Grand Rapids, Michigan doesn’t boast a lot of affluence. The metro area population of 774,000 carries a median household income of $47,040, good for just 65th place among America’s 100 largest MSAs. The city’s major claims to fame come from being a national leader in office furniture production, and for being the hometown of a U.S. president, Gerald Ford.
What Grand Rapids does have: the distinction of being the best metro area in the country to raise a family in. Income may be relatively low, but the cost of living is even lower. The local school system ranks in the top third in the country. Commuting to work is a breeze. The housing foreclosure mess didn’t leave Grand Rapids unscathed, chopping about 12% off area home values over the past few years. But that’s still quite modest compared with many other places. Almost 90% of Grand Rapids’ housing stock is affordable to a family at the median income level, the seventh-highest rate in the country.
“The housing bubble never burst because there was never any real bubble,” says Grand Rapids Mayor George Heartwell, pointing out the mostly modest, 2,200-square-foot colonials that dot the local landscape.
The relative strength of Grand Rapids’ housing market is enough to push it past the next two cities on our list, Boise, Idaho and Provo, Utah, both of which are particularly noted for low crime and high school quality. Not to mention the chance to mix urban and outdoor lifestyles.
Many young single types may judge a city based on its bike friendliness, club scene, and coffee houses per square mile, in addition to the economy. And why not? You’re only young once. But once marriage and kids enter the picture, priorities change. School quality suddenly pops up as an issue. And those conditions that matter when you’re single – median income levels, housing affordability and commuting hassles – become even more important once you need to answer to more people than yourself.
We measured and ranked America’s 100 largest metro areas by median income, overall cost of living, commuting delays, crime statistics, school quality, and housing affordability (measured two ways – by the percentage of people in the MSA owning homes, according to the Census Bureau, and by the percentage of homes in the area that are affordable to a family making the local median income, according to the latest joint study by Wells Fargo and the National Association of Home Builders).
Here are the top five family-friendly cities:
5. Raleigh, North Carolina
Rankings (of 100 largest metros):
Median Income: 19
Cost of Living Index: 32
Housing Affordability: 56
Pct. Owning Homes: 32 (69%)
|No. 5: Raleigh, North Carolina|
Commuters waste about 25 extra hours a year compared with the average around the country, but hey, that’s only 10 minutes or so a day. Not bad for the top fifth in median income.
4. Youngstown, Ohio
Median Income: 96
Cost of Living Index: 18
Housing Affordability: 1
Pct. Owning Homes: 10 (73%)
|No. 4: Youngstown, Ohio.|
Still feeling that rust belt economic pain that’s undermining incomes, but affordable with good schools.
3. Provo, Utah
Median Income: 33
Cost of Living Index: 10
Housing Affordability: 54
Pct. Owning Homes: 59 (65%)
|No. 3: Provo, Utah.|
Housing is relatively expensive, but the overall cost of living isn’t. And no major metro has a lower crime rate.
2. Boise, Idaho
Median Income: 64
Cost of Living Index: 44
Housing Affordability: 34
Pct. Owning Homes: 29 (69%)
|No. 2: Boise, Idaho.|
Life is good for many families in the Pacific Northwest’s third-largest city, with lower costs and less crime than the region’s two biggest metros, Seattle and Portland. And there’s the local powerhouse football team, the Boise State Broncos.
1. Grand Rapids, Michigan
Median Income: 65
Cost of Living Index: 6
Housing Affordability: 7
Pct. Owning Homes: 5 (75%)
|No. 1: Grand Rapids, Michigan.|
President Gerald Ford’s hometown is home to several furniture makers. The public school system is supplemented by several charter schools.
- Real Estate