Key takeaways

  • Raleigh is the best city for roommates, followed by Irvine, Lincoln, Santa Ana and Madison
  • CA claims the largest share of people living with roommates, with Santa Ana (36%) and Irvine (35%) topping our list, while Detroit and Cleveland record the lowest share of roommate-living
  • NYC snatches the highest number of roommates in the country (345,350), followed by LA and Chicago
  • Roommates in two-bedroom apartments in Atlanta (547 sq. ft.) and Plano (542 sq. ft.) benefit from the most personal space while Honolulu renters scramble to get more
  • Living with roommates in Boston saves people the highest share of their income (20%) when renting a two-bedroom apartment, while DC brings roommates most cash in savings

Living with roommates has long been the preferred living arrangement for young Americans, both those in college and those who have freshly graduated, but of late it’s been growing in popularity across the board. With the age of settling down to form a family being pushed further up — 30 years for men and 28 years for women on average in 2020 — and with Americans buying their first home at 33, many people still look to reap the benefits of shacking up with roommates. This can help them live in more desirable neighborhoods or be closer to work and entertainment. Currently, approximately 30% of Americans live with a roommate, according to the latest U.S. Census data. Among the perks associated with roommate living, lower housing and utility costs count for a great deal, as do social interaction and sharing your space with friends. Put simply, shared living is fun and helps ease financial worries. But it’s also true that taking up roommates translates into having less personal space, which is a very important factor during the current pandemic when there is an even greater need for maintaining wellbeing and peace of mind.

Where can renters enjoy the best of multiple worlds — a roommate-friendly environment, affordability and space? We wanted to find out which cities are best for living with roommates — defined as dwellers living in non-family households — now that people are spending more time in their homes than probably ever before. To do that, our research team at STORAGECafé looked at US cities with over 250K dwellers and ranked them based on the following metrics

  • The highest concentration of roommates by city
  • The amount of personal space when living with roommates in a two-bedroom apartment
  • Annual savings when renting a two-bedroom apartment with roommates as opposed to living on your own in a one-bedroom apartment
  • The cost of self storage considering people sharing a two-bedroom apartment need extra space to store their belongings as opposed to living on their own in a one-bedroom apartment

Raleigh beats sunny CA cities to take the trophy for the best city for roommates

Where do roommates get the best of multiple worlds? Where can they enjoy personal space and maybe put away something extra in their bank accounts as well? As it turns out, Raleigh, NC takes the crown when it comes to the best city to live in for roommates.

Map of the best cities for roommates in the US

Raleigh has become a magnet for newcomers, now standing out as the second-fastest-growing metro in the US. Besides its governmental, university and healthcare employment opportunities, the city also provides ample job prospects at the Research Triangle Park, a high-tech research and development park where many prominent companies in the field operate. The city boasts a large share of roommates (28%), and they enjoy plenty of personal space. A roommate in a 2-bedroom apartment in Raleigh has 526 square feet of living space – that’s about the size of a 1-bedroom apartment in Honolulu. Besides ample personal space, roommate life here offers Americans decent housing costs —$1,126/month for a 2-bedroom apartment. The cost of living is in line with the national one, making Raleigh a city where roommates can earn a decent living.

Irvine, CA, snatches the second spot in the list of best cities for roommates, closely followed by Lincoln, NE. Irvine is home to several higher education institutions including the University of California (UC Irvine) and Concordia University, among others. The job market is improving following the pandemic-induced challenges, with the University of California, Kaiser Permanente and Hoag Memorial Hospital Presbyterian among the top employers in Irvine. The well-manicured streets, the fine architecture and the safe environment that attracted so many transplants to Irvine have also pushed prices up. Renting and the cost of living here, in general, are expensive, but shacking up with a roommate can allow for a more comfortable lifestyle. Irvine renters spend some of the highest sums anywhere on 1-bedroom apartments, the 4th highest in the country after Sunnyvale and Santa Clara in CA, and Cambridge in Massachusetts – roughly $2,026 per month. 2-bedroom apartments in Irvine rent for $2,622 on avg. whereas self storage is quite inexpensive – $51 per month. That puts Irvine residents at an advantage when splitting housing costs with a roommate, all while renting self storage to gain more living space.

