Chart of the Day: Share of US Rental Construction by Price

Today, Curbed has a great summary of a recent report on affordable and rental housing in the US, that comes out of the annual Harvard report on rental housing. The report and the piece are full of eye-opening charts and data, but here’s just a sample:


Compared to ten or twenty years ago, a much larger portion of new apartment construction is built for high-end renters. This has a lot to do with where these new units are being built. There are many more renters than there used to be, more of them are wealthier, and many more of these units are in expensive central cities.  (It also makes sense given inflation.)

There are lots of possible results of this trend. One common debate I’ve seen is whether or not new high-end apartment construction causes nearby rents to go up or down. To my mind, the answer depends on the scale at which you look at housing, the relative supply and demand for housing in a city, and how much faith you put in market forces to fill housing needs for people.

The key point of the piece and the study here, however, is that this shift in the rental market is happening at the same time as subsidies and support for people in poverty is shrinking.

Here’s the conclusion from Patrick SIsson’s Curbed piece:

This lack of updates or additions means much of the affordable stock is what’s charitably referred to as “naturally occurring affordable rentals,” or older buildings that have often become cheaper due to aging and obsolescence. Only a fifth of existing units rent for under $850 a month, and nearly half of those were built before 1970. The lack of construction has meant our building stock as a whole is aging. The median age of an occupied unit in 2015 was 42 years, a stark difference from 1985, when the average age was 23.

While the price of construction materials is out of the hands of local policymakers, they do have a number of lever to pull to get more affordable units built: they can “determine the amount of land available for high-density development, the process needed to gain approvals, and the characteristics of housing that is allowed—all of which help determine the amount, type, and cost of the housing that is built,” according to the report. While the affordable housing challenge has many causes, this report offers evidence that it should continue to be a top issue locally and nationally for years to come.

Worth reading the whole thing!

Bill Lindeke

About Bill Lindeke

Pronouns: he/him

Bill Lindeke has writing blogging about sidewalks and cities since 2005, ever since he read Jane Jacobs. He is a lecturer in Urban Studies at the University of Minnesota Geography Department, the Cityscape columnist at Minnpost, and has written multiple books on local urban history. He was born in Minneapolis, but has spent most of his time in St Paul. Check out Twitter @BillLindeke or on Facebook.