Metros where rents have spiked the most during COVID-19

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April 28, 2021
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Metros where rents have spiked the most during COVID-19

Many major metropolitan hubs like New York City and San Francisco, which were hit hard during the pandemic with high infection rates and overwhelmed medical systems, are seeing a decrease in rental costs, while smaller cities are seeing an uptick in rental prices. This was due in part to safety as people searched for places to live with lower infection rates during the early days of the pandemic. The ability many people now have to work remotely, which allows them to find more affordable and spacious areas to live, also plays a factor.

Many cities and landlords have set up incentives to draw people to these secondary markets. Free months of rent, gift cards, and moving grants are just some of the perks making it hard for people to say no to renting in these rising rental markets, which often offer safer surroundings, more space, and greater affordability than their big-city counterparts.

Stacker used March 2021 data from the Zillow Observed Rent Index to compile a list of 50 metros that had the highest one-year growth between February 2020 and February 2021. The Zillow Observed Rent Index measures changes in rent prices over time, standardizing data across all types of housing units that exist in each metro. Data is collected every month for the 100 most populous metros. The in-depth methodology for how the rent index is calculated can be found here.

Join Stacker as we explore the metros with the biggest rent spikes during the pandemic.

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#50. Scranton, PA

- One-year rent growth: 5.5%
--- February 2021 rent index: $933 (45.4% less than national average)
--- February 2020 rent index: $884

While Scranton’s rent prices have increased over the past year, many residents have struggled to pay for housing due to the continued impact of the coronavirus. To combat this issue, the Rent, Mortgage, and Utility Relief Assistance Program will deliver CARES Act funding programs to assist city residents. Many New Yorkers have fled to northeastern Pennsylvania during the pandemic in search of a less hectic pace, driving up the need for both homes and rentals in Scranton.

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#49. Chattanooga, TN

- One-year rent growth: 5.5%
--- February 2021 rent index: $1,297 (24.1% less than national average)
--- February 2020 rent index: $1,229

Early on in the pandemic, Chattanooga’s rents were steadily climbing. But the rent increase actually began before the COVID-19 pandemic, and was due, in part, to significant job growth in the Tennessee city.

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#48. Cincinnati, OH

- One-year rent growth: 5.6%
--- February 2021 rent index: $1,261 (26.2% less than national average)
--- February 2020 rent index: $1,194

In January 2021, rents were up in Cincinnati for the 20th consecutive month and more than 50% of the city’s households rent rather than own. The largest city in the state boasts increased job growth as well as a cost of living 9% below the national average, both of which are attractive for many who have been hit hard financially during the pandemic.

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#47. Little Rock, AR

- One-year rent growth: 5.8%
--- February 2021 rent index: $908 (46.8% less than national average)
--- February 2020 rent index: $858

Lower cost of living and warm weather are drawing renters to Little Rock during the pandemic. According to WalletHub, the capital city of Arkansas is one of the best cities for renters in the country.

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#46. Columbus, OH

- One-year rent growth: 5.8%
--- February 2021 rent index: $1,282 (24.9% less than national average)
--- February 2020 rent index: $1,212

Before COVID-19, rents were on the rise in Columbus due to a population boom and a lack of rental units. Since the pandemic, rents have risen even more, and while the economic downturn brought on by the pandemic has been felt in Columbus, the housing market continues to grow. This means many young professionals find themselves priced out of the market and must turn to rentals.

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#45. Worcester, MA

- One-year rent growth: 5.8%
--- February 2021 rent index: $1,460 (14.5% less than national average)
--- February 2020 rent index: $1,380

An increase in demand for lower-cost housing options during the pandemic has pushed people out of Boston and other high-priced housing and rental areas surrounding the city. This makes Worcester, which is about an hour west of Boston, an appealing place to live for renters. While rental prices have increased, it is still more affordable than a rental in the city of Boston.

