- The population of almost a quarter of the 100 largest US cities has changed from homeowner- to renter-majority between 2006 and 2016
- The increase in the number of renters at national level in a decade’s time was only slightly slower than the total population growth over the same period, demonstrating a big swing toward renting
- The growth of the renter population outpaced that of homeowners in most large US cities
There’s no nice way to put this. The idea of owning a home lost much of the charm that once made it a structural element of the American Dream. Although the most recent data shows that the growth of the rental segment is losing momentum, it’s in part because homeownership has great losses to recover and it’s just starting to bounce back from the impact of the recession. In the late 2000s everybody was talking about the housing crisis, but the same wave that crushed the mortgage market—sending millions of homes to foreclosure—turned the apartment market downwind.
Our analysts took the American Community Survey archives from the US Census Bureau’s public database and simply compared the number of people living in renter- and owner-occupied housing units in 2006 and 2016 to see how the composition of our communities has changed over the past decade or so. But before we get technical, here’s a fun fact.
The total US population has increased by ~23.7 million people during the past decade, but this growth is far from evenly distributed between the two occupancy categories. The number of renters has increased by more than 23 million, and that of homeowners by less than 700K. In relative terms, the overall renter population has grown by more than a quarter in a decade. Meanwhile the number of owners (and people living in owner-occupied homes) has not only failed to keep up, but in truth, has remained virtually unchanged. The pie chart below represents the distribution of the population added since 2006:
Renters took over 22 of the largest cities
Though this shocking imbalance would have had to go on for a while longer to convert America into a renter nation, it was enough to tip the balance in some of the largest cities that used to be dominated by homeowners. In fact, renters have become the majority in almost a quarter of the 100 most populous cities.
Back in 2006 only 20 out of the 100 largest cities had more renters than owners. A decade was enough to boost the number of renter-dominated cities to 42.
The table below contains the 22 big cities where the number of renters has exceeded that of homeowners between 2006 and 2016. The entries are sorted by the proportional change of the renter share, but you can put them in the order of the actual renter share in 2006 or 2016 to see where they came from and where they got in roughly a decade by clicking on the column headers:
In 8 of the cities listed above, the overall population has decreased. In Toledo, OH; Honolulu, HI; Santa Ana, CA; Baltimore, MD; Cleveland, OH; St. Louis, MO and Chicago, IL this relative desolation is attributable exclusively to the shrinkage of the owner population, as the number of renters has increased in each of them. Detroit, MI is the only exception, where the renter population has also experienced a minor, 2% decrease—trivial compared to the 30% setback that Motor City’s homeowner population has seen in the same period. In total, 12 of the top 100 cities have seen an overall population decrease, but in the case of Tucson, AZ; Buffalo, NY; Garland, TX and Mesa, AZ, this was not enough for renters to gain majority (although their renter populations have slightly expanded at the same time).
Rentership growth outpaced homeownership in 97 of 100 large cities
The 22 cities listed above are only the tip of the iceberg. In most other large cities, although the renter population still falls away from the number of homeowners, the ratio has gone through a dramatic change. In fact, apart from Anchorage, AK (where the rentership rate decreased by 1.3%), Irving, TX (-2.5%) and Winston-Salem, NC (-3.6%) all large US cities of the top 100 list have shifted in this direction.
The interactive chart below includes the top 10 cities where the renter ratio has increased the most from 2006 to 2016, relative to the initial percentage. Open the second tab to see the actual rentership figures at the beginning and the end of the examined time period:
Three large cities in Arizona have made it into the top 10, and Gilbert is leading the rest of the 100 largest US cities by a good margin with a respectable 53.4%. The reason? The number of renters in Gilbert has doubled in 10 years. The city’s overall population experienced a spectacular boom, having increased from the 1980 count of 5,700 to 208,500 by the 2010 census. This translates into an average annual growth rate of close to 13% during these three decades—meaning that the city’s overall population has also more than doubled in a decade, and the vast majority of the new population chose the renter lifestyle.
Plano, TX, St. Petersburg, FL and North Las Vegas, NV follow almost neck-and-neck with growth rates hovering around 40%. And although only 5th by proportional growth (31.3%), Toledo, OH is prominent in that it already boasted a relatively high renter share in 2006 at 38.3%, which has now reached 50.3%—thus having joined the league of cities with a renter majority. The Ohio city is the only one to have made it to both lists and it’s the one that boasted the largest gain in renter share out of the 22 cities where renters became the majority population.
In spite of large gains, many cities still a long way from having a renter majority
You may have expected to find only fast-growing cities on this list, but you shouldn’t forget that we are ranking the cities by proportional growth, so the placements have a lot to do with the initial size of a city’s renter community. When a city already has five million renters, a decade is barely enough to produce a remarkable proportional growth. This is how New York City had no chance to make it to the top 10 with a sorry 4.5% growth rate—in spite of adding close to 440K renters, more than San José’s entire renter population and more than double that of Raleigh, NC or Cleveland, OH. But in case you can’t imagine a study without seeing NYC rank high in a comparison, we have good news.
Most coveted markets were already renter-dominated
We’ve seen the cities that have just joined the party, but what about those that have been there for a long time? The New Jersey hubs of Newark and Jersey City, Miami, NYC and Boston all have two thirds or more of their populations living in rental homes. Other mid- to top-tier markets follow hot on their heels, such as Orlando, Long Beach, Los Angeles, Cincinnati and Oakland, with renter-to-homeowner ratios of around 6-to-4.
Is the homeowner an endangered species?
To be concise: no.
Undoubtedly, the recession had a great impact on homeownership, and it’s hard not to agree if you look at the data from the last decade or so. However, it looks like it takes more to discourage Americans from buying a house than that.
As the years go by, it seems more and more certain that the fact that renting has seen a sudden gain in popularity is more a reaction to the economic crisis than a paradigm shift in the Americans’ attitude toward housing. This becomes most palpable when you break the data up into one-year chunks.
From 2007 until 2015 the American renter population had uninterruptedly been growing faster than the owner population, but after just four years, in 2010, the gap already started to close. And by 2016 the trend started to resemble what we’ve seen before the recession.
For the first time in years, the number of owners has increased by 0.9%, while that of renters came to a halt, and even decreased ever so slightly, by 0.1% on a national level. The last time the growth rates of the two segments looked similar to this was in 2006, when although negative growth was not an issue, the year-over-year expansion rate of the renter population still lagged behind that of owners by a full percentage point.
To see how the composition of your city’s population has changed in a decade, use the search box in the interactive table below. You can also sort the entries by the different factors by clicking on the header of each column.
Component figures may not add to the totals because of rounding.