- Seattle, San Francisco and Austin were the best cities for Millennial renters in the past five years.
- San Francisco attracted the largest share of its Millennial renters from New York.
- In 2020, Austin takes over as the most sought-after city by Millennial renters.
One thing is certain about Millennials: If a place secures its spot among the best cities for Millennials, that area will explode both economically and culturally. This generation has different views than its predecessors, preferring flexible jobs and experience-driven lifestyles that they seek out and develop in the cities they choose. At the same time, most Millennials are renters and are shifting away from the two-kid, white-picket-fence American dream — making them less likely to get tied down to a specific city. And, now that they officially overtook Baby Boomers as the largest U.S. generation to date and make up the majority of the workforce, Millennials have become the most instrumental group in shaping the future of America’s urban cores.
So, which are the cities with the most Millennials looking to move there? To find out, we looked at 13 million actual renter applications nationwide to identify the cities where Millennials represent the highest share of those who applied for apartments. Specifically, we focused on large and mid-sized cities — where Millennials represent 38.5% of applications — and ranked them based on each city’s share. Finally, we looked at the hottest cities for Millennial renters in 2020 to get a snapshot of the emerging hubs where this trend-setting generation is heading next.
Seattle has been the best city for millennial renters for the past 5 years
In the last five years, Seattle has been the top magnet city for Millennial renters, who represent half of those who applied for an apartment in the largest city in the Pacific Northwest. This clearly places the Washington job hub among the best cities for Millennials overall, since it has a significant 50.5% share of Gen Y applicants.
Seattle was the fastest-growing big city in the past decade, so its presence on the list is to be expected. What’s more, the massive job hub boasts homegrown tech giants like Amazon and Microsoft, as well as satellite offices for other big-name employers, such as Facebook, Google, Nintendo and Costco. Clearly, a city with a strong tech sector is an attractive setting for a generation that dominates the tech world today. Plus, salaries in Seattle experienced the fourth-fastest rise among the nation’s big cities in the past decade (up 55.2%), which can also be a big incentive to draw young talent.
San Francisco has been the second hottest city for Millennials in the last half-decade, with a 48.7% share of Millennials who applied for rent in SF. The epicenter of the U.S. tech boom, the Bay Area city had the second-fastest-growing incomes in the nation in the last 10 years (up 56.6%), so it continues to attract young professionals looking for prosperous employment and upscale living — despite being one of the priciest markets in the U.S.
The Texas Triangle rounds up the top five
Austin, Houston and San Antonio follow as the third, fourth and fifth Millennial favorites. The Lone Star State’s lucrative oil sector, its booming health industry and zero state income tax have turned Texas into the decade’s biggest winner in terms of overall growth.
Austin — the prime Southern hub for high-tech and culture — is the third-hottest city for Millennial renters in the U.S., with a 48.1% share of renters in this age group applying to move within or to the Texas capital. The city has long been known as one of the best cities for Millennials, as the rapidly developing area saw both its employment offer and its residents’ incomes swell in recent years, while still maintaining a lower cost of living than other major business centers.
Houston (45.6%) follows, with a varied employment landscape that is firmly rooted in the health, research and oil industries. The city’s diversified economy — the result of a plethora of companies relying on Houston office space for rent — means that it has plenty of job opportunities on offer. Meanwhile, military hub San Antonio takes the fifth spot in the ranking, boasting a diverse economy, below-average unemployment rates and an affordable housing market.
Both New York and Los Angeles are notably missing from the top 15. The two biggest cities in the U.S. are also the top two cities which lost the most residents in the past decade, as renters and homeowners alike have been moving to less pricey areas.
The largest share of Gen Ys moving to San Francisco is from New York
To find out where the hottest cities for Millennial renters are attracting residents from, we excluded same-city moves and looked at the cities which contributed the largest share of Millennial rental applications to each hotspot.
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The hottest city for Millennials, Seattle, attracted its most significant share of Millennial applications from neighboring boomburg Bellevue (6.4%). However, fellow hotspot Chicago contributed the second most Gen Y renters to the city (3.6%), while Los Angeles (3.5%) came in third.
