Huntsville’s history is a complex quilt of diversity. From the homeland of the Chickasaw, a control point during the Civil War, a center of textile manufacturing, the Civil Rights era, munitions, and missile development, and the staging site of the country’s space program, to biotechnology and high tech, Huntsville’s background is rich and diverse.
Today, the city is considered to be one of the country’s top high-tech centers. Thanks to the Huntsville Biotech Initiative, the city is home to more than 25 biotech companies and houses the second-largest research and technology park in the country. The US Space and Rocket Center and the University of Alabama’s famous doctoral program have elevated Huntsville to one of the 25 most educated cities in the country.
As the science and engineering sectors attracted a widely diverse population over the decades, the city’s arts, culture, cuisine, and even shopping opportunities have grown. Nestled in the lower end of the Appalachian Mountain range amid hills on the northern side of the Tennessee River, Huntsville provides natural beauty, an abundance of outdoor activities, a high-quality lifestyle but low cost of living, and easy access to Nashville, Chattanooga, Atlanta, Birmingham, and Memphis.
Living in Huntsville: What to Know Before Moving to Huntsville
Huntsville has about 193,079 residents and is the third-most populous city in Alabama. Covering about 214 square miles, the city sits among the beautiful limestone hills of the Cumberland Plateau where you can enjoy all kinds of outdoor adventures. With a great job market, a revamped downtown, gentrified neighborhoods, and much more, it’s no wonder Huntsville is the fastest-growing area of Alabama.
Pros and Cons of Living in Huntsville
Upsides – downsides – every city has them. Here are some key pros and cons for you to consider as you contemplate your move to Huntsville:
- High-quality lifestyle with a lower cost of living
- Thriving outdoors culture and vibrant arts community
- A very diverse population, largely due to NASA
- Excellent schools and kids’ activities
- Terrific job opportunities in diverse sectors
- Limited public transportation
- Lack of easy access to airports and trains
- Need to travel to Nashville or Atlanta for major-name venues and performances
- Growing population means the infrastructure could use updates
- Property tax: Huntsville assesses property taxes at the rate of $5.80 per $1000 of the home’s value. A property owner with a $300,000 home would owe approximately $1740 in property tax.
- Sales tax: The Huntsville area has a combined sales tax rate of 9%, which is lower than many of the other large cities in the state but higher than the US average rate of 7.3%.
- State income tax: Alabama state tax is 5%, very close to the average US state tax of 4.6%.
With the median home value at $153,900, mortgage rates within Alabama run about 3.81% for a 30-year fixed-rate loan. According to zillow.com, the Huntsville housing market is ‘very hot’ as of Fall, 2019. Even though the median home value is an affordable $153,900, the median list price is currently $264,900. As the fastest growing city in Alabama, housing prices are quickly rising.
Huntsville’s population is a fairly young one by comparison to the rest of the state and the country, thanks to the city’s diverse industries. That means rental properties are also in demand, and about 42% of the residents rent rather than buy. The median rent amount is $1100 per month.
Cost of Living
Based on BestPlaces.com’s calculations, Huntsville’s cost of living is 92.2, just below the national average of 100. The discrepancy in the cost of living comes down to housing, which is noticeably less expensive in Huntsville than in much of the country.
Groceries 90.3, utilities 96.2, housing 79.6, and transportation 92 costs are all below the national average, while healthcare 108, and miscellaneous (repairs, childcare, eating out, etc.) expenses were all higher than the national average. According to the Family Budget Calculator, to attain a moderate standard of living in Huntsville, a family of four can expect their monthly expenses will total $6,585, or $79,014 annually.
Weather & Natural Disasters
Huntsville experiences a humid subtropical climate with mild winters and hot, humid summers. Like most of the south, the hottest months are July and August, with average highs of 91 degrees. December and January tend to be the coldest months with averages highs in the low 50s, cooling to the low 30s on stormy days and at night.
December and March tend to have the most rainfall, reaching nearly six inches during those months, and annual average rainfall is 54 inches. Snow is a different story, though. Unlike many other parts of Alabama that don’t even get enough snow for meteorologists to track, Huntsville gets an average of three inches of snow per year.