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#44. Tulsa, OK

- One-year rent growth: 5.9%
--- February 2021 rent index: $1,176 (31.1% less than national average)
--- February 2020 rent index: $1,110

During the pandemic, many smaller cities began offering incentives to entice people to become residents. Tulsa is one such city. Tulsa Remote is a one-year program that takes advantage of the shift to remote work for many young professionals during the pandemic by offering a $10,000 grant to relocate to the city. While the program existed before the pandemic, it has flourished since COVID-19 with more applications and many pandemic moves to Tulsa.

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#43. Winston-Salem, NC

- One-year rent growth: 5.9%
--- February 2021 rent index: $1,274 (25.4% less than national average)
--- February 2020 rent index: $1,203

Ranked #2 of the top 10 cities in terms of personal space, with an average apartment size of 916 square feet and an average square foot per renter of 723, Winston-Salem is an attractive place for city dwellers who want more space both inside and outside. The United Van Lines 2020 National Migration Study ranked Greensboro-Winston-Salem #24 out of the top “inbound” (meaning people are moving in) states, and found that COVID-19 is having a significant impact on where people chose to move, noting that many are moving from urban to rural areas.

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#42. Durham, NC

- One-year rent growth: 5.9%
--- February 2021 rent index: $1,453 (14.9% less than national average)
--- February 2020 rent index: $1,372

Rents have increased in “The Triangle” as a whole since the pandemic began. The increase began before COVID-19 and rents in this area of North Carolina were already outpacing the national average. In comparison to Raleigh, another Triangle city, Durham’s apartment market is much smaller, which means the rent average is affected more by high-priced, brand new apartment units.

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#41. Buffalo, NY

- One-year rent growth: 6.0%
--- February 2021 rent index: $1,157 (32.3% less than national average)
--- February 2020 rent index: $1,091

Many people from the New York metropolitan area are relocating to Buffalo during the pandemic. The Western New York city, while not as centrally located as New York City, offers more space and affordability. With many workers able to work remotely for the foreseeable future, Buffalo is attracting not only renters but buyers as well. With a typical home price of $190,000, it makes sense.

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#40. Columbia, SC

- One-year rent growth: 6.1%
--- February 2021 rent index: $1,213 (29.0% less than national average)
--- February 2020 rent index: $1,143

Nearly 16 million people moved during the pandemic, according to address data from the USPS, and South Carolina was the second most popular place to relocate. COVID-19 has convinced many baby boomers near retirement age to retire a bit sooner and with warm temperatures and affordability, Columbia is a great choice. Many recent retirees have left major Northern cities like Boston and New York for smaller Southern cities.

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#39. Stamford, CT

- One-year rent growth: 6.1%
--- February 2021 rent index: $2,116 (23.9% greater than national average)
--- February 2020 rent index: $1,994

Connecticut has become a destination for many professionals moving out of New York, which was not only hit hard by the pandemic but is also no longer a necessity for those seeking well-paid jobs. Thanks to the remote work many have been doing since the pandemic, Stamford is a viable option for New Yorkers. While New Yorkers have driven rent up in Stamford, it still offers more affordable rental and housing options than New York City.

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#38. Gainesville, GA

- One-year rent growth: 6.2%
--- February 2021 rent index: $1,410 (17.4% less than national average)
--- February 2020 rent index: $1,328

Gainesville is not alone; several cities in Georgia have seen rent increases during the pandemic. Not only does Gainesville offer out-of-staters a warm climate and affordable living, but Georgia COVID-19 restrictions, including those on gatherings and distancing, have been loosened as of April 8, 2021, with Gov. Brian Kemp declaring the state “open for business.”

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#37. North Port-Sarasota-Bradenton, FL

- One-year rent growth: 6.2%
--- February 2021 rent index: $2,080 (21.8% greater than national average)
--- February 2020 rent index: $1,958

With many people retiring early because they were pushed out of the workforce due to the pandemic, a new set of retirees looking for affordable living and warm weather have headed to Florida. The Sarasota-Bradenton area is known for its heavy population of retirees. While rent has increased in the area, it is still cheaper than the national average and that of expensive metropolitan areas.

