The Albany-Schenectady-Troy metro area ranked sixth on a Forbes magazine list of America’s 100 Cheapest Cities to Live as a part of group of metropolitan areas described as “bargain boomtowns where people can get more for less.”
The Capital Region was ranked first in the Middle Atlantic in front of Pittsburgh, Pa., and Harrisburg-Carlisle, Pa.
The list’s ratings are based on four quality-of-life measures: violent crime rate, from the Federal Bureau of Investigation; unemployment rate, from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics; average salary for college graduates, from Payscale.com; and cultural opportunity, based on the leisure index from Sperling’s Best Places.
With a population of 853,900, the Albany-Schenectady-Troy area is listed with a ranking of 14th for average salary; 27th for its unemployment rate; 26th for crime; and 21st for culture out of the 100 cities included.
Forbes also used cost of living data from Economy.com, a site managed by investor service provider Moody’s, as well as home affordability figures from the National Association of Home Builders and Wells Fargo, to come up with the list of city rankings.
Michael Weidrich, director of Albany’s Lark Street Business Improvement District, said the higher ranking is a reflection of the many inexpensive options for families and people looking for something to do locally.
“There is so much free entertainment in Albany, Schenectady and Troy. Each city has its own Art Night, and there are so many free concerts,” Weidrich said. “There is definitely a commitment to quality of life and cultural enrichment for the citizens and taxpayers to provide them with entertainment and cultural events. It makes them each a destination in their own right.”
Tracy Petersen, housing counseling coordinator for the Affordable Housing Partnership of the Capital Region, is critical of the list because it does not fully take into account the effect of taxes when it comes to being able to afford and buy a home, she said.
Compared with cities like Chicago and New York City, homes are cheaper in the Capital Region but taxes are considerable, she said.
“Taxes are extremely high here for what you’re getting,” Petersen said.
Petersen, who lives in Schenectady, said many people are seeing their property tax bills go up as assessors assign higher values to their homes.
“When I’m counseling people to buy a home and I mention places like Schenectady and Albany, it’s a hard sell, but when they look at what homes cost in areas outside of Albany and Schenectady and then they look at the school districts, they’re all happy. But the house prices scare them way. At the end of the day, a person has to buy where it’s affordable to them.”
Petersen said people should take into account other factors when looking at such lists, such as the ability to build wealth and equity, employment and family life.
The recently released Forbes list also conflicts with other data about the Capital Region. For instance, Sperling’s Best Places, which provided some of the data Forbes used, says on its Web site that the cost of living here is about 8 percent higher than the U.S. average.