Sandusky, Ohio is a city with million-dollar water views and a whole lot of $100,000 houses. With a median family income of $64,000 and median home selling price of $76,000, this city on Lake Erie, midway between Cleveland and Toledo, could be the most affordable housing market in the country.
Throw in highly rated schools and a low crime rate and Sandusky tops the 2011 Forbes list of America’s Best Cheap Cities.
To produce the list, we started with the NAHB/Wells Fargo Housing Affordability Index, where Sandusky ranked sixth behind such cities as Kokomo, Ind., Elkhart, Ind. and Springfield, Oh. Then we screened for the things homebuyers want to go along with a cheap house: Low cost of living, from Moody’s Economy.com.; low violent crime rate, from the Federal Bureau of Investigation; low unemployment rate, from the Bureau of Labor Statistics; and school quality from GreatSchools.org.
Sandusky got a boost from a suspiciously low June unemployment rate of 7.7 percent. Turns out the city’s unemployment level drops every summer when the giant Cedar Point Amusement Park, a unit of publicly traded Cedar Fair LLP, hires more than 3,000 temporary workers. The rest of the year, the economy isn’t so rosy in the Sandusky area, home to three auto-parts factories and many smaller manufacturers dependent upon the fickle auto industry.
“A few months ago we started getting calls because we had the highest job growth rate in the country,” said John Moldovan, president of the Sandusky Chamber of Commerce. “But there’s not the kind of economic activity here to justify those numbers.”
Still, raising Sandusky to the national average of 9.5 percent doesn’t change its Forbes rating. The city’s violent crime rate of 247 per 100,000 residents is half the national average. And despite a dense city core with a lot of rental housing, Sandusky rated 7 out of 10 on the GreatSchools.org index, reflecting high student test scores.
Forbes.com: 13 common car buying mistakes
Forbes.com: The best big cities for jobs
Forbes.com: 10 secrets about store brands
Forbes.com: Turn your kids into millionaires
Forbes.com: The six best cities to buy a house