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Census data: Seattle is in top five most expensive US cities

In 2016, median rent was $1,448

J. Helgason/Shutterstock

Seattle is the fifth most expensive big city in the United States, according to census data released earlier this week. In 2016, median rent in Seattle was $1,448, up $92 from 2015.

San Francisco is, of course, above us, but they’re not at the top. Those honors go to San Jose, with $1,919 median rent.

Although we’ve reached a whole new milestone of unaffordability by reaching the top five, we’re only seventh in rent increases. Portland, Oregon’s rent is growing a little more quickly than ours, as did rents in Atlanta and Denver.

$1,448 may seem a little lower than a lot of estimates—and lower than a lot of renters’ realities. And there are reasons for that. The short version: It’s not based on active rental listings.

Unlike many of the rankings that we publish here at Curbed Seattle every month (new numbers are coming soon), which tend to show the prevailing market rate for apartments, the census data is designed to reflect what people are actually paying, including those in subsidized housing. So instead of reflecting the rate an apartment-seeker can expect to pay with no assistance, census data reflects what rent people are currently paying in Seattle across rental types.

It’s also a little more carefully crafted. Some other apartment rankings try to mirror the way census data is weighed, but they don’t have the same access to actual renters that the Census Bureau does.

There aren’t too many surprises in the area surrounding Seattle, either. Bellevue—which, not being one of the 50 biggest cities in the U.S., didn’t make the main ranking—had a whopping $153 rent increase last year. Its $1,846 median rent is higher than San Francisco’s $1,784.

Rent in Tacoma, meanwhile, continues to skyrocket. The City of Destiny’s median rent hit $1,054 this year, its first time above $1,000.