Houston is the Trader Joe’s of American cities: It’s quirky, international and hip. Yet it’s also surprisingly cheap.
If you count Thursdays at the MFA, the city’s largest art museums are all free. Plenty of bars in the Loop still sell $3 wells at happy hour. And while a growing list of stadiums in other cities price out the casual fan, I can still watch an Astros game for less than $15.
What I love about Houston is that the activities, goods and services that contribute to a high quality of life are still affordable for the middle class. Even though it’s one of the fastest-growing urban areas in the country, Houston remains the biggest bargain among American cites.
Cost of living: In this broad measure of everything from housing to healthcare, Houston’s costs come in 11 percent less than the national average (according to a Greater Houston Partnership report of ACCRA data from 2009). More telling, compared just to places with more than 2 million residents, the Bayou City’s cost of living is 20 percent below the average, making it one of the country’s most affordable big cities.
Cheap gas: The national average for a gallon of regular gas is about $2.62. In Houston, it’s about $2.40.
Cheap rent: Of the 10 largest U.S. cities, the three least expensive places to rent are all in Texas. According to the Census’ 2008 American Community Survey, Houston’s median rent was $775, just a hair above Dallas ($769) and San Antonio ($728).
Cheap houses: The same survey pegged Houston’s median home value at $124,700, about 35 percent less than the national average. Of the ten largest cities, only San Antonio reported cheaper housing.
While the Census figures are a touch out of date, and there are plenty of neighborhoods well beyond the reach of most people here, there’s a mountain of data out that proves my point.
I happen to be writing this in a well-kept, affordable two-bedroom apartment that’s within two miles of some of the best restaurants in the country and only three blocks away from mansions lining streets laid out by William Ward Watkin. I wouldn’t have found this place, or the life I’m living, in any other city.