Top (And Worst!) Virginia Cities For Renters

Photo by Tierra Mallorca on Unsplash

By Amie Knowles

July 14, 2022

Five Virginia cities made the list — did your favorite?

There’s no place like home — and according to WalletHub, Dorothy’s home state of Kansas had a city, Overland Park, which ranked as the second best city in the United States for renters. How did Virginia compare? Well, not too bad.

On July 13, the personal finance website released its annual Best & Worst Places to Rent in America. This year’s list compared the 150 most populated US cities, including and in addition to, at least two of the most populated cities in each state. 

The report’s findings were based on 22 key indicators of rental attractiveness and quality of life. The data set included historical rental-price changes, the cost of living, job availability, average home square footage, rental vacancy rates, and more.

Out of 182 cities total, Virginia had five that made the list — and all but one were along the coast! 

Top Virginia Cities For Renters

All four coastal cities ranked within the top third on the list. That’s good news because that means they’re some of the best cities for renters in the country.

Out of the four, Chesapeake came in first place for Virginia, and at number 32 nationally. The bay area city had a population of more than 242,600 in 2020, and the residents had a median income of $38,700.

According to Rent Cafe, approximately 25% of the more than 86,500 homes in Chesapeake were renter-occupied, while approximately 74% were owner-occupied. Average rent in the area in February was $1,478, compared to the national average at $1,628, and the average apartment size was 980 sq. ft. 

Virginia Beach wasn’t far behind Chesapeake, snagging spot number 37, but the seaside city had a drastically higher population at more than 450,800 people. However, the median income was just slightly higher by comparison, at $39,400.

Rental rates were nearly identical between the two cities, with Virginia Beach residents paying on average $1,492 a month with the average apartment size being 973 sq. ft. Out of the more than 172,400 residences in the city, approximately 68% were owner-occupied, and about 31% were rented.

Next to squeeze in a top third spot was Newport News at number 55. Home to Christopher Newport University, more than 179,500 people live in the college city. The median income was lower than two of the other top Virginia cities, at $31,100

Compared to Chesapeake and Virginia Beach, rent was a couple hundred dollars lower, averaging $1,209. Apartment space was also slightly smaller at 922 sq. ft. on average. There were more than 70,300 residences in Newport News, with about 39% occupied by renters and about 60% occupied by homeowners. 

Norfolk narrowly made the top third at spot number 57. The city housing Norfolk State University had a population of 244,300. Despite being known for a lucrative ship building business, the port city’s median average income was the lowest out of the top four, at $27,100.

While Norfolk’s average rent remained comparable to Newport News at $1,263, the average apartment size was significantly smaller than Virginia’s top-ranking Chesapeake, at 878 sq. ft. Out of the four top Virginia cities for renters, Norfolk had the highest number of renters compared to homeowners, with approximately 42% of residents renting, compared to close to 57% buying the more than 89,300 homes available. 

Worst Virginia City For Renters (Spoiler Alert: Sorry, Richmond)

Well, this is awkward. Out of the five Virginia cities to make the list, the commonwealth’s capital came in last. Not only did it snag the last spot in Virginia, but it’s the only Old Dominion city not in the top third of the metrics’ findings.

It gets more dreary the further down and down (and down) the list you go. Richmond didn’t fall in the middle of the results, either. Turns out, RVA ended up in the bottom third. The commonwealth’s beloved “River City,” a hub for the arts, for history, and for change, slid in at spot number 158. 

Richmond had a population of 229,200, with residents making a median income of $28,500. The average rent was $1,384, with an average apartment being the smallest of all five Virginia cities featured, at 862 sq. ft. 

There were just over 91,000 housing options in the city, with about 55% of households rented and approximately 44% owner-occupied. Despite being in the bottom third on WalletHub’s list, Richmond was the only city out of the five in Virginia to have a higher renter than owner percentage. 

Considering Population Growth

According to the United States Census Bureau, only one of the top cities in Virginia for renters experienced mild population growth from April 2020 to July 2021; that was a 0.7% increase in Chesapeake. Richmond remained steady at no percentage gained and no percentage lost. Norfolk, Newport News, and Virginia Beach all lost a portion of their populations at -1.2%, -0.9%, and -0.4% respectively.

WalletHub asked Tatiana Vdovina, a finance Ph.D candidate from Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri, if the fastest growing cities were good places for renters. 

“Yes and no. Let’s start with the negatives. Increasing demand for apartments with limited rental inventory naturally brings forth higher rents both in newer units and older buildings…Due to the limited availability of rental units, negotiating lower rates in the rental contract is difficult,” Vdovina said. “But for newcomers, moving to the fastest growing cities is usually due to them accepting a high-paying job offer that would not be available elsewhere. Fast growth often involves improving urban infrastructure, including more options for shopping, entertainment, and recreation. During the pandemic, we also saw growth in areas with relatively low costs of living that offered high quality of life, mostly driven by professionals who started working remotely.”

Another expert, David Fiorenza, an assistant Professor at Villanova University, also weighed in on the question. 

“The fastest-growing cities are not always the best, as the rent is increasing faster in these cities,” Fiorenza said. “If possible, look for cities in the range of 50,000 or less in population. They are more manageable from a municipal viewpoint.”

Overall, WalletHub ranked Columbia, Maryland, as the best place for renters, and Detroit, Michigan, as the worst (our condolences to our friends over at The Gander).

  • Amie Knowles

    Amie is Dogwood's community editor. She has been in journalism for several years, winning multiple awards from the Virginia Press Association for news and features content. A lifelong Virginia resident, her work has appeared in the Martinsville Bulletin, Danville Register & Bee and NWNC Magazine.

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