Bright lights, big city? No thanks, say Gen Z renters. The latest data from Yardi’s RentCafe show that small towns in the heartland are newly trending for Gen Z renters, topped by Greenville, NC. “This is especially noteworthy because Zoomers were the fastest-growing active renter segment in the U.S. last year, and their locations of choice are just the opposite of their Millennial predecessors,” says RentCafe.
According to the most recent national apartment application data, the share of Gen Z renters jumped by 36% in 2020 compared to the prior year, RentCafe says. At the same time, the number of apartment applicants from every other generation decreased.
On a percentage basis, the fastest-growing rental locations for Gen Z are small towns in the heartland, in the Midwest as well as in parts of the South. These are favored not only for being more affordable, but also for offering “a vibrant local scene that feels authentic and closer to home for these young adults who are starting out in life in times of great uncertainty and change.”
The home of East Carolina University, Greenville saw its Gen Z renter population spike by 84% last year. “This small town of less than 100,000 residents, the only college town in this ranking, has established itself as a great community to live in and to launch a career,” according to RentCafe.
Rounding out the top five are two neighboring Arkansas communities, Little Rock and North Little Rock, along with Norfolk, VA and Lake Charles, LA. The biggest city in the top 20, Columbus, OH, doesn’t even crack the one-million mark in terms of population.
Although RentCafe notes that the pandemic may have skewed Gen Z’s preferences toward smaller—and less densely populated—places, the firm’s report quotes Jill Ann Harrison, an associate professor of sociology at the University of Oregon, on why these cities represent a good fit even without a desire to avoid crowds.
“It is easier in these places for people to take risks to becoming small business owners and contributing to the local economy and culture,” says Harrison. “These smaller markets offer an opportunity for younger adults not just live in a place, but to help to create or contribute to it in meaningful ways. In turn, many of these smaller cities have a truer sense of authenticity that is certainly serving as a pull.”
Paul Bubny serves as Senior Content Director for Connect Commercial Real Estate, a role to which he brings 13-plus years’ experience covering the commercial real estate industry and 30-plus years in business-to-business journalism.
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