Renter mobility rate in U.S. has declined by one-quarter since 2010; Los Angeles has seen more than twice the drop in total residential mobility as the national average
A new USC Sol Price School of Public Policy study published today in the journal Housing Studies found that the current housing crisis in America isn’t just being fueled by unaffordability, but also by a sharp downturn in local mobility, fewer home purchases, slower construction and an influx of young renters increasingly competing for an already limited housing supply. Together, these factors are constricting the flow of available rental vacancies within major cities and driving local mobility to record low levels, said study authors.
Concerns arise when people don’t move as regularly among rental properties and fewer vacancies become available for new residents. This disrupts the “vacancy chain” and creates gridlock in the housing market—essentially, it doesn’t matter if an individual wants or needs to move, because the space just isn’t there. If it is, competition for it is greatly intensified.
“The nation’s current housing crisis has many dimensions, but mobility constriction deserves new recognition as a factor that’s having a huge impact,” said Dowell Myers, author of the study, along with JungHo Park, a USC Price postdoctoral scholar and Seongmoon Cho, a USC Price Ph.D. student in urban planning.
“Our analysis shows a striking reversal of local-level mobility trends in the U.S. after the Great Recession, compared to the preceding decade” added Myers. “Today’s rates are down by one-quarter, compared to the decade of the 2000s, when rates showed almost zero change. People have known it’s increasingly hard to find a place to live, but now the evidence backs that up.”
Using data from the large-scale American Community Survey, along with records of new housing construction and employment growth, the study looked at local-level residential mobility in major U.S. metropolitan areas. Metros with a heavier concentration of young Millennial adults in their late 20s and 30s showed greater mobility declines in the study, primarily because the population’s sheer numbers create even greater competition for a scarce supply of homes. This was especially true in Los Angeles, the country’s second largest metro market, where renter mobility rates fell by 3.6% from 2010 to 2019, nearly two times the 1.9% national average decline.
A full breakdown of the largest metropolitan markets experiencing the greatest downturns in residential mobility rates—for both renters and owners—can be found in the supplemental brief issued today by the study authors (see Exhibit 6). In addition, this brief includes more detail and graphs on annual renter and owner mobility for the top 50 U.S. metropolitan markets (see Appendix A).
A snapshot of U.S. markets showing the greatest declines in renter mobility include:
|Population Size Rank||Metro Name||Change 2010 to 2019|
The study also notes the increasingly slow pace of new construction. Currently, new construction supplies only 7% of vacancies for new residents, with the vast majority of moves occurring after previous residents have moved out of existing homes. As people move out more slowly it creates fewer opportunities for others to move in.
Also harming renters’ chances is the sluggish increase in home buying in the U.S., and especially in Los Angeles. The share of households in the U.S. that recently moved to owner occupancy is only 2.9%, a slight 0.4% point increase compared to 2010. In Los Angeles that mobility rate is 1.8%, actually 0.3% points worse than its level in 2010.
“The failure of home buying due to lack of existing housing stock and soaring prices is diminishing opportunities for renters,” said study co-author JungHo Park. “The net effect is that would-be buyers who can’t buy are clogging up the rental market, leaving fewer openings where people can move, which is adding to the housing market gridlock.”
While the study’s authors cited the need for further examination of the mobility decline phenomena, they also posed several possible solutions, including immediately building more rental housing for Millennials as well as low-income renters. Expediting home buying by current renters would free up needed rental housing as well.
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Director, Population Dynamics Research Group