As far inland as the city is, hurricanes and tropical storms don’t present much of a threat. However, since Huntsville sits in a significant fork along the Tennessee River, periodic flooding can be a concern in the event of a “storm of the century.” More commonly, though, the entire state of Alabama faces minor threats from tornadoes, though they’re not as common as in some other parts of the country.
Economy and Job Market
Huntsville’s economy is strong and growing. The unemployment rate is 3.7% compared to the 3.9% US average, and job growth was 3.6% in 2018. Future job growth is expected to be much stronger in Huntsville than the rest of the country. Over the next ten years, job growth is forecast to be 40.9% compared to the US average growth of 33.5%.
The primary industrial sectors are aerospace and defense; advanced manufacturing; bioscience; and information technology. The emerging sectors include electronic communications, geospatial, energy, cybersecurity, robotics and modeling, and simulation.
The major employers in Huntsville include US Army/Redstone Arsenal, NASA/Marshall Space Flight Center, Huntsville Hospital, Huntsville City Schools, The Boeing Company, TVA, Limestone County Schools, and Polaris. In 2018, the Huntsville City Council announced that Facebook would build a $750 million data center in north Huntsville. Expected to be operational in 2020, Facebook will be a neighbor of Aerojet Rocketdyne and Toyota Motor Manufacturing.
While the median household income in Huntsville is a little under $52,000 a year, the family median income is over $70,000 per year. Combined with the low cost of living and affordable housing market, this puts a lot of buying power in the hands of consumers, therefore adding to the city’s strong economy.
Huntsville’s chamber of commerce website, asmartplace, provides a job database where you can explore careers and job openings of various local companies. The website includes online training, resume building resources, plus videos that feature careers in numerous industries. But don’t forget that online job boards and executive recruiting sites are great resources for a good overview of job opportunities.
Traffic and Transportation
Although the city’s transit score is currently low, the future looks bright for Huntsville’s public transportation. Huntsville Transit‘s buses, shuttles, and ride-sharing are undergoing a five-phase improvement program that includes a new mobile app for real-time bus info, streamlined old routes, extended transit hours, and new routes. Phase one started on July 1, 2019, so Huntsville residents can look forward to major public transit improvements as the program continues.
Interstate 564 runs northeast to southwest through the center of the city and connects with I-65 in western Huntsville. You can hop on I-65 to drive north to Nashville or south to Birmingham. A web of state highways – 431, 231, 72, and 53, radiates from the city center to all compass points, making access to the surrounding towns and countryside easy.
WalkScore.com, which rates bike, foot, and transit ease based on several factors, decidedly calls Huntsville a “car-dependent” city, meaning very few errands can be accomplished on foot or through other means. As a car-dependent city, Huntsville residents have a daily commute time of 18.4 minutes, quite a bit shorter than the average US commute time of 27 minutes.
The foot traffic Walk Score is only 23, while the lack of bike lanes delivered a Bike Score of 36. Huntsville’s Transit Score was the lowest of all at 13, but will likely improve with the new routes and services plan. If you’re looking for walkable areas, consider Downtown, Hampton Ridge, and The Reserve.
Schools and Universities
Depending on where you choose to live, either Huntsville City School District or Madison County School District will serve students in your family. Huntsville City Schools serves about 24,000 students across 36 schools and has a student-teacher ratio of about thirteen students per teacher. Madison County Schools operate another 29 schools that serve more than 19,700 students.
Several private schools also operate in the area. A city that has grown out of one of the nation’s top science agencies obviously would place a lot of emphasis on education, and as such, many of the schools in the city are in the Top 100, Top 50, Top 20, and even Top 10 in the state.
Niche.com gives Huntsville area schools a solid A rating based on numerous factors. Some of the top-rated schools, according to greatschools.org, are Mt Carmel Elementary School 9/10, Lynn Fanning Elementary School 9/10, Hampton Cove Middle School 8/10, and Buckhorn High School 8/10.
Huntsville offers terrific higher education opportunities. There are several two and four-year schools to choose from, including University of Alabama in Huntsville, Alabama A&M University, Oakwood University, and Athens State University. Huntsville Bible College, Calhoun Community College, and JF Drake State Community and Technical College also serve Huntsville. The University of Alabama in Huntsville is known for its research-based doctoral program in biotechnology.
