Did COVID-19 Affect Urban Renters’ Living Plans?

Freddie Mac building shutterstock_1678350862 Freddie Mac surveyed urban renters to examine how the COVID-19 pandemic may have changed their perceptions about city living.  

Survey results showed that urban renters’ feelings about city living remained consistent across our 18-month reporting period, but renters assigned more value to certain aspects of their communities than early in the pandemic. In addition, we found that certain subgroups of urban renters were more likely to say they plan to move out of an urban center.

Urban Renters’ Views on City Living

Urban renters’ desire to live in the city has not changed in the last 18 months, our survey showed. Responding to a question about how they felt about living in an urban area in the previous six months:

  • 15% of respondents said it had become more desirable.
  • 54% said their feelings had not changed.
  • 30% said it was less desirable.

Those percentages remained within the margin of error for all three waves of the survey, which were fielded in summer 2020, spring 2021 and fall 2021.

Aspects of Home That Became More Important

We saw that urban renters are placing more value on characteristics that reflect the re-emergence of urban life, such as access to public transportation and proximity to shopping and restaurants.

In response to a question about how certain factors changed in importance in the past year, 41% of urban renters surveyed identified a pedestrian-friendly neighborhood as more important. Here are some of the factors that respondents identified as having become more important in the last year:

Factor

Percent Reported as More Important

Pedestrian-friendly neighborhood 41%    
Proximity to services, shops, restaurants

39%    

Distance to work 34%    
Access to public transportation 26%    

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A Closer Look at Those Looking to Move Out of the City

Of the urban renters we surveyed who said they are looking to leave the city when they move next, we segmented respondents by ethnicity and education level. We found the following:

  • White renters (43%) were more likely than Black renters (24%) and Hispanic renters (22%) to say they are planning to leave. Comparing results from our spring and fall surveys, all group are now more likely to move out of the city, but Black renters had the largest increase (+9 percentage points) across surveys.
  • Renters with a high school degree or less education (53%) were more likely to say they plan to move out of the city, compared to those with some college education (25%) or those with a college degree or more education (22%).

Regardless of whether they plan to continue living in the city or relocate to suburban or rural areas, urban renters cite their top three reasons for their next move as the following:

  • A better quality of life (39%).
  • More living space (34%).
  • The ability to purchase a home (30%).

Overall, as the United States begins to move beyond the pandemic, we do not expect a large swath of urban renters to immediately move to the suburbs or rural areas, based on our survey results.

Source: FreddieMac