New York City, the city of dreams… and one of the most notoriously expensive cities to live in. As this list is sorted by lowest price-to-income ratio, you won’t see The Big Apple make an appearance (sorry!). However, there are plenty of quaint and large towns in New York for those who want to live in the northeastern U.S. Rich history, amazing architecture, nature, scrumptious eats and all four seasons can be experienced in cities like Rochester and Buffalo. Widen your horizons by reading more about the 10 ten best places to live in The Empire State.
Housing cost to income ratio: 1.21
Average childcare cost to income ratio: 1.39%
Violent crime index: 16.6
Nonviolent crime index: 48.5
Cost of living index: 74.6
Elmira is a tight-knit community of around 27,000, filled with great family-friendly neighborhoods like West Elmira, Elmira Southwest, and Elmira College. Small businesses create a lovely community where everyone knows one another and help is never hard to come by.
The downtown area has grown in recent years, creating various job opportunities. Elmira is a two-hour drive from larger cities like Rochester, Syracuse, Ithaca, and Binghamton. Although it may be stormy at times, the summertime temperature is perfect, with average highs of 82 degrees. There’s minimal humidity and a nice cooling breeze from the mountains.
The city is packed with interesting sights to visit like the Arnot Art Museum, Chemung Valley History Museum (a treasure of local history), and Eldridge Park. Mark Twain wrote his most significant work – including the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn – while summering in Elmira. In 1952, his work was preserved and is now on exhibit at Elmira College.
The conservative-leaning city’s main draw is, of course, the low cost of living. It was named one of the best cities to live in the northeast post-pandemic by Business Insider; the cost of living is 4.5 percent lower than the national average. The city also has the 15th-highest total spending per student in elementary and secondary public schools.
Housing cost to income ratio: 2.61
Average childcare cost to income ratio: 2.77%
Violent crime index: 45.5
Nonviolent crime index: 57.6
Cost of living index: 78.4
Growing tired of the city grind? Enjoy a slower pace of life in Jamestown, nestled on the southern end of beautiful Chautauqua Lake. The population here is even smaller than Elmira – around 20,600 residents – yet there are still plenty of exciting activities to do year-round. Jamestown is the birthplace of Lucille Ball, ‘The First Lady of Comedy’, and fittingly, there is a museum dedicated to her. Fans of comedy will also enjoy visiting the National Comedy Center, which offers immersive comedic experiences tailored to your preferences based on a ‘humor profile’ that visitors create.
Jamestown has a strong public school system and offers endless opportunities for students to reach their higher education goals. You can commute across town in about 10 minutes. Plus, the downtown area is turning around as new coffee shops, bars, restaurants, and activities are constantly popping up.
Housing cost to income ratio: 3.07
Average childcare cost to income ratio: 3.14%
Violent crime index: 45.5
Nonviolent crime index: 57.6
Cost of living index: 78.4
Which city is close to lakes, parks, beaches, has a thriving art community, world-class healthcare, and a low cost of living? Look no further than Rochester, a diverse, liberal city of around 200,000 which rests alongside Lake Ontario. The most popular suburbs to live in are Honeoye Falls, Churchville, and Spencerport. Opportunities for pursuing higher education are abundant here with the University of Rochester, St. John Fisher College, and the Rochester Institute of Technology all at the community’s disposal. The public schools throughout Monroe County are similarly top-rated and Rochesterians can enjoy world-class healthcare through UR Medicine. Additionally, Rochester boasts a thriving arts community, hosting annual events like Jazz Festival and Corn Hill Arts Festival. The city’s transportation system is relatively easy to navigate, but be mindful that the suburbs are almost unreachable without a vehicle. Above all, this charming city in western New York is an excellent place to build a comfortable and affordable home, while taking advantage of all the major resources it offers.
Housing cost to income ratio: 5.11
Average childcare cost to income ratio: 1.93%
Violent crime index: 22.8
Nonviolent crime index: 46.3
Cost of living index: 71.3
Utica and Rome are in Oneida Country and are separated by about a 20-minute drive. Both of these principal cities in central New York lean conservative. Utica is a larger city with about 60,000 residents while Rome is home to around 32,000 folks.
Utica is known for its diverse population and tasty ethnic restaurants throughout the city. Major destinations are also all within walking distance or a short drive away. The city has a rich history as it was once a textile hub in the 19th century.
“Rome is home” rings true as Rome has a strong sense of community. Small, family-owned businesses are strongly supported, and neighbors check in on one another. Although Rome may not have a large nightlife scene, it does offer an exciting downtown arts district. Ultimately, it is a wonderful place to put down some roots.
5. Buffalo-Niagara Falls
Housing cost to income ratio: 2.36
Average childcare cost to income ratio: 1.05%
Violent crime index: 16.7
Nonviolent crime index: 29.2
Cost of living index: 94.1
From fantastic food to the craziest football fan base in the NFL, Buffalo is a beloved “city of good neighbors.” Buffalo is home to about 255,000 residents and the top places to live are Orchard Park, Hamburg, and Williamsville. Buffalo is like Cleveland and Pittsburgh, but with a lower cost of living. The city has wintry weather (about 85 inches of snow per year) but locals are accustomed to and well-equipped for snowstorms. In contrast, summertime is lovely in the city, with average highs of about 80 degrees. You can rent a kayak on Canalside or enjoy a stroll through Broderick Park.
