Yesterday, Harvard's Joint Center for Housing Studies released a report on the rise of renting in America—and the parallel rise in the housing-cost burden for renters. The long trend toward homeownership, the study finds, has reversed, with the rental share of households climbing from 31 percent in 2004 to 35 percent in 2012. Meanwhile, the percentage of renters paying more than 30 percent of their income for housing—considered the threshold of affordability—rose from 38 percent to 50 percent between 2000 and 2010, and the share of "severely burdened" renters, paying more than half their income toward rent, increased from 19 percent to 27 percent.
Compare that to a story today from Annie Lowrey in the New York Times Magazine on how Americans are increasingly staying put in their cities. The percentage of people moving across state lines is now half what it was in the 1990s. You'd think that geographic mobility, considered a key ingredient in America's economic success, would logically be tied to renting, while homeowners would have more trouble picking up and moving. So what gives?
Part of the answer lies in where people are moving to: cities. Central cities are home to 43 percent of renters, the Harvard study finds, while suburbs—containing 49 percent of the population—have only 40 percent of renters. This shouldn't come as any surprise to residents of the District, which has been gaining around 1,000 residents a month. Reversing the flight to the suburbs of much of the second half of the 20th century, people want to live in cities now. Not only are they moving there as college graduates; they're increasingly staying there as they start families. And in cities, many or most people rent. (Here in D.C., as of 2011, the figure was 55 percent.)
This is a great thing for cities, particularly D.C., which needs population growth to make up for the fact that most people who work here don't live here and don't pay taxes here. (Not to mention all those federal facilities that aren't contributing property taxes.) But it also causes problems. Particularly when it comes to housing.