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How Single-Occupant Households Are Exacerbating a Rental Affordability Crisis

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Affordability

How Single-Occupant Households Are Exacerbating a Rental Affordability Crisis

The total share of renter households is declining in some major cities where affordability challenges persist, but as single renters go toe-to-toe for available units, elevated demand is sustaining high prices


May 23, 2023
Exterior of multifamily apartment building with stucco finish
Image: Sundry Photography / stock.adobe.com

The rise of remote work led to a mass exodus from U.S. cities throughout 2020 and 2021, resulting in a drastic increase in the number of empty apartments and forcing landlords to slash rents. By the end of 2021, however, that trend had reversed, and by 2022, median rent in Manhattan had reached an all-time high. Between 2021 and 2022, rents rose 17% in Chicago, 13% in Seattle, and 10% in Washington, D.C., Insider reports. 

Those rising rents aren’t because Americans are moving back to major cities. Instead, more single-occupant households are filling those inventory gaps and keeping cost high, even as the total share of renters continues to fall.

The widespread adoption of remote work gave many people the chance to abandon expensive, dense places for cheaper locations in the suburbs or other parts of the country. But this shift also led to stark changes within big cities: People struck out on their own or broke into smaller units. Recent college grads decided to move out of their parents' houses, roommates ditched their cramped quarters for places of their own, and couples broke up and got separate places. In aggregate, these kinds of decisions created thousands of home hunters, all jostling for a relatively fixed number of units. 

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