Buffalo is also filled with stunning architecture; many notable buildings were constructed between the American Civil War and the Great Depression. In addition to public landmarks, there are several Frank Lloyd Wright projects and residential homes like Delaware Avenue’s Millionaire’s Row.
The famed Niagara Falls are just a 20-minute drive north of Buffalo. The falls are beautiful in all seasons and a must-see when frozen. The city has around 48,000 residents and has a relatively low crime rate.
Housing cost to income ratio: 3.35
Average childcare cost to income ratio: 2.67%
Violent crime index: 36.6
Nonviolent crime index: 62.7
Cost of living index: 74.5
Binghamton is a wonderful place to raise children, as there are diverse schools within a thriving community. The city of around 45,000 is known as the ‘Carousel Capital of the World’ as it’s home to vintage hand-carved carousels. In addition, there are many other attractions such as Ross Park Zoo, the Phelps Mansion Museum, the Bundy Museum of History and Art, and First Friday Art Walks which take place rain or shine.
It’s an easy commute to New York City, Philadelphia, and Buffalo. Those looking to pursue higher education will be delighted to know Binghamton University is a State University of New York (SUNY) school which offers undergraduate, master’s, and doctoral degrees.
7. Glens Falls
Housing cost to income ratio: 2.61
Average childcare cost to income ratio: 2.10%
Violent crime index: 11.1
Nonviolent crime index: 28.6
Cost of living index: 87.3
Big enough to not be humdrum yet small enough for that small-town feel, Glens Falls is a walkable city of approximately 14,300. It’s about a three-hour drive north of New York City. For a city of its size, there are ample resources: the city has 18 hospitals, four pet-friendly hotels, and 16 schools. Over the years, Glens Falls has become more developed and offers an abundance of activities; it was even nicknamed the ‘Arts & Entertainment Gateway to the Adirondacks.’ It’s also close to lakes, the beach, mountains, and farms. Whether you prefer city or country life, Glens Falls has something suited for all tastes.
8. Orange County
Housing cost to income ratio: 4.22
Average childcare cost to income ratio: 1.60%
Violent crime index: 10.5
Nonviolent crime index: 22.9
Cost of living index: 119.7
With a population of about 400,000, Orange County is the largest city on this list; still, residents enjoy a relatively low crime rate and cost of living. The culturally diverse and liberal-leaning city’s top two suburbs are Monroe and Highland Falls. A big plus of living in Orange County is its proximity to nature. Families can explore Bear Mountain, walk the trails of Storm King Mountain, or play in the snow on Mount Peter.
Housing cost to income ratio: 3.87
Average childcare cost to income ratio: 1.73%
Violent crime index: 25.0
Nonviolent crime index: 46.8
Cost of living index: 76.1
Albany, the capital of New York, is a historic city with records tracing more than 400 years ago. According to the latest census, the city has around 96,000 residents, and its northern neighbor, Saratoga County, has a population of approximately 31,000. Despite Albany’s size, one of its nicknames is ‘Smallbany’, as well as ‘Tech Valley’ since it serves as headquarters to many tech startups. Job seekers will find many openings for tech, government, and state employment opportunities.
In Albany, you have no shortage of activities. You can explore the New York State Museum, embark on a cruise on the Hudson River, attend a yoga class at Washington Park, and attend skate meetups. Weekend getaways are also easy as you’re only a short drive from Montreal, Lake George, Boston, New York City, and Saratoga.
Saratoga is nicknamed the ‘Hamptons of Upstate’ due to its historic Saratoga Racetrack, which is a hot spot for locals and tourists during the summer. It is a gorgeous little town bordering the Adirondack mountains and the Vermont countryside. The town is full of life, filled with families and dogs.
10. Dutchess County
Housing cost to income ratio: 4.11
Average childcare cost to income ratio: 1.68%
Violent crime index: 26.6
Nonviolent crime index: 43.6
Cost of living index: 88.8
With a population of around 300,000, Dutchess County is a highly desirable place to live. The top areas are Spackenkill, Arlington, and Myers Corner, which boast highly-rated schools. Dutchess County is surrounded by beautiful lakes and rivers, providing ample boating and fishing opportunities. Summertime weather is warm with average highs of 75 degrees, while Mother Nature delivers about 44 inches of snow annually, so you can enjoy snowmobiling, skiing, and ice skating. Another draw of Dutchess County is its proximity to attractions and major cities. It’s only two hours to the Adirondacks Mountains, an hour to the Catskill Mountains, and two hours to New York City. Dutchess County is one of the 12 original New York counties, meaning there is an abundance of historical places to visit. See the opulence of the Gilded Age at the Vanderbilt Mansion National Historic Site, visit the home of Franklin D. Roosevelt or bike along the Walkway over the Hudson.
Rakini Bergundy was born in a little surf town called Houhai in China and loves writing. She’s passionate about dogs, home renovations, and politics.