Is Pittsburgh Really the Most Affordable City in the World?

Moneybox
A blog about business and economics.
Jan. 28 2014 2:28 PM

What's the Most Affordable City in the World?  

81437436-the-pittsburgh-skyline-during-game-six-of-the-2008-nhl
The Pittsburgh skyline.

Photo by A. J. Messier/Getty Images

Pittsburgh is the most affordable city in the world. At least it is according to the method used by Demographia International (PDF) in a report that really only surveys a handful of countries. But Pittsburgh is, at least, the most affordable city in the United States of America.

I think it's a little bit hard to say whether the methodology chosen really makes that case. What it did basically was look at the ratio of the median home price in any given market to the median income in that market. You can see why this is helpful for doing international comparisons, but I don't like it very much in a domestic context. It carries the unfortunate implication that San Francisco could increase its "affordability" by deporting all the low-income workers to outside the metro area boundaries, thus raising the median household income. Conversely, it ignores the fact that average homes may be of different sizes in different places. If the median home in Dallas is twice as large as the median home in Pittsburgh, but costs 10 percent more, then Dallas is more affordable than Pittsburgh, not less.

Methodological quibbles aside, I think this at least gives you a decent approximation. Its 10 most affordable cities of Pittsburgh, Detroit, Atlanta, Cleveland, St. Louis, Kansas City, Dallas, Minneapolis, Houston, and Charlotte, N.C., are among the most affordable cities in America. Conversely, Hong Kong and San Francisco are very expensive. The policy bottom line is that "the affordable markets are generally characterized by liberal land use regulation"—by which the authors mean "liberal" as in "not too strict" rather than "liberal" as in "left-wing."

Advertisement

Last but by no means least it's worth noting that the affordable cities list here is kind of a grab bag. Detroit may be affordable, but it's also a city in crisis. Pittsburgh, by contrast, is a great rust-belt economic success story with an economy reoriented around health care, technology, and education. Houston and Dallas are adding people at staggering rates. It's some very different paths to affordability.

Matthew Yglesias is the executive editor of Vox and author of The Rent Is Too Damn High.

TODAY IN SLATE

Technocracy

Forget Oculus Rift

This $25 cardboard box turns your phone into an incredibly fun virtual reality experience.

Republicans Want the Government to Listen to the American Public on Ebola. That’s a Horrible Idea.

The 2014 Kansas City Royals Show the Value of Building a Mediocre Baseball Team

The GOP Won’t Win Any Black Votes With Its New “Willie Horton” Ad

Sleater-Kinney Was Once America’s Best Rock Band

Can it be again?

Politics

Smash and Grab

Will competitive Senate contests in Kansas and South Dakota lead to more late-breaking races in future elections?

I Am 25. I Don’t Work at Facebook. My Doctors Want Me to Freeze My Eggs.

These Companies in Japan Are More Than 1,000 Years Old

  News & Politics
The World
Oct. 21 2014 11:40 AM The U.S. Has Spent $7 Billion Fighting the War on Drugs in Afghanistan. It Hasn’t Worked. 
  Business
Moneybox
Oct. 21 2014 1:12 PM The Global Millionaires Club Is Booming and Losing Its Exclusivity
  Life
Atlas Obscura
Oct. 21 2014 12:40 PM Asamkirche: The Rococo Church Where Death Hides in Plain Sight
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 21 2014 1:12 PM George Tiller's Murderer Threatens Another Abortion Doctor, Claims Right of Free Speech
  Slate Plus
Behind the Scenes
Oct. 21 2014 1:02 PM Where Are Slate Plus Members From? This Weird Cartogram Explains. A weird-looking cartogram of Slate Plus memberships by state.
  Arts
Behold
Oct. 21 2014 12:05 PM Same-Sex Couples at Home With Themselves in 1980s America
  Technology
Technology
Oct. 21 2014 10:43 AM Social Networking Didn’t Start at Harvard It really began at a girls’ reform school.
  Health & Science
Climate Desk
Oct. 21 2014 11:53 AM Taking Research for Granted Texas Republican Lamar Smith continues his crusade against independence in science.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Oct. 20 2014 5:09 PM Keepaway, on Three. Ready—Break! On his record-breaking touchdown pass, Peyton Manning couldn’t even leave the celebration to chance.