The U.S. Census Bureau recently announced that a greater percentage of Americans are renting than at any time in the last 50 years. According to the Bureau, in 2016 36.6 percent of the heads of households rented their place of residence — the most since 1965. 43.3 million heads of household are renters, and the percentage of renters among heads of household has increased from 31.2 percent in 2006 to 36.6 percent.
Why are we seeing these shifts? The authors of the Census Bureau study attribute the movement toward renting to lingering concerns about owning a home stemming from the Great Recession, rising house prices, and young people who are so burdened by student loan debt that they simply can’t afford to purchase a home. Millennials are the most likely to rent their place of residence: in 2016, 65 percent of heads of household under age 35 are renters. And there may be other factors at play, like the potential difficulties of selling a home in an economy where you might need to pick up stakes and move to another city in order to advance in your career. Who wants to be saddled with a house, and fretting about whether you can sell it, under those circumstances?
I’ve got no doubt that these factors, and others, are contributing to the movement toward renting. In my experience, young people these days are a lot more thoughtful and analytical about their housing decisions than was the case with people of my generation. We were raised on concepts of the American Dream in which owning your own home was a fundamental part of the puzzle, and as a result the decision to buy a house was almost a reflexive, automatic act. Now it seems that people generally, and young people specifically, are more carefully weighing their options and concluding that, for many, renting makes a lot more sense — whether it is because of a desire to be flexible, or because renting often allows them to live closer to their workplaces and areas that offer lots of social activities, or because living in an apartment building can provide a kind of ready-built community, or because of concerns about getting stuck with an overpriced house, or something else. It’s one of the reasons why, in Columbus, the rental market is exceptionally hot and people are building new rental units left and right.
We may be seeing a shift in cultural norms, away from defining success as owning a tidy home in the suburbs and mowing your lawn every Saturday during the summer. If, like me, you’re not a fan of suburban sprawl and would like to see our existing city areas revitalized, the movement toward renting is not a bad thing.