EASY LIVING

One of Africa’s wealthiest cities also has some of the cheapest rents in the world

Quartz africa
Quartz africa

People flocking to South Africa’s economic hub are likely to find some of the world’s cheapest rents. An average family living in Johannesburg spends less than a quarter of their monthly income on rent, according to a survey by RentCafé, an online property listing service. That makes the city the third most affordable city in the world, according to the index.

Still, Johannesburg’s top ranking is likely to mean little for the thousands of people living in shacks around the city’s outskirts. South Africa’s income inequality is some of the highest in the world, but for those who can afford to live in the ubiquitous gated communities, townhouses and increasing number of high-rise apartment blocks, the “city of gold” has its perks.

The African city at the bottom of the scale was the continent’s largest, Lagos. There, the average family spends more than half of its monthly income on rent. Lagos’s high rents put the citizens’ rent burden on par with Los Angeles and the island of Manhattan. With limited space on the waterfront and the city’s islands, Lagos has tried to force the poor from its prime real estate, exacerbating infrastructural and social challenges.

RentCafé selected the surveyed cities from the PricewaterhouseCoopers annual Cities of Opportunity Index. The list ranks 30 cities on their ability to compete in a digital world, economic opportunity for its citizens and quality of life, which includes healthcare, transportation and environmental sustainability.

Johannesburg has become something of a permanent member of PwC’s Cities of Opportunity. Fairly young compared to other international cities, Johannesburg was founded in a frenzied gold rush in 1886 and rapidly developed from a tent camp of prospectors to a modern hub of urban living in the early 20th century.

In 1888, the city had its own lighting company; by 1891 the first telephone line rang; and the first electric tram ran in 1906. Johannesburg’s planners had more in mind than just a mining town: the city’s first theater opened just a year after it was founded, followed by a library three years later, and a symphony orchestra by 1927.

Johannesburg’s relative “youth” and continued rapid growth are typical of African cities today, according to PwC. The continent is rapidly urbanizing, at a rate of 3.65% annually, or a projected urban population of more than a billion people by 2063 compared with the present population of about 1.2 billion people (pdf) spread across rural and urban areas. Current city skylines seem woefully ill-prepared to handle this population boom, but that shouldn’t temper their potential.

“African cities need to be looked at through a different lens,” PwC said when launching its Into Africa report (pdf) in 2015. “The available data and analysis has limitations and only tells part of the story.”

All of Africa’s cities present great challenges, but also enormous potential.

City Median Household Income Average Rent/Year Rent-to-income ratio
1 Kuala Lumpur $22,400 $4,500 20%
2 Moscow $29,200 $6,240 21%
3 Johannesburg $28,800 $6,480 23%
4 Bogotá $24,900 $6,600 27%
5 Rio de Janeiro $28,500 $7,560 27%
6 São Paulo $29,100 $7,800 27%
7 Beijing $31,000 $8,400 27%
8 Shanghai $32,300 $9,060 28%
9 Sydney $66,600 $19,200 29%
10 Milan $42,800 $12,480 29%
11 Toronto $60,500 $17,760 29%
12 Berlin $45,800 $13,560 30%
13 Seoul $48,500 $14,760 30%
14 Tokyo $63,400 $19,800 31%
15 Hong Kong $49,300 $15,600 32%
16 Madrid $42,100 $13,680 32%
17 Stockholm $43,100 $14,460 34%
18 Amsterdam $50,500 $17,700 35%
19 Jakarta $29,000 $10,800 37%
20 Chicago $50,700 $19,080 38%
21 Dubai $80,800 $31,200 39%
22 London $57,700 $23,280 40%
23 San Francisco $92,100 $37,800 41%
24 Mumbai $18,800 $7,800 41%
25 Singapore $100,500 $44,400 44%
26 Paris $41,300 $19,200 46%
27 Los Angeles $52,000 $24,660 47%
28 Lagos $7,500 $4,260 57%
29 Manhattan, New York $75,600 $44,700 59%
30 Mexico City $14,500 $8,640 60%

(Source: RentCafe)

Sign up for the Quartz Africa Weekly Brief — the most important and interesting news from across the continent, in your inbox.

home our picks popular latest obsessions search