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Suburb vs City: Suburban Areas Are Gaining Renters Faster Than Urban Areas in 19 out of 20 Largest Metros

Key highlights:

  • The number of renters grows faster in the suburbs than in cities in 19 out of 20 U.S. metros
  • The suburbs of St. Louis, Atlanta, Riverside, and Boston gained 3 times more renters than their urban areas
  • Rents are cheaper in the suburbs than in cities in 18 out of 20 metros
  • Apartment construction much slower in the suburbs than in cities

Almost 10 years after the housing crisis, many people are asking themselves: “Where to live now?” During the post-recession rental boom, it appeared that millennial renters were flocking to urban cores. The trend was backed up by news of declining homeownership rates and urban apartment construction at record-high levels.

However, urban areas have not gained as many new renters as one might have expected. On the contrary, according to our most recent analysis of Census ACS data, during a 5-year period from 2011 through 2015, suburban areas were clearly outpacing urban areas in renter household gains in 19 out of 20 largest U.S. metros.

Changes in the number of renter households 2011-2015:

MetroSuburban Net Gain% IncreaseUrban Net Gain% Increase
Atlanta52,30026%15,10010%
Phoenix37,50023%48,40014%
Riverside60,50023%17,80013%
Tampa33,50018%20,80016%
Dallas52,60017%57,70011%
Minneapolis28,30015%11,9007%
Detroit23,00014%18,4009%
Miami56,80014%27,00011%
Denver16,70014%24,00012%
Houston19,60013%53,10012%
Washington, D.C46,10013%27,9009%
Seattle25,50013%24,4008%
Chicago57,60012%37,0006%
San Francisco30,50010%25,2006%
San Diego18,4009%19,4008%
St. Louis16,3009%4,4005%
Los Angeles50,4007%70,1005%
Boston21,7006%6,8003%
New York44,7005%76,2003%
Philadelphia5,1003%14,8005%

Table by RENTCafé.

The suburbs of St. Louis, Atlanta, Riverside, and Boston gained 3 times more renters than their urban areas

The suburbs win not just in percentage increase of renter households, but also in net numbers. In the 20 metros studied, about 700,000 new suburban renter households were added in total during the 5-year period studied, while the total number of new urban renter households was 600,000 (or 100,000 less). Most notably, the suburbs of St. Louis, Atlanta, Riverside, and Boston drew three times as many new renter households as their urban areas.

The highest percentage increase was in the metro Atlanta region, where suburban areas gained 26% more renter households during the 5 years analyzed, while its main urban areas gained only 10% more. Also, in the Phoenix, AZ metro area there were 23% more suburban renters in 2015 than there were in 2011, while in its urban areas, renter households increased by only 14% during the same period of time. Likewise, in Riverside, CA metro, occupied rental units in the suburbs increased by 23% and urban occupied rental units increased by only 13%.

The only exception was metro Philadelphia, which remains a predominantly urban rental market.

At the metro level, the largest numbers of new renter households were recorded in suburban Riverside, CA (added a whopping 60,500 renter households vs only 18,000 added in the city), suburban Chicago (added 57,500 renter households vs only 37,000 in the city), suburban Miami (added 56,800 renter households vs only 27,000 in the city), suburban Dallas (added 52,600 renter households, but also 57,700 in the city), and suburban Atlanta (added 52,300 renter households vs only 15,100 in the city).

Cheaper rents among the main reasons driving new renters to the suburbs

As crowded urban areas are topping out in occupancy and prices, more renters are choosing the suburban life, with its nicely-landscaped, family-friendly, garden-style apartment communities. Some of the main reasons that people choose the suburbs are: schools are generally better, the communities are quieter, and rents are typically cheaper.

In fact, when we analyzed the average rents in the Yardi Matrix database in the 20 largest U.S. metros, we found that in 18 out of the 20 metros studied, renting in suburban areas is cheaper than renting in urban areas. An average of rent prices in suburbs vs cities in the 20 metros studied shows that renters save about a month worth of rent in one year if they rent in the suburbs (or about 11%).

