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Census Bureau Reports Rental Vacancy Rates Down Nationally; Impact Differs by Metro Area

The rental vacancy rates for the nation declined from 8.4 percent in 2009 to 7.4 percent in 2011, according to one of two American Community Survey briefs covering the housing market released today by the U.S. Census Bureau. Approximately four times as many metro areas experienced declines in rental vacancy rates as those that experienced increases. The share of U.S. households that rent rather than own increased from 34.1 percent in 2009 to 35.4 percent in 2011. Nearly a quarter of the nation's metro areas saw a rise in renting households, while less than 3.0 percent of the nation's metro areas saw a decline.

Rental Housing Market Condition Measures: A Comparison of US Metropolitan Areas examines four characteristics of the rental housing stock using American Community Survey data collected in 2009 and 2011. The characteristics are gross rent, gross rent as a percentage of household income, rental vacancy rates, and renter share of total households and describe changes comparing 2009 with 2011.

The brief found that more renters are spending a high percentage of their household income on rent. Policymakers use gross rent as a percentage of income as a measure of housing affordability, and it is often used to determine eligibility for housing programs. In this report, renters spending 35 percent or more of household income on rent and utilities are considered to have high rental costs.

The share of renters with high housing costs in the United States rose from 42.5 percent in 2009 to 44.3 percent in 2011. However, average rental rates in the United States declined from 2009 to 2011.

"While we saw a decrease in rental vacancy rates and pricing in some areas, the burden of rental costs on households increased across many parts of the nation," said Arthur Cresce, assistant division chief for housing characteristics at the Census Bureau. "Factors such as supply and demand for rental housing and local economic conditions play an important role in helping to explain these relationships."

Nationwide, only 11 metro areas reduced their shares of renters with high housing costs, while 62 metro areas increased their shares.

Among the 50 most populous metro areas, some of the heaviest rental costs were borne by renters in metro areas in Florida, California and Louisiana in 2011, despite rent declines between 2009 and 2011. These include Miami with 55.7 percent of renters experiencing heavy rental costs. Orlando, Fla. (52.9 percent); Riverside, Calif. (52.2 percent); and New Orleans (51.3 percent), whose shares did not differ significantly from one another, followed closely.

Among the 50 most populous metro areas, only two became affordable for more renters — Richmond, Va., with a decline of 3.2 percentage points in the share of renters with high rental costs from 42.7 percent to 39.5 percent between 2009 and 2011, and Buffalo, N.Y., with a decline of 3.0 percentage points from 45.6 percent to 42.6.

Other highlights include:

Rental Costs

  • The median monthly rent plus the estimated cost of utilities (gross rent) was highest in San Jose, Calif. ($1,460) followed by Honolulu ($1,419).
  • The lowest median monthly rent plus the estimated cost of utilities (gross rent) was $502 in Wheeling, W.Va., and $536 in Johnstown, Pa.
  • Despite the large share of metro areas with declining vacancy rates, which could signal rent increases, 57 metro areas had gross rent declines and only 23 had gross rent increases.

Rental Vacancy Rate

  • At 40.3 percent, the Myrtle Beach, S.C., metro area's rental vacancy rate was the highest in the nation.
  • Among the 50 most populous metro areas, the increase in the rental vacancy rate in Richmond, Va. (from 7.8 percent to 13.2 percent) was the largest, followed by Virginia Beach, Va. (from 6.2 to 8.5 percent) and St. Louis (from 6.5 to 7.9 percent).
  • Among the 50 most populous metro areas, San Jose, Calif. (2.7 percent) and Milwaukee (3.5 percent), had the lowest rental vacancy rates but were not statistically different from each other.

Renter Share of Total Households

  • Among the 50 most populous metro areas, the areas with the highest share of renting households were Los Angeles (50.8 percent) and New York (48.9 percent).

Physical Characteristics of Housing

Another brief released today is Physical Characteristics of Housing. Based on American Community Survey data covering 2009 to 2011, this brief presents statistics on basic physical and structural characteristics of the total housing inventory at the national level and for metro areas. The report examines types of housing structures, newer and older houses, and the size of the houses measured by the number of rooms.

According to the American Community Survey, there were 131.8 million housing units in the United States on average from 2009 to 2011, with 81.1 million (61.5 percent) being single-family houses not attached to another structure. In terms of current housing inventory in the U.S., more than 95 percent of the nation's metro areas have detached, single-family houses as the primary housing structure. Only 6.0 percent of all housing units in the United States were newer houses (2005 or later), while older houses (before 1950) accounted for 19.3 percent of the total housing inventory.

Other highlights include:

Housing Inventory

  • Metro areas with the lowest shares of detached, single-family houses of the housing inventory were New York (36.3 percent), Naples, Fla. (40.0 percent) and Miami (42.3 percent).
  • Three metro areas had mobile homes account for more than 25.0 percent of their housing inventory: Farmington, N.M. (32.0 percent), Yuma, Ariz. (29.0 percent) and Lake Havasu City, Ariz. (26.7 percent).

Newer/Older Houses

  • Newer houses accounted for more than 10.0 percent of the housing inventory in 39 metro areas. Gulfport, Miss. (16.4 percent) was the only metro area with more than 15.0 percent of its housing inventory built in 2005 or later.
  • Houses built before 1950 exceeded 45.0 percent of the housing inventory in Elmira, N.Y. (49.5 percent), Scranton, Pa. (48.8 percent), Johnstown, Pa. (47.0 percent), and Pittsfield, Mass. (46.9 percent).

About the American Community Survey

The American Community Survey provides a wide range of important statistics about people and housing for every community across the nation. The results are used by everyone from town and city planners to retailers and homebuilders. The survey is the only source of local estimates for most of the 40 topics it covers, such as education, occupation, language, ancestry and housing costs for even the smallest communities. Ever since Thomas Jefferson directed the first census in 1790, the census has collected detailed characteristics about our nation's people. Questions about jobs and the economy were added 20 years later under James Madison, who said such information would allow Congress to "adapt the public measures to the particular circumstances of the community," and over the decades allow America "an opportunity of marking the progress of the society."


Notes: The rental vacancy rate is the proportion of the rental inventory that is vacant and "for rent." It is computed by dividing the number of vacant units "for rent" by the sum of renter-occupied units, vacant units "for rent," and vacant units that have been rented but not yet occupied, and then multiplying by 100.

Gross rent is the contract rent plus the cost of electricity, gas, water, sewer and other fuels (oil, coal, kerosene, wood, etc.) if they are not included in the contract rent.

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Source: U.S. Census Bureau | Public Information Office | | Last Revised: July 15, 2014