Has COVID-19 affected the living plans of urban tenants?

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Freddie Mac interviewed urban tenants* to examine how the COVID-19 pandemic may have changed their perception of city living.

Survey results showed that urban renters’ feelings about city living remained consistent throughout our 18-month reporting period, but renters placed more value on certain aspects of their communities than at the start of the pandemic. Additionally, we found that certain subgroups of urban renters were more likely to say they planned to leave an urban center.

Opinions of urban tenants on living in the city

According to our survey, urban renters’ desire to live in the city has not changed over the past 18 months. Responding to a question about how they felt about living in an urban area in the past six months:

  • 15% of respondents said he had become more desirable.
  • 54% said their feelings had not changed.
  • 30% said it was less desirable.

These percentages remained within the margin of error for the three waves of the survey, which were carried out in summer 2020, spring 2021 and fall 2021.

Aspects of the house that have become more important

We’ve seen that urban tenants place more value on features that reflect the re-emergence of city living, such as access to public transportation and proximity to shops and restaurants.

When asked about how the importance of certain factors has changed over the past year, 41% of urban tenants surveyed indicated that a walkable neighborhood was more important. Here are some of the factors that respondents identified as having become more important over the past year:

Factor Percent reported as more important
Pedestrian district 41%
Close to services, shops and restaurants 39%
Distance to work 34%
Access to public transport 26%

A closer look at those looking to leave town

Of the urban renters we surveyed who said they plan to leave the city on their next move, we segmented respondents by ethnicity and education level. We found the following:

  • White renters (43%) were more likely than Black renters (24%) and Hispanic renters (22%) to say they planned to leave. Comparing results from our spring and fall surveys, all groups are now more likely to leave town, but black renters saw the largest increase (+9 percentage points) across all surveys.
  • Renters with a high school education or less (53%) were more likely to say they planned to move out of town, compared to those with a college education (25%) or those who college education or more (22%).

Whether they plan to continue living in the city or move to suburban or rural areas, urban renters cite the top three reasons for their upcoming move as follows:

  • Better quality of life (39%).
  • More living space (34%).
  • The possibility of buying a house (30%).

Overall, as the United States begins to outgrow the pandemic, we do not expect large numbers of urban renters to immediately move to suburban or rural areas, based on our survey results. .

For more information on the rental market and multifamily housing, see Freddie Mac Multifamily Research.

Interested in more consumer research? Get housing market insights from surveys of renters, homeowners and buyers in Freddie Mac Consumer Research.

*Conducted from September 16 to 25, 2021, the online survey of 1,000 adults resulted in an analysis base of 800 urban tenants.

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