Growing number of U.S. suburbs is now dominated by renters

Many American suburbs, once an emblem of the dream of homeownership, are increasingly a place where people send a check to the landlord. 

Renters now make up the majority of residents in more than 100 suburbs around the U.S., according to a new analysis of Census Bureau data from Rent Cafe. Another 57 suburbs are on their way to becoming predominately renter territory over the next five years, the apartment search website also found.

The trend is visible across the country. Beverly Hills, the ritzy area outside of Los Angeles, California, that’s home to many Hollywood celebrities, flipped from majority owners to mostly renters over the past decade. Suburbs around Miami, Florida, and Washington, D.C., have followed a similar course. 

A sign of the times: Of the nearly 5 million residents who moved to suburbs surrounding the 50 largest U.S. metro areas, almost 80% were renters, the analysis found. And while the ranks of suburban homeowners grew 3% between 2010 and 2019, suburban renters jumped 22% over that period. 

Overall, roughly a quarter of the more than 1,100 suburbs near the nation’s 50 largest metro areas are renter-dominated, according to Rent Cafe. Some 21 million people rented their homes in the suburbs as of 2019, up from 17 million a decade ago.

What’s driving the trend?

Millennials and members of Generation Z account for most suburban renters, Census data show. Rent Cafe notes that 55% of suburban renters are younger than 45, with median household earnings of around $50,000.

Meanwhile, the pandemic is expected to further fuel the shift away from suburban homeownership in favor of renting. Remote work opportunities have generated more interest in suburban areas within striking distance of cities.

“With the increase in remote work, short-term projects and ‘side hustles,’ there’s every reason to believe that the future will be a more transitory, migratory existence. Most of this migration will be toward cities and urban landscapes, where even the suburbs will cluster most closely to urban areas,” Kenneth Laundra, associate professor of sociology at Millikin University, said in a statement. 

Nearly 60 suburbs, including many in California and Florida, are expected to see more than half of residents renting over the next five years, Rent Cafe found.

Investors with deep pockets drive up housing … 06:24

The high cost of housing around the U.S. has also made buying a home beyond the means of many Americans. Homeownership is out of reach for most people in more than 4 in 10 counties across the U.S., according to Attom Data Solutions, a provider of property data. The number of counties where homeownership is now considered unaffordable jumped about 20% from a year earlier, rising to 242 counties in the second quarter compared with 205 in the year-earlier period. 

Over the course of the pandemic, wealthier Americans also snapped up pricey homes in exclusive resort communities as the work-from-home lifestyle no longer tethers workers to the office five days a week. 

Sales of expensive homes in places like Aspen, Colorado; the Hamptons in New York; and Palm Beach, Florida, have been booming since May, when it became clear the pandemic would upend Americans’ lifestyles indefinitely, according to real estate agents and appraisers across the country.