High-Rise Apartment Buildings and Mid-Rise Buildings Are Overshadowing Low-Rises for the First Time in 3 Decades

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Tall skylines anchored by impressive skyscrapers have been the staple image of large American cities, dominated by office towers and a few residential condominium skyscrapers. However, high-rise buildings, and even skyscrapers, are starting to claim more and more spots on urban skylines, as we discovered by analyzing data on multifamily buildings from Yardi Matrix.

With demand for apartments strong across the country, combined with the scarcity and value of land sharply increasing, developers in urban areas are looking upwards in their quest to providing a healthy supply of residential units. Thirty years ago, in the ’90s, the average apartment building in the U.S. had 3 floors, the following decade the average height was around 4 stories, and this decade, with a boost in high-rise construction, the average building height rose to 6 floors.

The shares of mid-rise and high-rise apartment buildings are increasing rapidly

The overall trend of apartment buildings growing taller is sustained by a widespread shift to high-rise buildings and mid-rise buildings to the detriment of low-rise buildings. The share of low-rise buildings decreased from 92% in the ’90s to 48% of the structures currently being built. The share of mid-rise apartment buildings expanded considerably from 6% of what was built in the ’90s, to 41% of what’s under construction today. Likewise, high-rise apartment buildings have increased their share from a mere 2% to 11% over the same period of time.

low-rise mid-rise high-rise buildings

Low-rise buildings losing ground to mid- and high-rise construction

The number of low-rise rental buildings has consistently dropped since reaching a peak in 1999, while mid- and high-rise apartment buildings have really taken off this decade. A clear trend is visible in the data — that since 2010 mid-rise and high-rise construction has gained in popularity.

This only goes to confirm what has been evident to the naked eye for some time now — that the larger U.S. cities are getting denser and the apartments we live in are higher and higher off the ground. This is happening in part due to strong demand for urban living and fewer sites to build. Many apartment developers and industry experts agree that there is more vertical development because the cost of land is increasing. The existing and future size of developments is determined by a mix of housing economics, demand and land use regulations, according to Doug Ressler, manager of business intelligence at Yardi Matrix.

High-rise apartment buildings are growing higher and bigger

We are building more mid-rise and high-rise buildings to accommodate a larger number of units. Three decades ago, the median number of units of a high-rise apartment building was 243, but it went up by 17 more units in the ’00s and 14 more in the ’10s, reaching the impressive median number of 274.

Median number of Units by building

“Developments are typically constructed to maximize the number of units in each tract of land (within policy governance) and limitations reduce the profitability of development and may discourage development in certain areas which result in fewer units built or higher rents for the units that are constructed.”, says Ressler.

Residential skyscrapers are gaining more popularity

The number of apartment skyscrapers are much more common today than they were three decades ago. From only 8 in the ‘90s to a skyrocketing 68 in the ‘10s, residential skyscrapers are fast becoming popular across the country. Between the ‘00s and the ‘10s, their number almost doubled.

high-rise buildings skyscrapers

Top 10 tallest U.S. apartment buildings developed in the last three decades

So where are the tallest apartment buildings built in the past 30 years: Miami, Austin, or maybe in Phoenix? The highest U.S. residential building in our top, standing tall at 87 floors, is Aqua at Lakeshore East in Chicago, IL, a spectacular construction located near Lake Michigan.

Half of the buildings present in the top below were built during the last decade, while the other half in the past 6 years. All of them boast exceptional amenities and have over 150 units, with New York‘s Silver Towers (60 floors – 7th in the top) offering an impressive number of 1,359 apartments. The Jersey City Urby building, 4th in our top, is actually the tallest building in Jersey City, NJ, with 69 floors and 762 units. Check out below the top 10 tallest apartment buildings in the U.S.:

Boston is this decade’s champion in share of apartment of high-rises

Surprisingly, Boston, MA has the highest share of new high-rise apartment buildings this decade, ahead of New York City. 55% of apartment buildings completed in Boston this decade have more than 12 floors, while 51% of what was built in NYC since 2010 is in the same height category, and 41% in Chicago. In the previous two decades, New York City led with a 61% share of high-rise buildings in the ’00s, and a 46% share in the ’90s, and it remains the all-time champion city with the most high-rise residential buildings in the U.S.

