Cincinnati is Ohio’s third largest city, with a population around 300,000, which is down from 500,000 in 1960. Over the last half of the 20th century there was a steady stream of middle to upper middle-class residents leaving the urban core for the outlying suburbs. There are roughly 100,000 rental units within the city limits, with the vacancy rate usually hovering around 10%, so finding a place here shouldn’t be much tougher than finding something red at a Reds game.
How much will it cost?
Good news! Cincinnati’s average rental costs are very reasonable, with 1-bedroom units ranging from $650-$700 a month. Expect to pay $850-$900 for a 2-BR, and $1300 a month should get you a single family, 2-BR home. The cheap cost of living means more money left over for Oktoberfest-Zinzinnati, the biggest, beeriest, brautwurstiest celebration of its kind in the country!
Rock the house
In 2009, WCPO reported that Cincinnati had the highest home vacancy rate in the country, and while there’s been notable progress on the city’s economic front since then, there are still a lot of empty houses. Keep this in mind as you search for a place, because while you may think you can only afford an apartment, Cincinnati is one city where renting a house (or an upstairs unit) might make even more sense. Plus, when you rent a house, you don’t have to worry about neighbors complaining about all the boisterous polka music. Wait, you don’t already listen to polka? That’ll probably change after your first Oktoberfest here.
There are 52 distinct neighborhoods here, and as we’ve mentioned, Cincinnati has really seen a mass exodus of middle and upper-class families out of the urban core and into the outlying areas. I-275 circles the city, and outside that circle is where many are choosing to live. The neighborhoods are generally safer there, but they also cost more and add to your commute time. Here’s a look at some of the notable neighborhoods in Cincinnati:
Central: Pricey, but pretty, Mt. Adams is loaded with shops, restaurants, parks, and a beautiful view of the city. There aren’t many vacancies here, but if you can afford it, jump on it. Over-The-Rhine is loaded with culture, history, and amazing architecture, but unfortunately it’s also plagued by chronic crime. Due to urban decay, West End and Walnut Heights also have to be put in the “unsafe” category. The differences between Avondale and North Avondale are stark. Though it’s the city’s 4th largest neighborhood, some 40% of Avondale’s residents live in poverty. Meanwhile, North Avondale has earned a reputation as a diverse hidden gem located directly in the center of the city. It’s also home to Xavier University (sorry we’re not referring to the X-Men one, as awesome as that would be). Speaking of schools, Clifton is where you’ll find the University of Cincinnati, along with plenty of walkable streets and bus stops. If you have some sort of Collegiate phobia, you might want to look elsewhere. $$$
East: Hyde Park - one of the best neighborhoods in America according to a 2010 Forbes.com survey – is clean, eclectic, trendy and educated. Rents will be higher here. With its ample space for recreation at Ault Park and quick access to the Downtown, the adjacent Mt. Lookout neighborhood is another affluent area popular with young professionals. The housing quality drops substantially when you go further east into Mt. Washington. $$$
Northeast: Oakley is a middle-class section that’s a step down from Hyde Park. Pleasant Ridge is a large diverse, affordable neighborhood that’s home to about 30,000 people. Avoid the Kennedy Heights and Norwood sections (But only avoid Norwood if you can’t get close to the Rookwood area. The general rule is, the closer you get to Rookwood, the nicer the place gets). Just outside Cincinnati’s northeastern city limits is Indian Hill, one of the more affluent suburbs in the entire state. $$$
North: College Hill is a popular residential neighborhood that features a mix of various incomes. This is probably your best bet in the north section of the city. Nearby Winton Hills consists mostly of low-income housing projects. Carthage has a growing Hispanic population. Hartwell has about 6,000 middle-class residents. $$
West: With more than 35,000 residents, Westwood is the city’s largest neighborhood. It’s also full of apartments; so don’t worry about not getting a spot. Westwood is a mostly middle-income area with a mix of cultures and urban and suburban styling. Once a wealthy area, Price Hill (split up into the lower, east and west sections) is now mainly inhabited by working class families. Rents here are quite cheap, so your dollar will be a bit more flexible. $$
Living in Cincinnati
There are conflicting issues facing anyone renting in Cincinnati. You’ve got the glowing praise about its new development and value (Kiplinger Personal Finance magazine ranked Cincinnati 10th on its 2011 Best Value Cities list), while at the same time you have to be concerned about safety in many areas (CQ Press called it the 19th most dangerous city in 2009). Here a few other tips for living well in Cincinnati:
Bring the wheels : Cincinnati’s public transportation system consists of spotty bus service and a few cabs, so this is definitely a city that demands a car. Some neighborhoods are excellent for walking, but a few of those are also dangerous. Parts of Hyde Park and Oakley strike a great balance between walkability and safety. And unfortunately, while the Bengals play here, you can’t actually ride one. Only opposing teams can do that. Zing!
Sample the surprises: It’s certainly possible that one could live outside the city limits, commute to work downtown, and repeat the process for years without enjoying the elements that make this an iconic city: the German cuisine, the relatively ancient architecture, the riverfront, the hills, the valleys, and the views. If you do settle outside the city, makes sure you don’t miss out on what’s great about Cincinnati!
Now that you have a basic rundown on what to expect, we’re confident that you’ll be more than able to find yourself an awesome place to rest those soon-to-be sausage-laden bones. Don those Bengal stripes and strap on that red hat, your new Cincinnati home is waiting!
-By Kera Zacuto
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