What To Do
There is no shortage of amazing things to do in Huntsville. As mentioned, it’s the home of the US Space and Rocket Center, and even someone with only a passing interest in our history in the space race can spend hours at a time browsing the exhibits. The center’s Intuitive Planetarium is a must-see, and there are seasonal events throughout the year that you shouldn’t miss.
Five historic districts and historical museums keep history buffs on the move to investigate architectural styles from the early 1800s, old cotton textile mills, home tours, and the oldest surviving railroad depot in the country.
The city boasts several walking tours, including themed tours like the dog-friendly Bark and Wag and the historical On Holy Ground tour of historic churches. There are also numerous museums to choose from—everything from art to military history—and of course, the Harmony Park Safari lets you get up close with a variety of animals.
Many of the original scientists who came to work on the rocket program in Huntsville in the 1940s were German, and the city celebrates its German roots throughout the year. Oktoberfest events are highlighted for an extended period each fall, and even the folks at NASA get in on the fun with charity events that offer German food, culture, and of course, beer!
But it’s not all rockets and blast-offs. With over 57 city parks, Huntsville has a vibrant outdoor community with everything from hiking trails and mountain biking to marathons and triathlons. Monte Sano State Park offers a glimpse into the beauty of the Appalachian Mountains, and the Huntsville Botanical Garden is an idyllic place to get away from it all. Huntsville is headquarters of the National Speleological Society. Sitting on the limestone Cumberland Plateau, the region is famous for its caves and springs.
Huntsville has a thriving microbrewery industry, so there’s no shortage of locally-owned businesses where you can sample suds while planning your evenings out. From casual to fine dining, you’ll find something for every taste and budget.
When people think of sports in the South, they probably think of football. And yes, Huntsville does have plenty of spectator football for die-hard fans, including the college teams and the Huntsville Tigers, a women’s tackle football team. But you might not expect the area to be such a huge hockey town. Despite the temperatures, Huntsville has both pro and collegiate teams: the Huntsville Havoc and the University of Alabama – Huntsville’s Chargers. Auto racing is a huge sport across the state, and quite a few well-known drivers got their professional starts at the Huntsville Speedway.
The crime rates in Huntsville are below some other metro areas in the state but still above the national average. BestPlaces uses a 1 to 100 scale for both violent and property crimes. On the scale, the national average for violent crime is 22.7, while Huntsville’s rating is 43.2; the national average for property crimes is 35.4, but Huntsville’s rating is 66.9. According to neighborhoodscout.com’s crime rate map, crime seems highest in the city center, the neighborhoods of Edmonton Heights, West Huntsville, and the area near Drake Avenue and Triana Blvd.
Huntsville has several options when it comes to your utilities, and some of those will depend on the location of your new residence.
- Electricity, natural gas, and water: One major benefit to this city is the one-stop-shopping provided by Huntsville Utilities, a company that offers electric, natural gas, and water service. That means one bill and one company to deal with if there are service issues.
- Waste management services are especially important when you move due to the trash that goes along with unpacking your belongings. Make sure you contact a provider to get your trash pickup started immediately. Again, depending on your location, your address may be serviced by the city’s trash collection department, or you may need to contract with a monthly-fee provider like Waste Management of Huntsville. Recycling your moving boxes is a great idea, but the city and the county both operate landfills if you need to drop off larger amounts of garbage.
- Cable/Internet service offers residents a lot more choice, including Wow! Internet, TV & Phone, Google Fiber Space, and Xfinity by Comcast. There are also dish options available in the area, such as AT&T’s DirecTV. Other providers based on your location include Knology, Mediacom, Simple Helix, and HiWAAY. Unless you’re transferring your service from your previous address, these providers may require a new account application, credit check, and security deposit, so it’s a good idea to contact them in advance of your move.
Best Neighborhoods in Huntsville
Making your move to Huntsville is a big decision, and buying a home or signing a lease should involve a lot of research and thought. Here’s a glimpse of some of the best areas in and around the city of Huntsville. Let the following data points steer you in the right direction as you plan your upcoming move.
Huntsville is in Madison County, but the area known as Madison has a lot to offer. First, it has three number one rankings, according to Niche.com’s list: Best Places to Buy a House in Alabama, Best Places to Live in Alabama, and Best Places to Raise a Family in Alabama. That’s a pretty impressive list of firsts, and the median household income of over $92,000 certainly helps provide opportunity for growth and quality of life.
