A Brief Explainer of the Urban vs Suburban Migration Inflow/Outflow Argument
During the recession and post-recession years, between 2006 and 2015, urban areas around the country saw a major influx of new residents as millennials and former-suburb dwellers moved into downtowns and denser urban neighborhoods. Writing in Medium, economist Lyman Stone seeks to find out if this inflow migration to urban cores is a lasting phenomenon or just a "migration bubble." He finds that part of the inflow explanation was driven by cheaper housing in urban areas at the beginning of the recession.
Migrants moved in pursuit of cheaper housing during the recession, with many foreclosed on, and fewer pursuing ownership. This wasn’t because they wanted a better home or a better neighborhood: those reasons became less prevalent. It’s because the relative costs of urban renting suddenly became much more favorable.
As prices in the urban core have increased in comparison to housing costs in suburban areas, the inflow migration has slowed. Essentially, Stone explains, the imbalance that saw people move into urban areas is shifting back to where we were pre-recession as suburbs become the more affordable option once again.
When we look at the last few years of migration, we should see it as a bubble. It was never going to last very long, and was always the product of essentially transient imbalances of in costs that migrants rapidly arbitraged. We are now returning to the normal state of suburban and exurban inflows, and urban outflows.