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Gimme shelter: the evolution of rental housing

Nashville at night

Demographic shifts in the United States over the next 10 years are reshaping the housing markets. The aging of millennials, changing income trends and migration away from cities are fueling demand for apartments and single-family rentals.

Millennials need their space

The older millennials, in their mid to late 30s, have largely married and are starting their families. We estimate approximately 60% of this cohort will opt for home ownership, leaving close to 40%, or one million families, looking for rental options.

Meanwhile, younger millennials in their 20s will generate demand for rental apartments for at least another 7 to 10 years. This group is focused on cities offering tech hubs, high quality jobs and a lower cost of living, such as Charlotte, Austin, Minneapolis and Orlando.

Why this propensity to rent? Key factors include declining home affordability, record student loan debt, stricter lending requirements and delays in starting families.

U.S. homes have become increasingly unaffordable, with home prices exceeding 2006-peak levels. This pricing pressure is compounded by the spike in home prices in early 2021 due to a shortage of inventory amid rising demand.

Chart homeownership rate by age

Focus on middle income

Middle income households of all ages represent a long-term source of demand for apartments. Rental rates are significantly higher in more expensive metro areas like New York or San Francisco, but middle income groups also rent at rates outpacing the national average in more affordable metro areas like Dallas and Atlanta.

Across the country, cost-conscious renters typically avoid the more recently built higher-end rental units, increasing demand for value-oriented class-A and well-located class-B apartment communities. We believe exciting and emerging neighborhoods in select metro areas could prove particularly attractive to younger millennials for at least the next 10 years. Affordability is a key differentiator among the markets we have identified.


Millennials in their 20s will generate demand for rental apartments for at least another 7 to 10 years.

Renting the family home

Both millennials and middle income households are also boosting a whole new housing subsector: the single family rental home. These rentals represent only 18% of total occupied U.S. single-family housing stock today, but we expect that percentage to grow.

In a post-COVID environment, many city dwellers have fled for the suburbs and Sun Belt cities. While it is unclear if this trend is secular or cyclical, single-family rentals represent an affordable option for millennial households seeking a permanent lifestyle change who cannot yet afford to own a home.

housing chart 2 supply and demnd

Further, the permanent adoption of flexible remote work policies could serve as a tailwind for single-family rentals. Home ownership rates have risen to 68%, near the 2008 level but below the 2006 peak. While rising homeownership rates could be seen as a headwind to the single family rental sector, home ownership removes inventory from the single-family rental market, which benefits the sector.

housing chart3 Changing ownership

Ownership of these properties is also evolving. Today, the single-family rental market is 98% dominated by noninstitutional owners.1 However, REITs and other investors have recently entered this market, increasing the institutionalization of this space.

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1 Invitation Homes filings; Public company home counts from public filings; Private company home counts estimated using HouseCanary data.

The views and opinions expressed are for informational and educational purposes only as of the date of production/writing and may change without notice at any time based on numerous factors, such as market or other conditions, legal and regulatory developments, additional risks and uncertainties and may not come to pass. This material may contain “forward-looking” information that is not purely historical in nature.

Such information may include, among other things, projections, forecasts, estimates of market returns, and proposed or expected portfolio composition. Any changes to assumptions that may have been made in preparing this material could have a material impact on the information presented herein by way of example. Past performance is no guarantee of future results. Investing involves risk; principal loss is possible.

All information has been obtained from sources believed to be reliable, but its accuracy is not guaranteed. There is no representation or warranty as to the current accuracy, reliability or completeness of, nor liability for, decisions based on such information and it should not be relied on as such. For term definitions and index descriptions, please access the glossary on Please note, it is not possible to invest directly in an index.

A word on risk
Responsible investing incorporates Environmental Social Governance (ESG) factors that may affect exposure to issuers, sectors, industries, limiting the type and number of investment opportunities available, which could result in excluding investments that perform well. Real estate investments are subject to various risks, including fluctuations in property values, higher expenses or lower income than expected, and potential environmental problems and liability. Please consider all risks carefully prior to investing in any particular strategy. A portfolio’s concentration in the real estate sector makes it subject to greater risk and volatility than other portfolios that are more diversified and its value may be substantially affected by economic events in the real estate industry. International investing involves risks, including risks related to foreign currency, limited liquidity particularly where the underlying asset comprises real estate, less government regulation in some jurisdictions, and the possibility of substantial volatility due to adverse political, economic or other developments.

Nuveen provides investment advisory services through its investment specialists.

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