Record Number of Single-Family Rentals Reflect the Expensive U.S. Housing Market

Home builders are building a record number of single-family rentals, and young, modest-income households with children are more likely to live in those new homes.

May 2, 2021, 7:00 AM PDT

By James Brasuell @CasualBrasuell


Indian Trail, North Carolina

Gus Valente / Shutterstock

"While still a relatively small share of all new housing, record numbers of single-family rentals were built in 2020," according to Alexander Hermann, who is sharing the findings of recent analysis by the Joint Center for Housing Studies of Harvard University.

"According to our tabulations of Census Bureau New Residential Construction data, 49,000 single-family rentals were started last year, up from 14,000 at the bottom in 2009 and surpassing the previous high of 47,000 in 2003 (Figure 1). However, single-family rentals remained just under 4 percent of total housing construction and 12 percent of rental construction."

As noted by Hermann, single-family rentals provide young, relatively modest families with children much-needed housing options. The Covid-19 pandemic has only spurred demand, resulting in the increased pace of construction, for single-family rentals.

"Indeed, single-family homes provide additional space for home offices, exercise, and remote learning; offer access to private outdoor space; and are often located in suburban areas—all characteristics associated with rising demand over the past year. At the same time, home prices have risen considerably in the for-sale market, making homebuying difficult for many moderate-income families who cannot afford rising prices and larger downpayments."

The prospect of more American families renting, rather than buying, homes has been framed as a red flag in the housing market in discussions about the growing footprint of Wall Street and large, institutional investors in the housing market. Many of those institutional acquisitions are happening at the low end of the market in suburban, single-family neighborhoods, according to recent reporting by the Wall Street Journal. Hermann's presentation of single-family rentals as a housing opportunity, thus, stands in contrast to the threat implied by the response to the news about the growing number of rental houses in the existing housing stock.

Tuesday, April 27, 2021 in Joint Center for Housing Studies of Harvard University

Chicago Commute

Planning for Congestion Relief

The third and final installment of Planetizen's examination of the role of the planning profession in both perpetuating and solving traffic congestion.

May 12, 2022 - James Brasuell

Twin Cities

Minneapolis Housing Plan a Success—Not for the Reason You Think

Housing advocates praise the city’s move to eliminate single-family zoning by legalizing triplexes on single-family lots, but that isn’t why housing construction is growing.

May 13, 2022 - Reason

San Francisco Houses

‘Mega-Landlords’ Threaten Housing Stability for Renters

As institutional investors buy up a larger share of single-family homes, the families renting them are increasingly vulnerable to rent increases and eviction.

May 15, 2022 - The Hill

Protected bike lane New York

How To Sustain the E-Bike Boom: Make Riders Feel Safe

Riders of electric and non-electric bikes alike agree that they would ride more if they felt safer on city streets, signaling a need for an increased focus on bike infrastructure.

16 minutes ago - Bloomberg

Urban Solar Power

Zoning Stands in the Way of Renewable Energy

Renewable energy is cheap as ever, but zoning isn’t keeping up with the market.

1 hour ago - Popular Science

Walkable DC

Mixed Use Could Lower Neighborhood Crime Rates

New research shows areas with a heavy concentration of commercial offices experience 40 percent higher crime rates than neighborhoods that mix residential and commercial uses.

2 hours ago - Arch Daily

HUD’s 2022 Innovative Housing Showcase

HUD's Office of Policy Development and Research

Expanding HUD’s Eviction Protection Grant Program

HUD's Office of Policy Development and Research

New Updates on The Edge

HUD's Office of Policy Development and Research

Urban Design for Planners 1: Software Tools

This six-course series explores essential urban design concepts using open source software and equips planners with the tools they need to participate fully in the urban design process.

Hand Drawing Master Plans

This course aims to provide an introduction into Urban Design Sketching focused on how to hand draw master plans using a mix of colored markers.