Although quite different from Irvine in terms of both general vibe and affordability, Lincoln has one thing in common with the Orange County hotspot and that’s the roommate-friendly environment. The cost of living is generally lower than in other big cities but so are wages. Turning to roommate living can help residents live comfortably without shelling out too much of their income on rent, all while making savings in the long run. Lincoln roommates enjoy 528 sq. ft. per person in a 2-bed apartment — the 6th most generous living space among the country’s biggest cities — and can save 14% of their income if they choose shared living as opposed to renting a 1-bed apartment solo. Healthcare and higher education account for a high share of employment in Lincoln, but finance, insurance, publishing and manufacturing are also prominent industries.

Madison also ranks high in our list, pushed to the front not only by the large share of roommates (34%) residing there but also by the substantial savings people make when choosing to live with a roommate instead of striking out on their own. The cost of living might be lower here, but so is the cost of rent for a two-bedroom apartment ($1,187/month). Madison offers ample career opportunities given that the University of Wisconsin is the state’s largest employer, which is a major factor contributing to the city’s desirability.

Another city vying for the title of one of the best cities for roommate living is Charlotte. This Southern city not only claims a high share of roommates (23%) but also racks up a considerably larger number of people living as roommates — which doesn’t come as a surprise as Charlotte ranks first as the most populous city in North Carolina and 15th most populous in the US. Living here as a roommate helps dwellers make consistent savings (16%) as opposed to living on their own. What about income and cost of living in this city? With the cost of living slightly lower than the national average, most Charlotteans can cover the cost of rent when living with roommates and make savings at the same time.

San Diego is yet another city that scores well for roommate living. It not only brings to the table a considerable share of roommates, but their numbers are also high (96,000+) in America’s Finest City. As a strong college city, San Diego not only attracts the demographic that prefers the roommate lifestyle but also prepares them for highly specialized jobs. Dubbed Silicon Beach, San Diego boasts numerous employment opportunities in tech, energy, healthcare and finances. Living here doesn’t come cheap —$1,916/month in rent for a two-bedroom apartment per person — but it’s still more affordable than living in other Californian cities.

Nashville, Anaheim and Riverside are another cluster of cities where roommates can not only make headway, but also flourish. All three cities scored the same in our ranking, but there are marked differences between them. For instance, Anaheim and Riverside might outperform Nashville regarding proportions of roommates, but Music City boasts much larger numbers of roommates (38,700), with Anaheim and Riverside registering just a little over 11,000 each. Being part of the LA metro area, Anaheim is one of the most populous cities in California and offers its residents employment in healthcare and local administration. Anaheim is also home to Disneyland, sustaining a large share of the local employment even though the pandemic led many employees being furloughed. Known as the birthplace of the citrus industry in California, in California, Riverside is comparable in population size with Anaheim. Living in the City of Trees — as Riverside is called — lets roommates make the most savings of all the three cities, but it’s also the city with the lowest income bracket of the group. Of the three cities, living in Nashville with roommates in a two-bedroom apartment will cost you the least ($1,208/month), while Anaheim claims the highest cost of the three cities for the same expense ($1,770/month).

What do Jersey City and Boston have in common? Both locations are clearly equally beneficial to roommates as they tie for the same spot in our list. Both cities might have scored the same, but each city excels at different metrics. Boston shines not only with a large share of roommates (32%) but also when it comes to the number of people living with roommates (68,000). Additionally, Boston blows all the other cities out of the water with the highest proportion of savings (20%) people can add to their wallet when they choose to live with a roommate as opposed to renting on their own. Living in Jersey City with a roommate means you will have more personal space than in Boston and you also pay less in rent ($1,566) as opposed to Boston’s $1,781. As a big city, Boston appeals to many, but so does Jersey City through a lower cost of living and its proximity to New York City with its rich career opportunities and attractions.

Columbus wraps up our top 20 of the best cities for roommates. The Midwestern city distinguishes itself through a high share of roommates (25%), and a high number of them too not so surprising given its status as the second most populous city in the Midwest after Chicago. While savings made here when living with roommates are moderate, the cost of rent ($1,034/month) is well below the national average. You get the best of two worlds in Columbus: big city living without breaking the bank.

