Renting Has Overtaken Homeownership In Many D.C. Suburbs High housing costs have put homeownership increasingly out of reach in a number of local suburbs.
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Renting Has Overtaken Homeownership In Many D.C. Suburbs

Fourteen suburban communities in the D.C. area went renter-majority between 2010 and 2019. The trend is related to high housing costs. David/ hide caption

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Suburbia is typically viewed as a bastion of homeownership, but a new analysis suggests that renting is the new normal in many D.C. suburbs.

The Washington metro region has the nation's highest number of suburban communities that transitioned from majority homeowner to majority renter between 2010 and 2019, according to a recent analysis of Census data by RENTCafé. This area has 14 suburban areas with renter majorities, more than any of the country's 49 other major metropolitan regions, the report says; the Miami and Los Angeles metropolitan regions rank second and third, respectively.

Merrifield, Virginia saw the greatest rate of change of any metro suburb, with 64% of residents now renting, up from 44% in 2010, according to the analysis. East Riverdale, Maryland went from 38% renter in 2010 to 56% renter in 2019. Other Northern Virginia communities where renting has crept above 50% include Huntington, Hybla Valley, and Lincolnia; in Maryland, Hyattsville, Hillcrest Heights, and College Park have seen a similar change.

The shift is part of a broader pattern, according to the study.

"The very definition of suburban living has been rewritten throughout the last decade as suburbs in the nation's 50 largest metros gained 4.7 million people since 2010 — a whopping 79% of whom were renters," writes Adrian Popa, a writer for RENTCafé. "What's more, between 2010 and 2019, the number of suburban renters grew by 22% — a number that dwarfs the 3% increase in suburban homeowners during the same period."

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The study attributes the change to a growing number of residents — especially younger people — priced out of the housing market. Nationally, more than half of suburban renters are younger than 45 with median household earnings around $50,000, according to RENTCafé. Other factors not addressed in the analysis could also be at play, including an increased supply of rental stock in newly developing neighborhoods, changing lifestyle preferences, and rising urban rents that send tenants to the suburbs.

Dozens of other suburban areas could flip to renter-majority in the coming years, encouraged in part by the pandemic, which prompted some cooped-up city dwellers to seek out more square footage. North Bethesda, Maryland saw a 26% increase in the share of renters between 2010 and 2019, and it could go renter-majority in the next five years, the analysis says. Gaithersburg, Maryland is heading in the same direction.

At the same time, the national homeownership rate is growing, albeit slightly, and particularly among younger adults, other data show. Homeownership grew by slightly less than 1 percentage point among households under age 35 over the past year, according to Harvard University's Joint Center for Housing Studies, with households ages 35 to 44 seeing a half percentage point increase. But sharp increases in housing prices have shut lower-income homebuyers out of the market. In D.C., for example, renters had to earn 120% of the area median income — nearly $150,000 — to afford the median-priced home in 2019.

There's also a persistent racial disparity in homeownership rates. Nationally, the homeownership rate among Black households is 44%, according to Census data. Among white households, it's nearly 75%. But the United Way of the National Capital Area recently ranked Maryland the country's best state for BIPOC homeownership, based on relatively high incomes and low unemployment rates among people of color. Virginia ranked No. 6 on the list.

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