by Brian Tomasik
First published: 13 Jul. 2017; last update: 13 Jul. 2017

Summary

This piece discusses places in the USA where I might consider living. My criteria for location selection are idiosyncratic and may not apply to your situation.

Introduction

During 2016-2017, I was considering moving to another part of the USA. I spent cumulatively perhaps ~40 hours exploring the best places to live for myself. My criteria aren't shared by everyone else, and my search is not directly applicable to most other people. But I still thought it might be worth sharing what I found.

A top contender

My current favorite option is The Sterling Apartments in Grand Island, Nebraska. Why?

  • Rent in Nebraska is generally cheaper than in most other US states. (A similar trend is true for many other non-coastal states in the US Midwest and West.)
  • Nebraska has generally low rates of Lyme disease. In particular, Grand Island is in Hall County, Nebraska, and according to this calculator, the typical resident of Hall County, Nebraska has an "Actual annual infection probability" for Lyme disease of only 6.12 per 100,000. This contrasts with, for example, 1074.55 per 100,000 for Albany County, New York. Because Lyme risk is low in Nebraska, you probably don't need to take the time to check yourself for ticks very often (assuming that risks from other tick-borne diseases aren't too high).
  • According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency's database of Consumer Confidence Report information, Grand Island is the most populous city in Nebraska that uses regular groundwater for tap water.a Withdrawing groundwater kills many fewer zooplankton than withdrawing surface water, so if you live in a region supplied by groundwater, you don't have to feel as guilty about using water while showering, washing your hands, etc. Grand Island's "Annual Water Quality Report - 2016" confirms (p. 2) that Grand Island is supplied by groundwater: "The source of drinking water used by the City of Grand Island is groundwater from the sand and gravel aquifer that underlies the area. This water is pumped from wells maintained by the City."
  • The crime rate in Grand Island is close to or somewhat below the national average. While some cities have much better crime rates, my experience is that many cheap cities have worse crime rates than the national average.
  • The Sterling Apartments were built in ~2014, so it's unlikely they'll have lead paint, lead pipes within the building, or other major known health risks due to outdated building materials.
  • According to the "Annual Water Quality Report - 2016" (p. 5), lead concentrations in drinking water are 0.86 ppb at the 90th percentile. As a comparison, I looked at lead levels in Seattle, Washington—a city known for having good drinking water. According to Seattle's "Drinking Water Quality Report 2015" (p. 13), Seattle's 90th-percentile lead concentration in 2013 was 3 ppb.
  • While many apartments only offer 12-month leases, The Sterling Apartments offer leases of 3, 6, and 9 months as well, for an extra charge of $150 per month. This is useful if you want to test drive the apartment before committing to it for the longer term. You could also stay at The Sterling Apartments on a 3-month lease while shopping around Grand Island for cheaper options.
  • The Sterling has generally decent reviews on Facebook. While some people complain about failures of management, these complaints seem tolerable compared with the kinds of complaints that other apartments get. For example, I've seen reviews for other apartments that say things like "This place is unsafe. The police are always being called here."
  • I called The Sterling to verify that they have no specific policy against exercise equipment in apartments—the only concern would be if such equipment was noisy for neighbors.
  • There's a Walmart Supercenter about 1000 ft from The Sterling, making grocery shopping easy without a car.
  • As of 29 Mar. 2017, "Grand Island now has at least four regular Uber drivers",
    which is helpful for people like me who don't have a car.
  • The Sterling is less than 6 miles from Central Nebraska Regional Airport.

A main downside of Nebraska is that, because it's a Red State, it's more likely than Blue States to take away Obamacare protections if it's allowed to do so. In addition, I think I wouldn't be covered under Nebraska's Medicaid even if I needed it because in order to qualify, you have to "be either pregnant, a child under age 19, a parent or relative caretaker of a dependent child(ren) under age 19, have a disability, blind, or age 65 or older."

What about other states?

I ruled out most Northeastern states on the grounds of high Lyme-disease rates (and because they're generally pretty expensive anyway). I also ruled out deeply southern US states because, among other things, they have such hot climates.

Following are some of the states I explored in more depth.

  • Kansas is one of the cheapest states in the nation, and it has some relatively low-priced, groundwater-supplied cities with acceptable crime rates, similar to Nebraska. If I were to continue exploring locations, I would look further at some places in Kansas.
  • Some parts of Oregon seem promising according to my criteria, and Oregon has the advantage over Nebraska of being a strong Blue State and thus having better policies with respect to health insurance, among other things. Some cities—such as Keizer, Klamath Falls, and La Grande—apparently use groundwater and have some relatively cheap apartments, though crime is sometimes not great, and apartment quality may not be as high for the same price as in Nebraska?
  • Washington state, another Blue State, has some fairly cheap cities supplied by groundwater, including Spokane, Lakewood, Olympia, and Longview. However, burglary rates in these cities are pretty high, especially in Spokane. Like in Oregon, many cities in Washington are expensive. A bonus about Washington is that it has no state income tax, although given my low income, this isn't a huge consideration for me.
  • Ohio has some of the cheapest cities in the country, but a lot of those cities have crime rates several times the national average. (That said, a friend tells me there are quite safe regions within overall-high-crime Ohio cities.) While historical rates of Lyme disease in Ohio seem to be relatively low according to my calculator, there are reports that "Lyme Disease is on the rise in Ohio", and given Ohio's proximity to other Lyme-dense states, it's plausible that climate change and other changes will make Lyme more of a problem in Ohio going forward?
  • Many Arizona cities are fairly expensive. Tucson is cheap, but property-crime rates are extremely high.
  • Kentucky has some of the cheapest cities in the nation. Most are supplied by surface water, but, e.g., Owensboro is apparently supplied by groundwater.b Owensboro also has acceptable crime rates, and it's part of Daviess County, which has low historical rates of Lyme disease. That said, Kentucky is closer to Lyme-dense states than Nebraska is.
  • Colorado sadly has no groundwater-supplied cities with population above 20,000 people. (More populous cities are better for me because I don't have a car.)
  • Almost all cities in California are supplied by surface water, and most of the state's cities are also incredibly expensive.
  • Alaska is more expensive than I expected (probably more expensive than the US Midwest?), though some of its groundwater-supplied cities might be reasonable.
  • Hawaii is generally quite expensive.

Moving outside the US is also worth contemplating, but generally you need to have employment within that country in order to immigrate. Also, I'm wary of the paperwork and overhead involved with moving to another country (e.g., learning all the new tax forms and rules, what happens to Social Security benefits, etc.), especially if that country's documents are not in English.

About this piece

This page compiles highlights from my explorations into where to live. I mostly wrote it as notes for my future self, so that I wouldn't forget what I had learned. However, I decided to make it public in case anyone else would benefit from it. Obviously I don't get any compensation for the endorsements in this piece.

Footnotes

  1. The much larger city of Lincoln, Nebraska uses "Groundwater under influence of surface water". I suspect this is probably also ok from the perspective of not killing many zooplankton, but I'm not certain.  (back)
  2. Owensboro Municipal Utilities says: "Owensboro’s water source is a large, deep underground aquifer on the northeast side of Owensboro."  (back)