It comes as no surprise to anyone who has tried to find an apartment in Silicon Valley. But in case you had any doubt, the U.S. Census Bureau confirmed on Tuesday that rents there are the highest in the country.

Map Courtesy of Kwelia.
The Bay Area rental market. Map shows median rental prices in Bay Area census tracts, with prices per square foot. (Courtesy of Kwelia)

The Census says that its 2011 American Community Survey found the estimated “gross median rent” in the San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara area—that’s supposed to be a measure of rent plus utilities—was $1,460.

No. 2 of the 360 or so metro areas the Census surveyed: Honolulu, with a gross median rent of $1,419. The San Francisco area’s median, including most of the East Bay and Marin County, was at $1,345. By comparison, the median rent for the nation was $871. The lowest was $501, in Wheeling, W.Va.

(Do these Bay Area rent numbers seem a little low? Remember the definition of median: That’s supposed to represent a midpoint, with half the rental costs in the survey above that number and half below it. Also remember that the Census report is the result of a survey, not a compilation of all rents. In the Bay Area, the survey’s reported margin of error for median rents is 20 percent in the South Bay and 14 percent in the San Francisco area.)

The bureau found that rents had dropped very slightly in the Bay Area from 2009 to 2011—by an estimated 10 bucks in Silicon Valley and 17 dollars in the San Francisco area. 

When measured by how much of their income they spent on rent, though, Bay Area residents were not among those struggling the most to afford housing, the Census Bureau found.

In Silicon Valley, 39 percent of renters were spending a third of their income or more on rent and utilities, compared with 43 percent in San Francisco-Oakland-Fremont. But more people were struggling to pay for housing in less wealthy places. The bureau found that 61 percent of renters in the Shasta County town of Redding were spending at least a third of their income on housing, which put the city in a tie with 25 other metro areas for the highest “burden” of rental costs.

The Bay Area doesn’t have a lot of empty rentals, but it doesn’t have the lowest vacancy rates either. In Silicon Valley, 2.7 percent of rental units were vacant. That figure was 4.1 percent for San Francisco-Oakland-Fremont. But the lowest vacancy rates were in Bismarck, N.D., with no vacancies at all (0 percent), and in Williamsport, Pa., with 0.3 percent.

  • Lifelong Renter

    $1,460/month to rent a house? Yeah, right. More like a studio or 1 bedroom at best.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=5127535 Lisa Douglass

      I agree! These figures sound awfully low to me.

    • http://www.facebook.com/marilee.hicks Marilee Hicks

      Agreed. I’d love to know where I can get a house for $1,460 a month. That would be much cheaper than my apartment!

  • luckyduck408

    Person who commented below is correct. For the avg. rent listed in this report, you can only get a dingy studio or 1 bedroom. Anything bigger, nicer, or a real “house” costs much more than what this report lists. Also, wealthy foreigners from outside of our country, who do not live here & wealthy cash investors are buying up all our homes and renting them out for outrageous profits. America is for sale!

  • http://www.facebook.com/jane.collins.547 Jane Collins

    I’m paying a lot more than that for a tiny 2 bedroom one bath cottage in Sunnyvale. These price averages are way off.

  • Sean

    Don’t buy it. Bad (either clueless or dishonest) data presentation. Median should be used instead of average to plot apartment rent maps because outliers skew averages tremendously. Remember the joke about Bill Gates strolling into a hardscrabble dive bar in Oklahoma and raising the average income of everyone there from $2k to $15 million.

    I think this source is the same real estate data company who posted a dishonest “rental prices in San Francisco” map a few weeks ago, no? The more people repost their stuff, the more well known their name becomes, so it’s in their interest to post the most melodramatic, outrageous content they can, regardless of whether it’s legit.

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