Rent Payments

How much are renters paying each month?

Rent Payments

Rent payments refers to the cost of leasing an apartment or home and serves as a measure of housing costs for non-homeowners. The data reflects the median monthly rent paid by Bay Area households across apartments and homes of sizes and various levels of quality. This differs from list rents – advertised rents for available apartments – which are usually higher.

Housing is the biggest item in most household budgets, and is an especially significant expense in high-cost regions like the Bay Area. A number of factors affect rents. On the demand side, factors include population growth, household formation and income, along with the share of households preferring renting over owning a home. On the supply side, factors include the development and quality of new rental housing to meet that growth, along with any offerings of existing ownership units for rent. Additionally, policies exist in some communities to directly impact the rent levels, limiting allowed increases for the duration of a tenure.

Regional Performance
Inflation-adjusted median rent payments have risen seven percent in the Bay Area in the past two years.

While the Bay Area has traditionally been one of the nation’s more expensive regions, rents began their steep ascent after 1980 as the growing technology sector contributed to a booming regional economy. From 1980 to 2015, inflation-adjusted median monthly rent payments in the Bay Area rose 75 percent. The recent Great Recession hardly stalled this surge in rent prices.

Starting in 2012, rents have risen each year to record highs. The extraordinary rate of growth for median rent payments in just the past two years is on par with the increases last seen in the 1980s. No county in the region has been immune to these rising costs for rents, with increases ranging between 56 percent and 100 percent in inflation-adjusted dollars between 1970 and 2015.

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Historical Trend for Rent Payments

Local Focus
Counties that were once affordable have become less so over time, including highly-populated Alameda County.

While high-rent cities have remained expensive, some previously affordable places have grown significantly more expensive over time. With rents historically below the regional median, cities in Alameda County have had more affordable rental housing options compared to those in Marin, San Mateo, and Santa Clara counties, where median rents have been significantly higher since 1970. In the past three years, rent payments in Alameda have grown by 13 percent, with the fastest growth seen in the southern and eastern areas of the county. This pace is similar to the rapid rent increases seen in Silicon Valley and even faster than rent increases in San Francisco, in part due to that city’s rent control policies.

In the North Bay, Napa, Sonoma and Solano counties are relatively affordable options for Bay Area renters. Prior to the Great Recession, these counties experienced the fastest percentage growth in rents compared to 1970. This growth in rents even exceeded high-cost San Francisco, although it partially reflected these counties’ relative affordability in 1970. Since the Great Recession, median rent payments in Solano County – traditionally the most affordable place for Bay Area renters – have remained stable, as have median rent payments in Sonoma County. Conversely, median rent payments continued to rise in Napa County, with costs in 2015 double those of 1970.

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2017 Rent Payments by Neighborhood

Click on a shape on the map for more information.
National Context
The Bay Area remains the nation’s most expensive major metro area for renters.

The Bay Area has had the highest median rent payments of any major metro are in the United States since data first became available in the 1970s. While the Bay Area has experienced booming demand for rental housing, land use policies have limited the supply of new housing, contributing to higher rents. Our region’s median rent payments have also grown faster than any other major metro area except New York over the last 45 years. Overall rents increased in the nation’s most populous city due to the gentrification of historically low-income neighborhoods in Manhattan and Brooklyn.

Metro Comparison for Rent Payments


U.S Census Bureau: Decennial Census

Count 1 and Count 2 – (1970)

Form STF1 – (1980-1990)

Form SF3a – (2000)

U.S. Census Bureau: American Community Survey

Form B25058 (2006-2015)

Bureau of Labor Statistics: Consumer Price Index

All Urban Consumers Data Table (1970-2015; specific to each metro area)

Image: Flickr (Creative Commons license), Photographer: Mark Tarloc

Methodology Notes: 

Rent data reflects median rent payments rather than list rents (refer to measure definition above). Larger geographies (metro and county) rely upon ACS 1-year data, while smaller geographies rely upon ACS 5-year rolling average data. 1970 Census data for median rent payments has been imputed by ABAG staff as the source data only provided the mean, rather than the median, monthly rent. Metro area boundaries reflects today’s metro area definitions by county for consistency, rather than historical metro area boundaries. The U.S. Census has upper-limit thresholds for reporting rent payments data. The dataset may not accurately represent median rent payments above the threshold. For example, in 2015 the threshold was $3,500. A city with a median rent payment of $4,000 will have a median rent payment of $3,501 in the dataset since $4,000 is above the upper threshold of $3,500. The threshold in reporting year dollars for each year is the following: 1970 – not applicable; 1980 – $500; 1990 – $1,001; 2000 to 2014 - $2,000; 2015 - $3,500. Inflation-adjusted data are presented to illustrate how rent payments have grown relative to overall price increases; that said, the use of the Consumer Price Index does create some challenges given the fact that housing represents a major chunk of the consumer goods bundle used to calculate CPI. This reflects a methodological tradeoff between precision and accuracy and is a common concern when working with any commodity that is a major component of CPI itself.