The only generation to record an increase in renting activity in the past year, up by 21%, Gen Z is playing a big role in the urban revival, bringing to the front lines of development these Zoomer cities. Currently representing over a quarter of lease applications nationwide, Gen Z renters are swarming large urban hubs that promise job opportunities, bringing new life into cities that were once considered doomed due to the pandemic.
Meet the next Zoomer hotspots: San Francisco; Jersey City; Manhattan; Philadelphia; and Boston saw the sharpest spikes in lease applications from the youngest generation of adults, with increases of up to 101% in the past year. Like their Millennial peers who headed for the big cities in the years following the Great Recession, Gen Z renters are now moving to large urban areas that provide job opportunities and a vibrant social scene, after a one-year hiatus in their college towns or their families’ small towns in 2020.
The cohort of Gen Z renters is growing rapidly. In fact, of the 3.2 million applications for apartments analyzed, 27% were from Gen Zers — up from 23% in 2020. Aiming for the title of largest renting generation (which is currently held by Millennials with 45% of applications), Zoomers’ renting activity increased by 21% in one year, while lease applications from Millennials were down by 8%.
However, renting activity among Gen Z’s slowed down compared to the previous year, when their share had gone up 36% in 2020. One reason for this may be the pandemic itself, which hit this generation particularly hard: half of adult Gen Z’s reported that they or someone in their household experienced job loss or significant pay cuts. Coupled with decreases in migration due to travel restrictions, these factors may have temporarily stunted the movement of the next generation of adults.
Gen Z Renters Are Giving the Golden City Back Its Shine
The first group of true digital natives is flocking to the home of technological innovation: San Francisco. And, they’re not only breaking into the tech industry of Silicon Valley — they’re doing it with a bang. The #1 trendiest city for Generation Z, San Francisco logged the greatest increase in Zoomers who moved into new apartments in 2021, at 101%. By doubling its share of Gen Z rental applicants, the Golden City seems ready for a revamp — and this young cohort is set on taking the tech world to the next level.
Meanwhile, the tri-state area in the Northeast remains one of the nation’s hottest regions, luring young renters back into the bustling urban scene. As a matter of fact, the East Coast took the rest of the top five spots, with Jersey City, NJ and Manhattan apartments in second and third place, respectively, for the highest spikes in applications.
The second trendiest Zoomer city, Jersey City has seen a development boom as of late, especially in the downtown area. With an abundance of new buildings and plenty of nearby attractions, Chilltown has attracted almost double the amount (95%) of Zoomer renters that it did in 2020. Its vicinity to Manhattan’s financial district is a bonus, as work-from-home policies still in place allow Zoomers to live in areas within their budget, but not too far from the office in case full or partial reopenings will come.
The third Zoomer hotspot, Manhattan offers a substantial job pool that attracts many young renters to the city, recording a 63% spike in Gen Z rental applications in the past 12 months.
The Big Apple was followed by Philadelphia and Boston, which round up the top five hotspots for Gen Z renters. This year’s young renter migration continues the 2010-2020 trend of population increases in Philadelphia, turning the City of Brotherly Love into a post-Millennial hotbed, with a 60% change in share. Moreover, data from the U.S. Census Bureau showed that, in 2021, Philly also grew in diversity — ticking an essential box for the most multicultural generation.
Rounding up the top 20 trending Zoomer cities this year are: Arlington, VA; San Jose, CA; Seattle, WA; Minneapolis, MN; Los Angeles, CA; Peoria, AZ; Long Beach, CA; Alexandria, VA; Irving, TX; San Diego, CA; Baltimore, MD; Lewisville, TX; Atlanta, GA; Glen Burnie, MD; and West Des Moines, IA.
Digital in Their DNA: Major Cities Fulfil Gen Z Desire for Fast Connections
A lively vibe, diversity, jobs and great connectivity are just a few of the many reasons that the youngest generation of renters finds large cities attractive. Gen Z was born to be digital and, as such, a fast and reliable connection is no longer just a choice, but rather a necessity. And, with an average internet speed of 175 MB/s (which far exceeds the national average of 99 MB/s), Boston satisfies the digital needs of its increasing share of Zoomer renters, up 59% compared to 2020. What’s more, with renowned higher-education institutions nearby, Boston is a breeding ground for future IT professionals. It’s also one of the best metros for graduates, offering a high concentration of STEM-related jobs.
