Over 1.4 million new renter households entered the market in 2015, raising the national percentage of rental households to 36.4%, the highest national share of renters since the 1960s. Local renter shares have also risen nationwide in the past five years, to the point where there are more renter-majority cities now than ever, based U.S. Census 2015 American Community Survey data.

In 2012, only 14 cities had a renter-majority, or a renter population of 50% or more. In 2013, this number jumped to 18, and as of 2015, 21 metros have renter populations of 50% or more. Six more, including Durham, N.C. and San Diego, hover between 49% and 50%.

ABODO - Where Renting Outpaces Owning

In its recent “Where Renting Trumps Owning” study, ABODO examines each of the 21 renter-majority markets in order to determine the local circumstances that draw residents toward renting.

"At ABODO, it's our job to help renters find apartments. And recently, we've seen a large number of homeowners moving back into rental units,” says Sam Radbil, senior communications manager at ABODO. “So, we wondered, where is this happening the most throughout the country? …We found that only 21 cities in the country are renter-majority, but 206 cities are filled with more than 33% of residents who rent rather than own."

College Station-Bryan, Texas tops the list with a renter population of 59.1%, followed by Athens-Clarke County, Ga. at 57.5% and Killeen, Texas at 56.0%. All of the top three cities are on the lowest end of the population cutoff, while many of the nation’s largest population centers are nowhere near the top 21: Dallas and Houston are both about 43% renters, while Miami is 41.49% renters and Chicago is 36.1% renters. The largest metro areas in the top 21 are Los Angeles (#4, 53.9%), San Francisco (#16, 50.9%), and New York (#17, 50.7%).

Within these 21 cities, 50% of the renters are between the ages of 15 and 44, spanning the older end of Gen Z and the younger end of Gen X. The highest percentage, 24.25%, are ages 25-34, reffered to as the “millennial” renter cohort. ABODO notes that the renter age balance is evenly spread in renter-dominated cities: Almost 19% of renters are between the ages of 45 and 54, and over 30% are ages 55 and over. By comparison, 77.16% of homeowners in renter-dominated cities are over 45.

The percentage balance between “family” and “non-family” renter households varied widely in the top 21 cities. Salinas, Calif. sits at the top end with 76.3% of renter households identified as families, while in Boulder, Colo., only 20.92% of renter households identify as families.

This variance is based in part on local circumstances. The 11 cities dominated by non-family renter households are all home to major public state universities. San Francisco, New York, and Los Angeles have some of the nation’s highest housing costs. Four cities are located near military bases: Killeen, Texas (Fort Hood); Clarksville, Tenn. (Fort Campbell); Fayetteville, N.C. (Fort Bragg); and Columbus, Ga. (Fort Benning).

The three majority-renter urban areas that experienced the most renter growth between 2011 and 2015 were Boulder, Colo. (14.68%), Savannah, Ga. (11.50%), and Columbus, Ga. (9.16%). Boulder and Savannah are both college cities with growing populations, and Columbus’ Fort Benning, the largest military base in the country, received an influx of new residents in 2011 when the United States Army Armor School moved there.

Each of these cities also experienced a greater increase in renting costs than in ownership costs during this period. Boulder’s was the most dramatic, with a 19.43% increase between 2011 and 2015. ABODO attributes this change to the city’s high-altitude development restrictions and corresponding low rental supply.