in North Carolina. Its homeowners spend 16.33% of their income on housing costs per year. Along with Cary, Apex is the only other city in our study that's affordable for homeowners and renters, even though homeowners make over $57,000 more than renters here.

Yet, like Cary, Apex may not be a fit for all prospective residents. Even though Apex is among the most affordable cities in the state, it has some of the most expensive housing costs of any city in this study — over $1,600 per month. Its affordability is due in large part to the median income of its homeowners and renters. Both types of residents' incomes are in the top three in North Carolina.

In the least affordable cities, low incomes may be a greater factor than high costs

The state's least affordable cities are located to the east and especially near the coast. Some cities, like Rocky Mount and Kinston, have been negatively affected by departing manufacturing jobs and damaging floods.

As such, homeowners living in the top five cities in this category have a median income of $56,474 and pay almost $1,000 on housing per month. This figure is lower than the state's median homeowners income of $63,390. North Carolina is still an affordable place in general since affordability doesn't exceed even 24% for most people. Households making $57,625, the country's median income, could likewise be comfortable here.

We found that Monroe is the least affordable city for homeowners in the state. Residents spend almost 24% of the income on housing costs per year. The median income of the city's homeowners is about $56,000, while the costs per month remain high — over $1,107 per month.

In fact, despite having relatively low median income, Monroe has disproportionately high monthly housing costs. Comparably, homeowners in Concord, the city with the next highest monthly costs, have a median income that's nearly $30,000 more.

Located along the Neuse River, New Bern's homeowners pay 21.06% on housing per year. The city isn't very affordable for renters, either, who might pay housing costs that take up as much as 37% of their income per year.

On the eastern side of the state, the residents of the cities Jacksonville and Rocky Mountspend about a fifth of their income on housing per year. Neither state is affordable for renters, either, with Rocky Mount claiming the sixth least affordable city for tenants.

The fifth least affordable city in North Carolina is Thomasville. Homeowners here have the fourth lowest median income in the state. Still, Thomasville's residents spend much less than 30% of their income on housing. Additionally, Thomasville is more affordable than the least affordable city for renters.


In North Carolina, low wages among renters contribute to unaffordable housing across the state

Based on the Census Bureau's definition, North Carolina isn't a very affordable state for renters. Low income among the state's renters contributes to typically unaffordable housing. In fact, tenants who live in the state's 12 most unaffordable cities make less than $30,000 per year. Furthermore, while residents in 24 of the state's largest cities spend more than 30% of their incomes on housing costs, only seven of these cities have a tenant population making above $32,220, North Carolina's median income for renters.

These factors mean that despite the low monthly costs renters pay, people living in the state's most unaffordable cities don't have incomes that can absorb their financial burdens as easily as residents of North Carolina's wealthier cities.

North Carolina's most unaffordable cities for renters

Renters med. income (past 12 mos.)
Renters med. monthly cost
Renter affordability
Rocky Mount$24,197$74837.10%
New Bern$27,606$84436.69%
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Residents in the state's 24 mostunaffordable cities make less than North Carolina's median income for renters

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Less than half of North Carolina's largest cities are affordable for renters

The most affordable place for renters in the state is Cornelius, which sits alongside Lake Norman about an hour outside of Charlotte. Here, residents spend over one fifth of their incomes on housing. Although Cornelius tops this list, it remains more unaffordable than Thomasville, the fifth most unaffordable city for homeowners.

Like other affordable cities for renters in the state, Cornelius' residents have a median income that's well above North Carolina's median income for renters. With $68,615 per year, Cornelius's renters out-earn the rest of the state's tenants by more than 100%.

The second most affordable city for renters is Apex, a suburb of Raleigh. This city's tenants spend 23.33% on housing per year and have an annual median income of $61,421. Apex is the only place in our study besides Cary, another city that's adjacent to Raleigh, that appears on both the homeowners and renters affordability lists.

We found that Cary's renters spend a quarter of their income on housing, but they make almost twice what's expected for renters in North Carolina. The monthly cost of housing for renters in this city is about $400 less than it is for homeowners, but renters earn $60,000 less here.

Costs associated with housing in Holly Springs amount to 24.47% of its residents' incomes. Even though renters pay about $380 less than homeowners here, Holly Springs is less affordable for renters than the least affordable city for homeowners.

