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.
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.