Within easy commute to Huntsville from the western edge of the city, Madison has A+ ratings for schools, housing, and family life, as well as an A rating for diversity. Madison receives a crime rating of C+ — but other factors more than make up for it.
- Population: 47,079
- Median home price: $239,400
- Median rent: $879 per month
- Schools: Madison County School System with an A+ rating
Something to try: Bring the family to Insanity Skatepark’s black light “roller rink on steroids,” or make it an adults-only date night when you take in a roller derby match.
Looking to stay in the heart of it all? Huntsville is the perfect place to begin looking for your home. Whether you rent or buy, you’ll be in good company here. The major demographic living in Huntsville is young professionals of around 25 to 35 years old, but that doesn’t mean it’s not a highly ranked family-friendly town with something to offer everyone. The schools are above average (B+), and there’s plenty of activity to keep the whole family busy.
With a wide variety of home prices and sizes to choose from, finding your new home in Huntsville will be easy. Of course, almost half of the residents choose to rent, whether it’s due to the affordable prices or the option to live closer to work. Don’t let the high numbers of renters fool you, though; Niche.com ranks Huntsville as the #16 city in the entire US for the best place to buy a home. Huntsville is also in the Top 50 for best place to live in America and best place to raise a family.
- Population: 190,501
- Median home price: $153,900
- Median rent: $773 per month
- Schools: Huntsville City School District
Something to try: Is hockey your thing—or your new favorite interest? Take in one of several hockey matches in town, topped off with a beer from a nearly unlimited supply of locally crafted suppliers.
Are you looking to escape your daily grind and settle in for the evening in the smallest of small-town living? Harvest might be the answer. This town of just over 5,000 residents is situated halfway in the middle between Huntsville and the Tennessee line, meaning your commute will be longer than average.
Harvest has highly-rated schools, affordably priced homes, and a crime rate so low it doesn’t even score on Niche.com’s scale. This city is certainly growing, and according to residents, it does a great job keeping up with these forward-moving trends, especially in education.
- Population: 5,839
- Median home value: $150,400
- Median rent: $1,161 (due to scarcity, as only 20% of residents rent)
- Schools: Madison County Schools, including A+ rated Sparkman High School
Something to try: Step out of your comfort zone with a few lessons at Bad Axe Throwing or Gypsy Rose Dancing – pole dancing, that is!
This little burg north of Huntsville is ideally situated along Highway 231 and within easy driving distance of I-65. Most of the residents are homeowners and young professionals, and as such, there are plenty of shopping and dining options as well as very highly rated schools.
Some residents have commented on the abundance of choice when it comes to running errands and finding things to do. You’ll find the usual big chain retailers and restaurants, equally spaced among locally-owned businesses for a very “homegrown” feel.
This area also happens to have a B+ crime rating, according to areavibes.com.
- Population: 6,695
- Median home value: $159,000
- Median rent: $882, but only 10% of residents rent their homes
- Schools: A- rated selection of schools in the Madison County School District
Something to try: Of all the Huntsville region, Moores Mill may be the one best known for its barbeque restaurants. Check out Scrugg’s, Poppy’s, Pig-N-Out, and even the new Stone Age Korean Barbeque.
If you’re looking to get out of the city at the end of a long workday, Meridianville is a wonderful hometown community directly north along Highway 431. It houses both the municipal airport and a pleasant golf course, along with a variety of locally-owned shops and businesses. This small town of just over 6,000 people brings you closer to a lot of the outdoors vistas that residents love about the Huntsville area while helping you avoid some of the traffic of the city.
One of the best features of this town is the “step back in time” aspect to quaint stores that carry locally sourced goods. Reeds Farmers Market and Fowlers Tomatoes are the best places to shop for fresh seasonal produce, and Hamley Bake Shoppe provides top-notch homemade baked goods. There’s even a pet “boutique” to find just the right outfit for your furry friend.
- Population: 6,731
- Median home value: $170,100
- Median rent: $839 per month, but only 14% of residents rent
- Schools: Madison County Schools that feed into Meridianville and Hazel Green schools
Something to try: Head out to Scott’s Orchard to pick your own apples, a real treat in the beauty of an Alabama fall.
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