Roommate capitals of the US: Santa Ana and Irvine rack up the largest share of roommates

Santa Ana emerges as the city with the largest share of roommates — currently at 36% — closely followed by Irvine, with 35% of dwellers living as roommates. While Santa Ana claims the highest share of roommates, there are about 8,970 people living as roommates there, as opposed to almost double the number in Irvine (18,000 roommates).

Madison claims the third-highest proportion of roommates (34%), which amounts to about 30,500 people that subscribe to this type of living arrangement mainly due to its college city status. The reputable University of Wisconsin at Madison attracts students in large numbers.

San Francisco, San Diego and Boston jointly snatch the fourth spot thanks to their large share of roommates, as 32% of non-family household occupants represent this group in each of the cities. San Diego (96,000 people) and San Francisco (91,000 people) attract more roommates, but Boston can also hold its own, with roughly 68,000 roommates.

With 30% of their dwellers living as roommates, a series of other cities also boast large numbers of them. Portland (58,865) attracts most roommates of those cities in this category, followed by San Jose (38,720), Lubbock (16,480), Anaheim (11,670), and Riverside (11,200). Being a college town explains the appeal some of these cities created for roommate living, but high populations, such as in California, also account for the larger share of roommates in these respective cities.

In cities such as Los Angeles and Orlando, 26% of their household occupants are also roommates. As expected, Los Angeles has the larger number of roommates (202,500) of the two cities, while Orlando claims only a fraction of LA’s numbers — at about 19,300 of them. Additionally, LA claims the second largest number of roommates across the country.

Surprisingly, New York City has only 21% of its residents living in a roommate household, similar to a series of other cities including Philadelphia, Phoenix, Milwaukee, and Tampa. The unsurprising fact here is NYC’s lead on the actual number of roommates (345,350), which also represents the highest number of roommates clustered in one city across the US. NYC is followed by Philadelphia (74,390), Phoenix (57,700), Milwaukee (28,120), and Tampa (17,970) in this category.

At the opposite end of the spectrum, Detroit (12%), Cleveland (13%), and El Paso (13%) are all vying for the lowest share of roommates. At least as far as Detroit and Cleveland are concerned, a reasonable cost of living is probably pushing people away from the roommate life, which might explain the lower share of roommates. While in Detroit there are about 17,180 people living as roommates, Cleveland claims fewer of them (13,050). El Paso registers even lower numbers of roommates (about 10,180).

Atlanta and Plano offer roommates the most personal space in a two-bedroom apartment

While splitting a two-bedroom apartment with a roommate does mean that some personal space is lost as opposed to renting a one-bedroom apartment, how significant is that loss? To find out, let’s look at how much personal space renters can enjoy when living with roommates in a two-bedroom apartment and where the compromise is acceptable, space-wise.

Roommates sharing a two-bedroom apartment enjoy the most square footage per person in Atlanta – approx. 547 sq. ft. Plano comes in second with 542 sq. ft. per person for the same living arrangements, putting the state’s slogan – “Everything is bigger in Texas” — to the test. In fact, Plano owes its spacious living spaces to the city’s careful planning that aims to promote economic development. The City of Excellence is followed by Omaha and Jacksonville which both tie for the third spot with 534 sq. ft. of personal space in the two-bedroom rental.

Incidentally, Henderson and Lincoln both share the same amount of space dedicated to a person within a two-bedroom apartment setting, with 528 sq. ft, followed by Irvine with 527 sq. ft. of personal space. Moreover, renters in Raleigh and Orlando would end up enjoying the same amount of personal space (526 sq. ft./person) when living with roommates in a two-bedroom apartment.

Provided that they rent a 5×5 storage unit to make up for some of the space lost, roommates in Tucson lose the least space (120 sq. ft.) when living in a two-bedroom apartment as opposed to renting a one-bedroom. Living with roommates in Oakland and Minneapolis loses you about the same amount of space (123 sq.ft.) for the same type of living arrangement.

Houston and Dallas, as the first and third populous cities in Texas, are offering renters the same amount of personal space — 519 sq. ft./person — within the two-bedroom apartment setting, when shared with roommates.

Whether you’re renting a two-bedroom apartment in Nashville or in St. Petersburg, you get to enjoy the same square footage of personal space in either city (513 sq. ft./person).