Furthermore, Zoomers are becoming a sizeable presence in some of the nation’s largest cities: they account for more than one quarter of active renters in the past year in San Diego, Los Angeles, Manhattan and Philadelphia — all with a population of over one million. Likewise, according to Census data, 13 of the 20 trendiest cities for Gen Zers are large cities with populations of more than 250,000.
“Big cities are appealing for a host of reasons—big cities offer diverse job opportunities. Big cities offer many amenities that are not available in smaller cities or rural areas, from dining and entertainment options to public transit, to services like gyms and spas. And big cities offer opportunities for social networking—whether Gen Zers are looking for professional colleagues to bounce ideas off of, or romantic partners, they’re more likely to find someone to connect with, in a big, dense city.” points out Nicholas Dempsey, Associate Professor of Sociology at Eckerd College.
College Towns Continue to Boast Largest Shares of Active Gen Z Renters in the US
To that end, compared to last year, Davis, CA took the crown from Boulder, CO, becoming the top zoomer city with the largest Gen Z majority — 69% of all apartment applications. Here, the University of California, Davis recorded a year-over-year enrollment growth of 1.1%, whereas the University of Colorado Boulder’s enrollment dropped 1.2% in 2021. Although these numbers seem negligible, they might offer some context as to why Boulder dropped to second place with a 66% share.
Meanwhile, Conway, AR, maintained its third place this year, as well as the title of “City of Colleges,” while Lynchburg, VA, took a massive leap from 14th all the way up to 4 th place. Finally, Bloomington, IN — home of Indiana University Bloomington — dropped one spot, rounding out our top five with a 57% Gen Z renter majority.
Despite these shuffles, a look at last year’s top 20 cities for Gen Z renters proves that not much has changed in 2021: College towns are still the places with the highest number of Gen Z applicants year-over-year. However, unlike 2020, when only the top three cities had a majority share of Gen Z renters, this year, two other cities’ Zoomer population exceeded 50%.
While attracting young renters to college towns may seem like a simple feat, getting them to stay after graduation is a different story. Former students turned permanent residents bring prosperity to the local economy and are a driving force for innovation. But, in order to flourish, they need access to a more diverse job market that is specific to bigger cities.
And that’s not the only trait a college town needs to have in order to retain students, according to Professor Dempsey. “A college town needs a diverse offering of jobs, particularly good-paying entry-level jobs. Further, towns with more amenities, which can include anything from access to wilderness parks to diverse options for dining and entertainment, are more attractive to young renters.”
The rest of the top cities for gen Z renters in 2022 are: Ankeny, IA; Kenosha, WI; Jonesboro, AR; Fayetteville, AR; Denton, TX; Lincoln, NE; Lubbock, TX; Columbia, MO; Tyler, TX; San Marcos, CA; Kalamazoo, MI; Topeka, KS; Tempe, AZ; Springfield, MO; and Clarksville, TN.
Top Trending Cities with Highest Increases in Gen Z Renters by State
Use the arrows to browse the top trending cities for Gen Z renters in each state, ranked by the change in share of rental applications submitted by this age group below.
The top trending states for gen Z renters are: New York, Maine, California and Minnesota.
Top Cities with Largest Share of Gen Z Renters by State
Use the arrows to browse each state’s top Zoomer cities, ranked by the share of rental applications submitted by this age group in 2021 below.
The states where we can find the largest number of Zoomer cities: South Dakota, Arkansas, Oklahoma and Nebraska.
Where is Gen Z Headed? Experts Explain Zoomer Moving Trends and the Driving Forces Behind Them
In order to get a better perspective of the Gen Z led urban revival, we interviewed experts in sociology, urban studies and real estate. Click on the arrow next to their names to see what they have to say.
The pandemic severely reduced our ability to gather for work and socialize, which accelerated our reliance on technology and online/virtual learning and collaboration. This shift increased Gen Z’s already alarming number of hours spent alone in front of a screen, but as society adapted and embraced virtual learning and remote work, Zers’ preferences for online interaction were validated.