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#36. Atlanta, GA

- One-year rent growth: 6.3%
--- February 2021 rent index: $1,615 (5.4% less than national average)
--- February 2020 rent index: $1,519

According to a 2020 study by United Van Lines, more people are moving into the state of Georgia than out. While other major cities in the U.S. are experiencing a decrease in rent prices, it is interesting that Atlanta is doing the exact opposite. The city has seen some growth, but it is suburban Atlanta rentals that have truly skyrocketed.

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#35. Colorado Springs, CO

- One-year rent growth: 6.4%
--- February 2021 rent index: $1,604 (6.1% less than national average)
--- February 2020 rent index: $1,508

While rent prices are up in Colorado Springs, they’ve gone down in nearby Denver. Normally the reverse would be true, but this shift has been attributed to the pandemic. Colorado Springs offers renters more space for less money than bigger cities like Denver, and with many people working remotely, this pandemic shift makes sense.

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#34. Springfield, MA

- One-year rent growth: 6.4%
--- February 2021 rent index: $1,656 (3.0% less than national average)
--- February 2020 rent index: $1,557

The Western Massachusetts city’s rental prices began their climb well before the pandemic, along with several other cities in the state. While rents are increasing in the city, it also has a high rate of evictions due to the financial struggles brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.

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#33. Dayton, OH

- One-year rent growth: 6.5%
--- February 2021 rent index: $1,002 (41.3% less than national average)
--- February 2020 rent index: $941

Ohio ranked among the top five moving destinations in 2020, according to U-Haul data. Dayton is home to a vibrant college scene, and while rental prices have spiked there, they still remain affordable.

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#32. Virginia Beach, VA

- One-year rent growth: 6.5%
--- February 2021 rent index: $1,380 (19.2% less than national average)
--- February 2020 rent index: $1,296

In late July 2020, the city of Virginia Beach purchased a full-page national advertisement in the Wall Street Journal declaring Virginia Beach “open for business.” Not only does the city offer affordable rent during a time when many are struggling financially, but it offers a great place for businesses to relocate.

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#31. Lakeland, FL

- One-year rent growth: 6.5%
--- February 2021 rent index: $1,488 (12.9% less than national average)
--- February 2020 rent index: $1,397

Florida has drawn many in the Great American Move spurred by COVID-19 with affordable homes and rentals. Lakeland offers the amenities of a city and the feel of a small-town community. Located between Tampa Bay and Orlando, it offers affordability and accessibility to those migrating from places like New York and California during the pandemic.

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#30. Toledo, OH

- One-year rent growth: 6.6%
--- February 2021 rent index: $932 (45.4% less than national average)
--- February 2020 rent index: $874

According to The National Association of Realtors, Toledo ranked #8 in the nation for millennials moving in 2019, as 69% of new residents in the city were in their 20s or 30s. During the pandemic, while rents have risen, the city continues to draw new residents in part because many young professionals were granted the opportunity to work remotely and are looking to relocate to smaller, more affordable cities like Toledo.

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#29. Jacksonville, FL

- One-year rent growth: 6.6%
--- February 2021 rent index: $1,375 (19.5% less than national average)
--- February 2020 rent index: $1,290

According to a study by United Van Lines tracking migration patterns in the U.S., not only was Florida a big inbound state during 2020, but the city of Jacksonville was as well. The northeastern Florida city had 57% inbound moves and only 43% outbound migration. This is due in part to the many people who have left harder hit cities with much higher rates of infection such as New York, Boston, and Seattle.

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#28. Indianapolis, IN

- One-year rent growth: 6.9%
--- February 2021 rent index: $1,237 (27.6% less than national average)
--- February 2020 rent index: $1,157

Not only does Indianapolis have a thriving rental market, but Forbes named the Midwestern city one of the housing markets to watch in 2021. With many people moving from big cities to less populated parts of the country, Indiana began thinking of offering incentives to lure people to the affordable city of Indianapolis.

