Weighed down by affordability

Houston drops double-digit spots in prestigious ranking of best places to live in the U.S.

Houston drops 12 spots in ranking of best places to live in the U.S.

Houston skyline
What's wrong with Houston, U.S. News? Coalition for the Homeless of Houston/Facebook

Houston has once again missed the top of U.S. News & World Report’s closely watched annual list of the best places to live in the U.S.

U.S. News' 2021 Best Places to Live ranking, released July 13, puts Houston at No. 39 among the country’s biggest metro areas. That's 12 spots lower than the area’s No. 27 ranking in 2020.

What's going on here?

For the 2021 ranking, U.S. News & World Report crunched data for the country’s 150 biggest metro areas. It's worth nothing that in previous years, they'd looked at the 125 biggest metro areas. The data in 2021 encompasses affordability, job prospects, desirability, quality of life, and migration patterns.

“This year we’re looking at how the most populous metro areas in the U.S. fared for much of the coronavirus pandemic, and seeing how far they’ll need to come to recover,” says Devon Thorsby, U.S. News real estate editor, in a release. “It shouldn’t be a surprise that many metro areas that saw unemployment levels skyrocket in 2020 fell in the rankings, but those with greater employment stability tended to fare well.”

Still, U.S. News lauds Houston — which ranks No. 22 in their subcategory of Best Places to Retire — for attracting people with an entrepreneurial spirit and those who want to work at some of the country's largest companies."

"A paycheck goes further in Houston than it does in other major metro areas, with affordable housing and free or cheap attractions like biking along Buffalo Bayou and exploring the 7,800-acre George Bush Park," says the report. "The affordability of this region, which is located in southeastern Texas and home to nearly 7 million residents in the metro area, is attracting new people from across the country and around the world."

Fun, award-winning attractions like the Museum of Fine Art and the Houston Zoo "attract lots of Houstonians week after week, as do family-friendly activities such as free concerts at the Miller Outdoor Theatre and Discovery Green," the report adds. The Bayou City also ranks No. 3 in the reports Best Places to Live in Texas.

Houston wasn't the only place to fall hard. Every large city in Texas tumbled down the list this year:

Dallas-Fort Worth, ranked No. 37 in 2021, was No. 24 last year.

San Antonio, ranked No. 75 in 2021, was No. 41 last year.

Even buzzy Austin came in at just No. 5 this year, two spots lower than the area’s No. 3 ranking in 2020, and four spots below its first-place showings in 2017, 2018, and 2019. 

“Housing affordability is always of great concern, but as people solidify their plans to work remotely, struggle to find a house in a hot housing market or consider a cross-country move, a low cost of living is even more important,” Thorsby says.

Who comes out on top in 2021? Boulder, Colorado, appears at No. 1 on this year’s list, followed by Raleigh-Durham, North Carolina, at No. 2; Huntsville, Alabama, at No. 3; and Fayetteville, Arkansas, at No. 4.

No other Texas metro area besides Austin showed up in the top 25 of this year’s ranking. Elsewhere in the state, Killeen-Temple landed at No. 114, Beaumont-Port Arthur at No. 124, Corpus Christi at No. 129, El Paso at No. 131, McAllen at No. 139, and Brownsville at No. 140.