Density limitations, height restrictions, materials, cost of labor, parking requirements, and other rules are some of the main points that contribute to how high cities build. While the regulation of residential buildings can vary from region to region, coastal markets are usually more highly regulated, with communities in the Northeast region under the highest degree of local regulations.

But not all cities are excited about growing vertically. Jacksonville, FL, with its 92% share of low-rise development, delivered no high-rise apartment buildings this decade. Tall buildings have not been the preferred type for Las Vegas and El Paso, TX either. The two cities saw their shares of low-rise buildings rising to 98%, with the rest of deliveries being mid-rise.

Use the interactive table below to see how the number of high-rise apartment buildings and the average number of floors for all types of apartment buildings changed during the past decades.

No. of High-Rises & Average No. of Floors by Decade in the 30 Largest US Cities

CityHigh-Rises 2010-2018High-Rises 2000-2009High-Rises 1990-1999Average Floors 2010-2018Average Floors 2000-2009Average Floors 1990-1999
New York, NY11211144151414
Chicago, IL713311151411
Philadelphia, PA
Seattle, WA
Boston, MA246015136
Dallas, TX
Los Angeles, CA
Houston, TX
Washington, D.C.
San Francisco, CA
Denver, CO
San Diego, CA1130753
Austin, TX1150543
Portland, OR
Nashville, TN701644
Charlotte, NC
Baltimore, MD
Detroit, MI520953
Indianapolis, IN400533
San Jose, CA300643
Louisville, KY210532
Phoenix, AZ120433
Columbus, OH100532
Jacksonville, FL030343
Las Vegas, NV020332
Oklahoma, OK010332
Fort Worth, TX000434
El Paso, TX000322
San Antonio, TX012433
Memphis, TN021434


RentCafe is a nationwide apartment search website that enables renters to easily find apartments and houses for rent throughout the United States.

To compile this report, RentCafe’s research team analyzed the height of ~30,000 residential multifamily buildings with more than 50 units across the U.S., built between 1990 & 2018, based on the total number of floors. Data for 2019 is incomplete and not included.

Construction data was provided by our sister company, Yardi Matrix, a business development and asset management tool for brokers, sponsors, banks and equity sources underwriting investments in the multifamily, office, industrial and self-storage sectors.

Low-rise buildings are defined as buildings with 4 floors or under.

Mid-rise buildings are defined as buildings that have between 5 to 12 floors.

High-rise buildings are defined as buildings that have 13 floors or above.

Skyscrapers are buildings with over 40 floors and are considered part of the high-rise category. 

Properties with mixed structures (a combination of low-rise, mid-rise, high-rise buildings) were categorized based on the structure with the highest number of floors.

The images used for the ‘Tallest apartment buildings’ visual are courtesy of Yardi Matrix.

For customized data and other requests, please contact us at media@rentcafe.com.

Fair use and redistribution

We encourage you and freely grant you permission to reuse, host, or repost the images in this article. When doing so, we only ask that you kindly attribute the authors by linking to RentCafe.com or this page, so that your readers can learn more about this project, the research behind it and its methodology.

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Florentina Sarac is a creative writer, editor, and researcher for RENTCafé. She covers a variety of topics, from real estate trends, demographic shifts, housing industry news and multifamily construction to homeownership, smart-home technology, personal finance and business. With a 9-year background in the real estate industry, Florentina has also penned articles for publications such as Multi-Housing News, Commercial Property Executive and the National Apartment Association Magazine. You can connect with Florentina via email.

Florentina’s work and expertise have been featured in several major U.S. and international publications, including The New York Times, The Washington Post, Bisnow, The Mercury News, Curbed, The NY Post, CBS News, Business Insider and Realtor.com. She holds a B.A. in English and Spanish, as well as an M.A. in Multilingual and Multicultural Communication, which serve as a testament to her love of literature and language.

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