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#27. Daytona Beach, FL

- One-year rent growth: 6.9%
--- February 2021 rent index: $1,494 (12.5% less than national average)
--- February 2020 rent index: $1,398

Florida is one of the top states experiencing a boom in new residents during the pandemic, and many of its cities have found a spot on this list. Daytona Beach has seen rising rental prices, which are partially due to an overwhelmed housing market. The housing shortage in the city has caused the rise of more rentals to ease the burdened market.

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#26. Stockton, CA

- One-year rent growth: 6.9%
--- February 2021 rent index: $2,157 (26.3% greater than national average)
--- February 2020 rent index: $2,018

While many have left California during COVID-19, due to shutdowns during the early stages of the pandemic, certain cities remain appealing. In an analysis conducted by U-Haul on migration patterns, the company found that Stockton was one of the top destinations for those leaving the Bay Area.

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#25. Akron, OH

- One-year rent growth: 7.1%
--- February 2021 rent index: $968 (43.3% less than national average)
--- February 2020 rent index: $904

Akron had a booming rental market that began before the pandemic. According to the Akron Beacon Journal, rents continued to rise during COVID-19 for several reasons including inflated building material and labor costs and low interest rates that are pushing up property values, which increases taxes.

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#24. Albuquerque, NM

- One-year rent growth: 7.1%
--- February 2021 rent index: $1,247 (27.0% less than national average)
--- February 2020 rent index: $1,164

Before the pandemic, rents were on the rise in Albuquerque, though it was still one of the most affordable cities in the West. According to the New York Times, the city saw one of the highest rent increases in the country between January 2020 and January 2021, which was due in part to COVID-19 and the number of people who now work remotely and can relocate to places with more space and cheaper rentals and homes.

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#23. Detroit, MI

- One-year rent growth: 7.3%
--- February 2021 rent index: $1,276 (25.3% less than national average)
--- February 2020 rent index: $1,189

In spite of being hit hard during the pandemic, Detroit's rental prices and housing prices have risen. While the prices are going up, Detroit still offers affordability in a city that also boasts several suburban areas as well.

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#22. El Paso, TX

- One-year rent growth: 7.4%
--- February 2021 rent index: $1,137 (33.4% less than national average)
--- February 2020 rent index: $1,059

Rent has risen in this Texas city during the pandemic, and it certainly has to do with the migration of residents from other cities like Los Angeles. Former Angelenos are drawn to the similarly warm weather, much lower cost of living, and wide-open spaces. El Paso is still a large city, so it also checks that box for the Western transplants.

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#21. Fresno, CA

- One-year rent growth: 7.5%
--- February 2021 rent index: $1,587 (7.1% less than national average)
--- February 2020 rent index: $1,476

The rental market in Fresno began rising well before the pandemic in part due to a booming health care sector. During the three-year period from 2017–2020, rent increased by 22.6%. The average home value in Fresno is near $300,000, which means the home market has risen almost as fast as the rental market.

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#20. Tampa, FL

- One-year rent growth: 7.5%
--- February 2021 rent index: $1,593 (6.7% less than national average)
--- February 2020 rent index: $1,482

Tampa has experienced year-over-year growth of 5.7% in the rental market, which is above the state average. Tampa and the Tampa Bay area offer affordability that make it an attractive area to live in, not only for those relocating from urban areas in the state but for out-of-staters as well.

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#19. Sacramento, CA

- One-year rent growth: 7.5%
--- February 2021 rent index: $1,882 (10.2% greater than national average)
--- February 2020 rent index: $1,751

The Bay Area migration impacted the increase in rental prices in the state’s capital city of Sacramento. San Francisco rents plummeted as a result of Bay Area residents leaving the city in search of more space and more affordable living. Sacramento is the closest option for those in search of city living outside of the Bay Area.