San Francisco is at its most popular by far among New York Millennial renters (8.2%), likely because New York is the only city in the nation with a higher cost of living than the tech boomtown. San Francisco attracted its second and third largest shares of Gen Ys from fellow Bay Area hubs Mountain View (6.9%) and San Jose (5.9%).
Southern Millennial hubs attract residents on a regional level
Austin, the definitive Southern tech hub, has been attracting residents on a more regional level. Houston is its most significant contributor (7.7%), as Austin has been catching up economically with the in-state energy hub. Super suburb Round Rock (7.6%) and neighbor San Antonio (5.8%) follow.
Houston is most popular among Gen Y renters from its own suburbs. Katy contributed the largest share of Millennials to the city, 12.3%, followed by Spring (8.3%) and Humble (4.7%). San Antonio, meanwhile, has been catching up from behind. Although its most significant contributor is Converse (7.5%), the city is also popular among both Houston (6.5%) and Austin (6.2%) Gen Y renters.
Charlotte, Louisville, Memphis and Dallas also attract Millennial renters mostly from in-state cities or nearby towns — these places are still developing as economic and cultural Gen Y hubs, so they still have a ways to go before competing with the nation’s largest urban cores.
Austin set to dethrone Seattle, to become the next No. 1 Millennial City
Finally, we looked at the most sought-after cities by Millennial renters in 2020, to see which places are set to become the Gen Y hubs of the future. To that end, Austin’s rise in popularity puts it at no. 1 in 2020, as the top Millennial favorite. Half of the total rental applicants from and to the Texas capital are Millennials who want to live here.
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In tight competition, the next three cities have very similar shares. San Francisco maintains its second spot in 2020 with a 48.6% share. Despite its high cost of living, it’s still one of the cities with the most millennials. However, many Millennials have begun choosing the tech hub’s more affordable neighbor, Oakland, as their home in the Bay Area, as San Francisco’s rents drove them to seek less pricey housing in this emerging hotspot. As such, Oakland made an astounding entrance into the top 15, shooting straight up to third place with a 48.4% share of Millennials choosing to live in the city. This means it could surpass San Francisco among the best cities for Millennials in the future.
Seattle drops to the fourth place in 2020, with a 48.1% share of Millennials applying for apartments — hinting that its popularity among renters from this generation might be dwindling. The Northwestern city’s average rent rose the second-fastest among the largest cities in the past decade, so an increasing number of Millennial renters may begin choosing more affordable areas. Houston, meanwhile, is holding steady (47.7%). While the oil industry has had its challenges in the last year, the city’s energy industry infrastructure, world-class port, and continued boom in healthcare and research have kept it among the top five hottest cities for Millennial renters in 2020 as well.
Philadelphia, San Jose, Virginia Beach, and Los Angeles are new additions to the top 15. At the same time, Denver, Louisville, Atlanta, Dallas and Portland dropped from the ranking. Whether these disruptions will continue into the new decade remains to be seen. For now, the map of prime hubs for Millennial renters is continually evolving, and it seems as thought the country’s established boomtowns might just be overtaken by up-and-coming players.
- Renter application data, which was sourced from RentGrow, was provided after being completely anonymized and aggregated. No personally identifiable or other confidential information was disclosed or used in conjunction with this article.
- A total of 13.2 million renter applications in 4,000 cities were analyzed overall, out of which 5.6 million were included in the final ranking analysis.
- For best statistical relevance, only cities with a minimum of 5,000 renter applications between 2015 and 2020 and a minimum of 1,000 applications in 2020 were taken into account for the ranking. The top 15 ranking is out of 61 cities.
- Demographic data on population, income, and employment was sourced from the U.S. Census Bureau.
- The analysis was limited to large and mid-sized cities with a population over 300,000 residents.
- Cities of all sizes were included in the migration pattern analysis to determine the largest contributors.
- Millennials are defined as the generation born between 1981 and 1996. Millennials are sometimes referred to as Gen Y.