San Antonio is still buzzing about its low ranking on the nation’s list of “Young and Restless” cities, which compares metro areas with more than one million people and the size of their college-educated, Millennial population. The good news buried in that study by the City Observatory think tank is that San Antonio has been doing a good job of playing catch-up over the last decade.
Now comes another good news/bad news list from Kiplinger, the online financial newsletter, that reports San Antonio is “America’s Biggest Cheap City.” The designation comes in a study of “The 10 Most Affordable Big Cities in the U.S.” That title is bit misleading because the closest city in size to San Antonio in the survey is Columbus, Ohio, which is smaller by more than 500,000 people.
Anytime a national publication looks at San Antonio, the news quickly circulates among a community of developers, real estate people, city officials and others focused on building a better San Antonio.
“Well, being known for being a cheap place to live isn’t all bad,” wrote one well-known developer in an email sharing the story link with colleagues.
“No one wants to see the cost of living go up locally, we certainly don’t want to become Austin,” said another developer who sent me the same story link, “but we’d like to be known for something other than being a cheap date. Don’t quote me on that, please.”
The Kiplinger survey compares the cost of living in its 10 select cities against the national average, comparing both median home values and incomes as well as median residential rents, and unemployment rates.
Memphis was ranked first on this most affordable list with median home values 46% below the national average. The city also has a 9.9% unemployment rate, surely a contributing factor to depressed home values.
Columbus is second on the list, and given that it’s the state capital, home to Ohio State University and has a population of 822,533, its profile is similar to that of Austin. It’s the closest city in size in the survey to San Antonio, which has a population of 1.4 million. Median home price in Columbus: $134,900. Median home price in Austin (which didn’t make the Kiplinger list): $230,530.
Omaha is third, Nashville is fourth, and Tulsa is fifth. All but Memphis have higher median home values than San Antonio, and only Memphis and Nashville have higher unemployment rates than San Antonio.
San Antonio is sixth on the list. Cost of living is 11.2% below the national average. Median home price is $113,100, and median household income is $44,937. The unemployment rate is 5%. At 23.4 minutes, San Antonio’s average commute from home to work is the longest of the top six cities.
Here’s what Kiplinger has to say about the city:
“Forget the Alamo. San Antonio’s true claim to fame just might be its right to call itself ‘America’s Biggest Cheap City.’ Often overshadowed, San Antonio actually has a bigger population than Dallas or Austin – yet its living costs are much lower than either of its better-known Texas neighbors. It also has more than half a million more people than the second-largest city on this list, Columbus, Ohio. Nearly two-thirds of San Antonio’s residents are Hispanic, giving the city a multicultural vibe.
“Speaking of the Alamo, entry to the downtown landmark is free – fitting for such an affordable place to live. There’s also no charge to stroll the nearby River Walk. A margarita can be found for just $3 during happy hour at one of the bars lining the water,” the review continued.
That’s all we got: the Alamo, the River Walk, and cheap margaritas. Attention, Convention and Visitors Bureau: time for a new marketing campaign?
Lexington, KY, Lincoln, Neb., Oklahoma City, and Louisville, KY, round out the list.
Kiplinger publishes another annual list of The 10 Cheapest Places to Live in the U.S., and in this year’s survey, three of the 10 cities were in Texas, with Harlingen in the Rio Grande Valley finishing in the No. 1 spot, Wichita Falls at No. 8 and Temple at No. 9. The editors go out of their way to say half of the 10 cities have populations of 100,000 or less, and that three other Texas cities also finished high: San Marcos, McAllen, and you guessed it, San Antonio.
*Featured/top image: A view of the Torch of Friendship, located in the traffic rotary of Losoya, Commerce, Market and Alamo Streets in downtown San Antonio. Photo courtesy of the San Antonio Convention and Visitors Bureau.