Renters living in Fort Worth and Denver enjoy the same square footage of personal space (511 sq. ft.) whether they hang their coats in the Panther City or in the Mile-High City. They are closely followed by the residents of Virginia Beach, who claim 509 sq. ft. of personal space when renting a two-bedroom apartment.

Whether you go for the warm Florida weather in Miami or you live across the country in Milwaukee, you get the same square footage of personal space which amounts to 500 sq. ft. Jersey City and San Antonio follow closely on their heels with 499 sq. ft. of personal space which comes with living in a two-bedroom apartment.

It might come as a surprise, but New York City and Louisville also offer the same amount of personal space (496 sq.ft.) to renters living in a two-bedroom apartment. While NYC is notorious for its cramped living spaces, who would have thought other unsuspecting cities would walk in the Big Apple’s shoes?

Honolulu ranked last, offering only 363 sq. ft. of personal space within the two-bedroom apartment setting. Newark came in second to last, with 411 sq. ft. dedicated to one person living with roommates in a two-bedroom apartment, closely followed by Buffalo with 412 sq. ft. of personal space for the same living arrangements.

DC, San Fran and Boston rack up the largest share of savings for two-bedroom apartment renters

Instead of renting a one-bedroom apartment, living with a roommate in a two-bedroom rental can prove to be a real money-saver. However, when deciding to take on roommates in order to live in a two-bedroom apartment, the inevitable happens: Renters will enjoy less square footage per person in the new living arrangement as opposed to renting a one-bedroom apartment on their own. To make up for that space loss — which amounts to about 25% of the personal space in a one-bedroom apartment per Yardi Matrix data, tenants can turn to self storage in order to keep some of their belongings away from home. Whether it’s seasonal decorations, sports gear, bulky clothing, or bikes, these items can stay safe in a 5×5 storage unit while helping roommates keep their homes uncluttered. To find out the costs of self storage for a 5×5 non-climate-controlled unit we used data provided by Yardi Matrix.

Let’s take a look at the cities that can get you the best bang for your buck when renting a two-bedroom apartment with roommates versus a one-bedroom one within the span of a year while covering the cost of self storage as well. Savings are also presented as a percentage, calculated from the personal median non-family household wage provided by the U.S. Census, as this category of income is more indicative of the roommate demographic.

Living in Boston with a roommate will earn you the most savings, as you can put aside 20% of your income when turning to this type of living arrangement, which brings you an extra $8,190/year to your pockets. You can get the second-highest share of savings in Santa Ana (18%) if you live with a roommate in a two-bedroom apartment, which translates to $5,814/year in savings.

In cities such as New York City, Atlanta, Riverside and Irvine people save about 17% of their income when living with roommates. Atlanta ($7,272/year) will bring you the fattest savings of the three cities, followed by NYC ($6,786/year) and Riverside ($5,298/year).

Washington DC and Charlotte follow close behind as roommates can save up to 16% of their income as opposed to living on their own. It is not surprise that, being the larger city, DC ($8,808/year) comes in front of Charlotte ($5,646/year).

On the opposite end of the spectrum, Detroit and Anchorage offer dwellers the smallest share of savings (6%) out of their income when they choose to have roommates. Anchorage ($2,400/year) helps you save more than Detroit ($1,428) if you choose the roommate life.

What the experts are saying

Besides all the financial aspects that pushed many young adults to live with roommates for longer, or to simply move back in with parents, this type of living arrangement also has social and psychological ramifications. Besides, the advent of COVID-19 emphasized the need for personal space, as the home became the center stage for living — fulfilling both a work/studying space and a personal space role too. As well as looking at data, we also wanted to get expert opinions on the issue, so we reached out to some esteemed professors to learn more on the subject of shared living in the current context of COVID-19.

Yana Kucheva, Assistant Professor, The City College of New York Yana Kucheva, Assistant Professor, The City College of New York 

How has personal space and co-living evolved in the past few decades in the US?

“More Americans now live by themselves than they did a few decades ago. Notwithstanding the trends during the Great Recession when many young adults went home to live with their parents, over the long run the US has consistently shown a trend toward smaller households and more single-person households.

That being said, rates of co-residence with other family members (or roommates) vary a lot by race/ethnicity, by household income, and by housing market costs.”

