Homeowners and Renters – The New Integration

The Washington Post has a fascinating article about the integration of homeowner and renter communities:

Not surprisingly, as the national homeownership rate has declined, and as homes that were traditionally owned became rentals, Kolko found that owners and renters became more integrated between 2000 and 2010 in 70 of the 100 largest metros in the country. This trend was driven by the decline of neighborhoods where nearly everyone owns a home, and the steady rise of the kind of Census tracts where 20-60 percent of households are rented…

On the one hand, this means that people who are renters now have neighborhoods open to them that weren’t in the past. On the other, Kolko points to a Trulia survey last year that found that 51 percent of homeowners believe it’s important that their neighbors be homeowners, too. In other words, renters may not always be welcome, as the New York Times described in a story last summer about formerly owner-occupied neighborhoods changing in “profound ways,” portending “reduced home values, lower voter turnout and political influence, less social stability and higher crime.”

Kolko’s data suggest that few places are dramatically flipping from all-owner to all-renter. But even a much subtler change can still bring out anxieties grounded in all of the beliefs we’ve long held about each other. I’m not sure what this proximity will teach most of us — that some of the values associated with homeownership might rub off on nearby renters? That homeowners have less (or more) to fear from renters in the midst than they think? That our financial relationship to our homes matters less than it used to?

Given our modern lifestyles of dual income homes, kids who never play outside and a general decline in community participation it’s not like neighborhoods full of homeowners are all as tight-knit as they were in the past, so it’s possible that people might not know who’s a renter and who’s not. Still, it will be interesting to see if this trend changes the public’s general perception of renters, but even if it does it’s not likely to help apartment developers overcome NIMBYism. Can’t you just hear it now? “Well, single home renters are different from those apartment people.”