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#18. Port St. Lucie, FL

- One-year rent growth: 7.5%
--- February 2021 rent index: $1,938 (13.5% greater than national average)
--- February 2020 rent index: $1,803

The coastal Florida city’s temperatures rarely fall below 40 degrees, which makes it an appealing place to migrate to during the pandemic. Some New Yorkers have fled the state for Florida in search of more affordable living and warmer weather. New Yorkers, who were hit particularly hard during the pandemic, may also be drawn to the state’s lack of income tax.

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#17. Las Vegas, NV

- One-year rent growth: 7.6%
--- February 2021 rent index: $1,455 (14.8% less than national average)
--- February 2020 rent index: $1,352

People migrating from other states have driven rent prices up in Sin City. The affordability of the state in comparison to several surrounding states is one reason for the rent increase during COVID-19. Rental concessions, such as a free month’s rent, and a rental assistance program have helped as well.

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#16. Greensboro, NC

- One-year rent growth: 7.7%
--- February 2021 rent index: $1,280 (25.1% less than national average)
--- February 2020 rent index: $1,189

Not only have rents increased in the North Carolina city, but a recent report found that Greensboro is the 19th hottest housing market in the U.S. Its affordability makes it an attractive place to live for those who’ve migrated from more expensive areas like New York and Boston during the pandemic.

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#15. Rochester, NY

- One-year rent growth: 7.8%
--- February 2021 rent index: $1,273 (25.5% less than national average)
--- February 2020 rent index: $1,181

While rents have risen during COVID-19 in Rochester, they are still much more affordable than rents in other parts of the country. Rochester is an attractive option for those who are leaving New York City, one that provides more square footage at a lower price. People can work remotely and collect big city paychecks while paying lower living costs in smaller cities that still offer amenities and space.

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#14. Bakersfield, CA

- One-year rent growth: 7.8%
--- February 2021 rent index: $1,354 (20.7% less than national average)
--- February 2020 rent index: $1,256

An exodus out of the state of California, caused or accelerated by the pandemic, has not impacted every area. Rising rental prices and a booming housing market prove that Bakersfield and the Central Valley are great options for those looking for affordable housing in a state that has some of the most expensive real estate in the country.

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#13. Syracuse, NY

- One-year rent growth: 7.9%
--- February 2021 rent index: $1,124 (34.2% less than national average)
--- February 2020 rent index: $1,042

While many New Yorkers left the state to move to warmer climates during the pandemic, some stayed and moved within the state. Those living in New York City, the epicenter when the pandemic struck, relocated to places like Syracuse with lower infection rates. Syracuse’s affordability played a part in drawing new residents, from New York and other areas.

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#12. Augusta, GA

- One-year rent growth: 8.1%
--- February 2021 rent index: $1,114 (34.8% less than national average)
--- February 2020 rent index: $1,031

The state of Georgia gained between 10,001 and 20,000 residents during the pandemic. While rents may have risen in Augusta, they are still low in comparison to the major cities many have migrated from during the pandemic. Augusta offers what many of the big cities did, the cultural resources, and what they didn’t, the small-town vibe and affordability.

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#11. Knoxville, TN

- One-year rent growth: 8.1%
--- February 2021 rent index: $1,352 (20.8% less than national average)
--- February 2020 rent index: $1,251

The state of Tennessee was one of the top destinations for COVID-19 migration, which many are calling the Great American Move. While rents in Knoxville have increased, people flocked there as waves of stay-at-home orders spread across the country in the early days of the pandemic. U-Haul saw a 23% spike in new arrivals to Knoxville in 2020.

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#10. Allentown, PA

- One-year rent growth: 8.5%
--- February 2021 rent index: $1,455 (14.8% less than national average)
--- February 2020 rent index: $1,341

Both rent prices and home prices have increased not only in Allentown but all over the Lehigh Valley. Many New York residents moved to this area of Pennsylvania during the pandemic because of lower infection rates, larger spaces, and affordability, which drove up rental and real estate costs.