What are the pros and cons of shared living?

“Shared living can have numerous advantages. For example, we know that the relationship between parents and children improves with age, so co-residence in adulthood might be a lot more personally fulfilling compared to co-residence during a child’s teenage years. In fact, many young adults welcome the opportunity to live with their parents not only as a way to save money but also as a sense of comfort.

The lack of privacy and personal space in shared household arrangements is one of the biggest drawbacks. During the current pandemic, crowded household conditions have contributed to numerous new cases as transmission rates are very high for people who live in the same housing unit.

Overcrowded household conditions are also bad for the learning outcomes of children (and college students) as they make it hard to concentrate and complete schoolwork.
For newly formed multigenerational households, another drawback might be the so-called “failure to launch” effect. For example, some parents whose children came back home during the Great Recession experienced more depressive symptoms possibly because of the additional responsibilities of having a larger household. It could also be quite discouraging not to be able to make it on one’s own as a young adult, or – even worse – to have to go back living in a potentially unsafe family environment.”

How can people use their personal space to their advantage in the current context of several household members working from home or just being home for the most part of the day?

“Working from home is hard especially if one lives in overcrowded conditions. I think that employers (and schools) need to provide flexibility in how and when workers (and students) can complete their assignments. Without systemic change of how we work (and how we learn), making our homes more comfortable for the pandemic is not going to eliminate the need to rethink our relationship with our employers and their demands on our time and on our privacy.

I have an indoor container garden with tomatoes, peppers, and herbs that has helped me cope better with staying inside, but I do think it is on people with power (i.e. employers and school administrators) to make conditions better for people who now need to complete their work from home.”

Chandra Ward, Assistant Professor of Sociology, University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, Department of Social, Cultural, and Justice Studies Chandra Ward, Assistant Professor of Sociology, University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, Department of Social, Cultural, and Justice Studies

How has personal space and co-living evolved in the past few decades in the US? 

“Personal space and co-living have evolved in the past few decades as a result of economic shifts. First, increasing housing prices, the increasing cost of higher education and the economic and housing crisis of the late 2000s, millennials and now Gen Z have delayed moving out of their parent’s houses.

The previously stigmatizing image of living in your mother’s basement is increasingly becoming more socially acceptable as a practical, money-saving move for young adults. Multi-generational family cohabitation is becoming more common than it was in the latter half of the 20th century. The economic instability brought about by COVID-19 may only intensify this trend.”

What are the pros and cons of shared living?

“The pros of shared living is that there is more to carry the load – in theory. Expenses can be spread across those cohabitating allowing for savings in money and other resources.

The cons are especially heightened due to COVID-19. People who were at home together only some of the time are now home together all of the time. This can lead to a lot of psychological and interpersonal strain and tension as personal space is greatly reduced. This is especially true for housing situations where there is not outdoor space for people to use.

So areas where there is great housing density such as NYC or any dense multi-family housing developments with little to no outdoor space and where the amenities previously consisted of proximity to restaurants and bars present especially challenging living situations for roommates. Cities that are located in close proximity to ample outdoor recreation will be ideal in the wake of COVID-19 restrictions.”

Julianne Holt-Lunstad, Professor, Bringham Young University Julianne Holt-Lunstad, Professor, Bringham Young University 

How has personal space and co-living evolved in the past few decades in the US?

“Census data has shown that there are more Americans living alone than previously and size of household is shrinking.“

What are the pros and cons of shared living?

“Living alone has been associated with a 32% increased risk for earlier death, and increase the risk for loneliness. However, the benefits of shared living may be compromised if there is negativity, conflict, or strain.”

How can people use their personal space to their advantage in the current context of several household members working from home or just being home for the most part of the day?

“Data suggests that social connection/contact is beneficial, but they should be high quality. Mutual responsiveness to each others needs will be important for communicating care, trust, increasing satisfaction in those relationships.”

Kira Mauseth, Senior Instructor, Seattle University, Psychology Department Kira Mauseth, Senior Instructor, Seattle University, Psychology Department

What are the pros and cons of shared living?