However, rent rates vary widely from metro to metro. In the nation’s most expensive metros, renters can save significant amounts of money by renting in the suburbs. In New York metropolitan area suburban renters save on average $1,600/month, in Boston metro about $800/month, in Chicagoland about $500/month, and in the San Francisco Bay Area about $450/month.

Although in some metros like Dallas, Houston or Denver the price difference may not be very big, it’s still cheaper to rent in the suburbs. For people who are on a budget, any savings can play a role in deciding where to rent. The only exceptions are Phoenix (where there’s no price difference) and St. Louis (where it’s $12/month cheaper to rent in the city, on average).

For the average urban rent of $1,643, you can rent a one-bedroom apartment at Park View Apartments in Old Town Triangle, Chicago. By comparison, for the average rent of $1,135 in suburban Chicago, you can rent a two-bedroom apartment at The Moorings in Roselle, IL.

Urban vs suburban apartments

In 8 major metros, there are more renters living in the suburbs than in cities

Traditionally, the city is where you rent an apartment and the ‘burbs are where you buy a place of your own. But there are plenty of examples that will blow the old assumption out of the water. In 2015, in the St. Louis, MO metro area, as many as 70% of renters lived in suburban areas and as few as 30% in urban areas. In metro Riverside, CA, 68% of renters lived in suburban areas vs only 32% in urban areas. In Miami, FL 64% of people rented in the suburbs versus 36% in the city. The metro area of Atlanta, GA had 61% of renters located in the suburbs versus 39% in urban areas. Other metropolitan areas in favor of the ‘burbs are Boston 60%-40%, in Tampa 59%-41%, in Washington, DC 56%-44%, and Minneapolis, MN 53%-47%.


In the rest of the 20 largest metros, the scale tilts more on the urban side. In Houston metro, only a quarter of renters were located in suburban areas as of 2015. In the New York metropolitan area only 28% of renters were located in the suburbs. One major reason in these cases is the high commute time. In the Greater Phoenix Area – where prices are the same in urban and suburban areas – only a third of renters live in the suburbs.

Suburban apartment construction not as hot as city construction… yet

Another “pro” in the suburban column is that the suburbs now offer a wider range of rental options, aside from low and mid-level apartments. Many suburban developers have been raising the bar by building higher-end suburban garden-style apartment communities, with luxury features rivaling those you would more likely see in city high-rises.

However, unlike urban areas, which have been flooded with new apartments over the last few years, much less has been built in the surrounding suburbs. During the 2011-2015 time frame, in the 20 metros studied, a total of about 300K new apartments were built in urban areas versus approximately 180K in suburban areas, according to Yardi Matrix. During this period — which overlaps with the apartment market boom — city apartment construction was up 224%, while suburban construction was up 146%.

Only 2 out of 20 metros have built more rentals in suburban areas than in urban areas: Miami and Philadelphia. However, many experts are saying that suburban apartment markets are poised to become the next hot thing in multifamily. These demographic changes are definitely pointing in that direction and we expect to see a boost in suburban apartment construction in the upcoming years.

Methodology: 

  • Tenure of occupied housing units was obtained from Census ACS 5-year estimates for 2011-2015. 
  • Census Places and Metro Areas obtained from Census Tiger Files. We considered “suburbs” Census Places that are not principal cities. We did not include rural and unincorporated areas. 
  • Apartment construction and rent data 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. For more information, visit https://www.yardimatrix.com/. Construction and rent data is for properties of 50+ units. Rent averages valid as of December 2016. 

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 RENTCafé.com or this page, so that your readers can learn more about this project, the research behind it and its methodology. For more in-depth, customized data, please contact us at media@rentcafe.com.

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About the author

Nadia Balint

Nadia Balint is an online content developer and creative writer for RENTCafé. She loves writing and reading about real estate, lifestyle and travel. She finds joy and inspiration in the little things in life. You can get in touch with Nadia via email: nadia.balint@yardi.com.

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