Pandemic-driven constraints changed how we interact in physical commercial, office and learning spaces, forcing firms to adapt and find strategies so those advantages can also emerge in the virtual environment. This means that job concentration in cities will not be the driving force for in-migration; instead, the next most important thing for Gen Z, quality of life and access to technology, will become the driving forces of location decisions, especially among renters.
Big cities still appeal to Gen Z renters because in addition to human diversity and skill, they offer two critical commodities: high-speed internet and technology-enhanced, greener infrastructure that includes recycling, energy efficient apartments and the use of renewable energy sources. All that requires high public and private investment only available in major urban centers, making the city a practical place to be.
Director of The Diversity Institute & Associate Professor of Urban Studies, Cleveland State University
Given the pandemic’s persistence and the likelihood that it will be with us for some time, Gen Zers’ locational preferences seem to be aligning with those of Millennials.
Gen Zers are the most diverse generational cohort of the population, with 48% of Gen Zers being people color. And Gen Zers, like Millennials, tend to be more open and accepting of differences and have a heightened sense of social consciousness and responsibility, which influences their employment and locational decisions.
The locational preferences of Gen Zers appear to be merging with those of Millennials, as society adjusts and learns to live with and manage COVID 19 and its multiple variations, I would expect to see these housing trends among Gen Zers continue.
For college towns to retain recent college graduates they must have a diversified and robust local or regional economy that affords employment opportunities at competitive salaries aside from those in the academic, higher education sector as well as access to capital for business startups. In addition, college towns must have an affordable housing market for young, but maturing, professional adults as well as venues that provide them with a social life, outside of those catering to the college-age population.
While people either hunkered down in the early days of the pandemic or headed for more rural areas, over the last year, renters, including some Gen Zers, appear to be moving back to cities in huge numbers. What’s interesting about the towns on RentCafe’s list of trending cities for Gen Z renters is that it shows relative growth in renting by Gen Z compared to other generations.
Big cities are appealing for a host of reasons—big cities offer diverse job opportunities. Big cities offer many amenities that are not available in smaller cities or rural areas, from dining and entertainment options to public transit, to services like gyms and spas. And big cities offer opportunities for social networking—whether Gen Zers are looking for professional colleagues to bounce ideas off of, or romantic partners, they’re more likely to find someone to connect with, in a big, dense city.
Smaller, college towns might be a great ‘first step’ for Gen Z, as they can be more affordable with fewer but stable and attractive cultural amenities due to a core population of newly college-educated residents.
Some of the greatest amenities for the bigger cities—expansive public transportation, a bevy of arts and live music, and jobs—just might not be attracting recent graduates the way that they would.
And, if anything, big city art and culture have found ways to be more accessible, beyond geography. Museums that have been closed, and musicians who haven’t been able to tour, are finding new ways to use technology to reach out to their audiences in the absence of large gatherings and public wariness for going out.
It is unclear what the employment market will be, and recent graduates have reasons to be cautious in their next moves. Flexible workplace arrangements, I would guess, have also played a role in the same way. As a highly educated group, new college graduates—some of whom have had semesters and semesters of schooling online—have likely little interest in working in an office. These folks are what people would call ‘digital natives’ after all. The need to go to a major metropolitan area might also be playing a role.
- Rental application data was sourced from RentGrow, Inc. and was received wholly anonymized and aggregated. No personally identifiable or other confidential renter information was disclosed or used in conjunction with this article.
- Gen Z is defined as the generation of people born between 1997 and 2012. Millennials were born between 1981 and 1996. Gen X was born between 1965 and 1980, and Baby Boomers and older are those who were born before 1965.
- This RentCafe study analyzed rental application data from January through October 2021 compared to January through October 2020. Applicants of Gen Z age refer to adult applicants only. The analysis was based on data from 3.2 million rental applications from RentGrow, Inc. for approximately 44,000 rental communities nationwide.
- To ensure relevant samples, the analysis includes only cities with a minimum of 1,000 applications in 2020; at least 500 Gen Z applications in 2020; at least four properties; and a population of more than 60,000 (per U.S. Census American Community Survey 2019 five-year estimates).
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