“I can’t speak to shared living specifically, but I can speak to the idea that humans generally benefit a great deal from connection to others, and living alone, or in an isolated way without connection can certainly be emotionally and psychologically harmful. On the other hand, being forced to live in a situation where you are in close proximity to someone with whom you don’t get along or communicate well with is also problematic.”

How can people use their personal space to their advantage in the current context of several household members working from home or just being home for the most part of the day?

“The best suggestion I have is that people try to compartmentalize as best as they can. That certainly isn’t often possible in a limited space, but it is ideal. Having a dedicated “work” space is ideal, or a space that can be converted to work, and then back to home and family when the workday is over would be best.

The other thing that has changed about the way we use our spaces that is affecting people’s behavioral health is the lack of transition between work and home or work and family. If you can give yourself even one or two minutes to take some breaths between switching roles, it will help your stress levels. Going back and forth constantly between various difficult demands and doing that quickly throughout the day without having any transition time is very stressful and raises cortisol levels. Higher levels of cortisol are bad for physical health and can compromise the immune system, affect the way we feel, and impact sleep. Arranging your physical space in a way that can help support boundaries and transitions between work and home is helpful when possible.”

Conclusions

Cities that have the highest number of roommates living in a two-bedroom apartment offer them the potential of making more substantial savings as opposed to living in a one-bedroom setting. Even though cities such as San Francisco, Boston, DC and New York do require a larger portion of the paycheck to cover the cost of living, choosing to split the bills with a roommate does pay off in the end. Additionally, cities that register the lowest savings for tenants choosing a two-bedroom with a roommate also happen to be cities where the cost of living won’t lighten one’s wallet quite as much.

A similar pattern emerges when it comes to making a down payment: Residents of cities with a lower cost of living such as Detroit or Cleveland need lower down payments when purchasing a home as opposed to the more popular large metros like San Fran or LA where residents would have to dish out much more to cover the cost of a down payment.

When choosing to live with roommates in a two-bedroom apartment as opposed to renting a one-bedroom apartment, some space pertaining to communal areas is naturally lost, but renting a self storage unit can come to the rescue, making up for the lost space. All in all, choosing to live with a roommate comes with its long-term perks as opposed to renting a one-bedroom on your own.

Best cities for roommates by share of rommates savings personal space and self storage cost

Methodology

To compile our report, we included cities that have over 250,000 inhabitants. The ranking of the best cities for roommates was generated through a combined score based on a series of factors including share of roommates (40% weight), personal space when living with roommates in a two-bedroom apartment (20% weight), annual savings (20% weight) resulting from living with a roommate in a two-bedroom apartment and the cost of self storage (5% weight).

For information on roommates living in non-family households, we turned to 2019 U.S. Census data. To gauge the size of one-bedroom and two-bedroom apartments, we used data provided by Yardi Matrix. We then compared these two metrics to identify the difference in terms of personal space when renting a one-bedroom apartment as opposed to living with roommates in a two-bedroom one.

To calculate the savings made when living with roommates in a two-bedroom apartment as opposed to living by themselves in a one-bedroom, we turned to 2019 data on median rents provided by the U.S. Census. First, we subtracted the annual cost of renting a one-bedroom apartment from the cost of renting a two-bedroom apartment with a roommate. Then, to come up with the final figures on savings, we also subtracted the yearly cost of renting a 5×5 non-climate controlled self storage unit.

The percentage of savings was calculated in relation to the personal median non-family household wage provided by the U.S. Census, as this income category is more representative of the roommate demographic. To calculate the personal median non-family income, we divided the entire income for this category in a city by the number of non-family household dwellers.  

The average self storage rental rates are calculated for the 5×5 non-climate-controlled units using Yardi Matrix data.

The down payment values required for a home purchase represent 20% of the median mortgage of a home. We turned to the US Census to extract data on 2019 mortgage values.

For information on the cost of living we turned to the AdvisorSmith City Cost of Living Index . This data was not a metric included in our final ranking, but was used to provide additional context for some of the cities we looked at. 

Fair use and redistribution

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Author

Mirela is a creative writer for STORAGECafé. With an academic background in English and translation, Mirela now covers a range of topics including real estate trends, lifestyle and economy. Her previous experience in proofreading academic articles has inspired Mirela to choose a writing career path. In her free time, Mirela enjoys reading, but also hiking and creating art. You can contact Mirela via email.

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