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#9. Youngstown, OH

- One-year rent growth: 8.7%
--- February 2021 rent index: $741 (56.6% less than national average)
--- February 2020 rent index: $682

Akron was not the only Ohio city to see an increase in rental prices or inbound migration during COVID. Youngstown did as well, and according to U-Haul data, Ohio was the biggest destination state in the Midwest during the pandemic. Youngstown offers rents that, while climbing, remain below the national average. The city has a dense suburban feel and excellent public schools.

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#8. Tucson, AZ

- One-year rent growth: 8.9%
--- February 2021 rent index: $1,374 (19.6% less than national average)
--- February 2020 rent index: $1,262

According to a Move.org survey, Arizona was the seventh most popular state for movers in 2020. Lost income during the pandemic prompted many moves to more affordable areas like Tucson, and it's no surprise, as a Moody’s Analytics report believes the city is one of the top 10 in the country set to thrive post-pandemic. Tucson ranked high on the list due to its relatively high levels of educational attainment and low population density.

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#7. Phoenix, AZ

- One-year rent growth: 8.9%
--- February 2021 rent index: $1,547 (9.4% less than national average)
--- February 2020 rent index: $1,421

People from California are leaving the state for more affordable destinations, and many are landing in Arizona. They wanted to leave high-tax and high-cost living behind and Phoenix is one of the Arizona cities that offered them the ability to do that. While rents have risen in the city, they are not only lower than the national average but lower than the rents in many California cities.

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#6. Provo, UT

- One-year rent growth: 9.1%
--- February 2021 rent index: $1,445 (15.4% less than national average)
--- February 2020 rent index: $1,324

Provo, Utah, offers space and affordability, which made it an attractive alternative for those who moved during the pandemic. It even earned a spot as one of the best positioned cities set to recover post-pandemic, according to a Moody’s Analytics report.

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#5. Memphis, TN

- One-year rent growth: 9.3%
--- February 2021 rent index: $1,381 (19.1% less than national average)
--- February 2020 rent index: $1,263

Memphis ranks in the top 10 cities in terms of personal space, with an average apartment size of 919 square feet and an average square feet per renter of 671. Given the rise of remote work during the pandemic, people can move to not only more affordable cities, but those that also offer more livable space.

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#4. Riverside, CA

- One-year rent growth: 9.5%
--- February 2021 rent index: $2,137 (25.1% greater than national average)
--- February 2020 rent index: $1,951

Many residents have fled Los Angeles and Orange County, moving east to the Inland Empire, comprised of San Bernardino County and Riverside County, which houses the town of Riverside. This section of the Golden State is much more affordable than other California metro hubs and also offers bigger backyards, more space, close proximity to mountains, and less crowding. The city is now attracting in-state buyers looking for more space and affordability.

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#3. Providence, RI

- One-year rent growth: 9.8%
--- February 2021 rent index: $1,606 (6.0% less than national average)
--- February 2020 rent index: $1,462

According to apartment and home rental site Zumper, Providence is now comparable to major urban hub Seattle, whose rental prices have decreased during the pandemic. It is not just the rental market that is on fire in Providence though; home sales are skyrocketing with new out-of-state buyers from the New York metro and Boston moving to the Ocean State since the COVID-19 pandemic.

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#2. Spokane, WA

- One-year rent growth: 10.6%
--- February 2021 rent index: $1,286 (24.7% less than national average)
--- February 2020 rent index: $1,163

Spokane rents were rising prior to the pandemic. When COVID-19 hit, Washington State, specifically Seattle, struggled with high infection rates and an overwhelmed hospital system, causing many to leave the Emerald City and move out to surrounding areas such as Spokane. The Seattle Times reported that the net migration from Seattle to Spokane tripled in 2020.

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#1. Boise City, ID

- One-year rent growth: 12.6%
--- February 2021 rent index: $1,467 (14.1% less than national average)
--- February 2020 rent index: $1,303

In 2019, the state of Idaho was ranked the fast-growing state in the nation, so it comes as no surprise that Boise City had the largest rent hike in the nation year-over-year, according to Apartment List. Rent growth is driven by a tightening of supply because more renters are competing for fewer available rentals. The city is getting a lot of new residents from Northern California.

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