The fifth most affordable city in North Carolina is Mooresville. This city, which sits alongside Lake Norman to the north of Charlotte, costs its renters about 25.31% of their income per year on housing. Renters spend $1,037 per month on home expenses.

Housing in North Carolina's most unaffordable cities can cost residents more than 40% of their incomes

As with North Carolina's least affordable cities for homeowners, renters' low wages contribute to the unaffordability of a region. Median income in the five most unaffordable cities in the state is $21,132, about a third less than the median for other renters in the state.

Kinston is the least affordable city in the state. Its residents spend 40.21% of their incomes on housing costs per year. This figure is 10% higher than the government's benchmark for affordability. Although the $674 cost per year is the fourth cheapest in the state, Kinston's renters are adversely affected by having the lowest median income, $20,115, among the cities we surveyed.

We found that Shelby is the second least affordable city in the state. Renters in Shelby also spend more than two fifths of their incomes on housing per year, while making $33,000 less than homeowners. Yet the monthly difference in housing costs between the two groups is less than $10 per month. Consequently, despite its unaffordability for renters, Shelby is among the most affordable cities for homeowners in North Carolina.

Renters in Lumberton spend only $7,056 per year on housing. However, like those in Kinston and Shelby, renters in Lumberton have relatively low incomes and can't absorb housing costs well. In Lumberton, renters earn about $21,000 per year. Homeowners' incomes here are also below the state's median, but this group benefits from the city's low housing costs of $687 per month.

The cities of Wilmington and **Greenville* are the fourth and fifth least affordable cities for renters in the state. Each city's renters spend about 37% of their incomes on housing. In both Greenville and Wilmington, the median income for renters is about $47,000 less than homeowners in the same city. These disparities are the seventh and eighth largest among the cities we surveyed.


Is insurance affordable for North Carolina's homeowners and renters?

For both homeowners and renters, the cost of insurance is a factor in determining a home's affordability. Since the cost of insurance varies with household due to a variety of reasons, including personal history and location, it's best to consider the coverage options from a few providers.

Because homeowners insurance is often included as a requirement by mortgage lenders, its costs are included in the Census Bureau's calculations of affordability. The price of renters insurance isn't accounted for, though.

Homeowners insurance in North Carolina

Homeowners in North Carolina spend an average of $1,089 per year on homeowners insurance. This number is close to the national average of $1,083. Since the state also ranks in the National Association of Insurance Commissioners' (NAIC) list of states that make flood damage claims, it could be a good idea to purchase flood insurance as well. Most homeowners insurance policies don't provide coverage for this type of peril, but coverage is often a small percentage of one's income.

Flood insurance typically costs $814 per year for North Carolinians. Tacked onto a regular homeowners insurance policy, full coverage amounts to an average yearly cost of about $1,900. This number represents a 3% expense of the state's median homeowners income of $64,000 or 4% of the study's lowest-earning city, Asheboro.

Renters insurance in North Carolina

Renters in North Carolina spend an average of $240 per year on insurance. The state's mean cost of renters insurance is about $50 more expensive than the country's overall annual cost of $187. Like homeowners, renters in North Carolina should consider flood insurance, as this type of damage is not often covered by a typical policy. The price of protection may cost an average of $814 per year.

Because the cost of renters insurance isn't accounted for by the Census Bureau's assessment of gross net rent, tenants who purchase this protection must consider its cost separate from utilities. Fortunately, since the cost of renters insurance is significantly cheaper than homeowners insurance, its price carries a lower financial burden, even with flood insurance. Full coverage comes to about $1,050 per year, about 3% of North Carolina's median income for renters. For the state's lowest-earning city, Kinston, this expense takes up about 5% of its median income.


We analyzed the affordability of owning and renting a home in this state using data from the Census Bureau's database. The major cities in this study have an estimated population of over 20,000 people as of 2018.

More information pertaining to home affordability can be found here.

HO med. income (past 12 mos.)
HO. med. monthly costs
Homeowner Affordability
Renters med. income (past 12 mos.)
Renters med. monthly cost
Renter affordability
High Point112,316$65,570$1,03919.01%$29,542$82133.35%
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