It’s Time to Rethink Old Stereotypes About Renters

Is the growth in renting in Philadelphia a cause for concern or celebration? Image: Pew via Plan Philly

Homeownership rates in Philadelphia aren’t as high as they used to be, and that’s not a bad thing. Map: Pew via Plan Philly. Click to enlarge

For a long time, renters have been thought of as a destabilizing force in urban areas. Federal housing policy encourages people to make the jump to homeownership in part because officials believe it will give people a larger stake in their neighborhoods and reduce crime. By subsidizing home purchases, these policies encourage people to “buy more house” and promote sprawl.

Now the spectacular housing market crash and crushing debt burdens carried by younger people are helping to upend these assumptions. Kellie Patrick Gates at Plan Philly reports on a recent survey of Philadelphia renters that flies in the face of some of the oldest stereotypes. For one, the survey found that in many neighborhoods, most renters are, in fact, engaged in their communities:

In Center City, 43 percent of surveyed renters said they knew their neighbors and 29 percent were involved in neighborhood maintenance or upkeep activities, Howell said. Outside the city center, 56 percent knew their neighbors and 51 percent were involved with efforts to keep the community looking good…

Howell said that she and some other city planners had a hunch that renters are more active in their communities than they generally get credit for, but even so, “the percentages were surprising.”

Plan Philly interviewed city officials who said they think it’s a positive sign that homeownership is declining and the share of renters is increasing. “People are coming from outside to see what’s going on here,” said Philadelphia City Planning Commission Chairman Alan Greenberger, who noted that some of the world’s most desirable cities, like New York, London, and Tokyo, have high shares of renters.

Elsewhere on the Network today: Biking Toronto shows the city’s solution for cyclists during construction on an important bridge –everyone is thrilled about it. Car Free Austin analyzes the city’s proposal for a $1.4 billion new rail line. And Exit133 reports that Tacoma is trying to work out a set of regulations that will help level the playing field between traditional taxi companies and firms like Uber and Lyft.