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Published: Mar 08, 2022 4 min read
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After working from their family homes or college towns in the early days of the pandemic, Gen Z is finally moving to the big city.

A new report from RentCafe, a real estate listing firm, found the volume of rental applications from people born between 1997 and 2012 rose 21% over the past year, while the volume of applications for all other generations fell.

Some of that trend is likely to do with age: Renters tend to be younger than homeowners, and millennials, now entering their 30s and 40s, are in their peak homebuying years.

But certain cities saw outsize leaps in the share of Gen Z rental applications between 2020 and 2021. San Francisco took the top spot, with a 101% surge. Jersey City, New Jersey — located just across the river from New York City's Manhattan borough — was next with a 95% bump in applications from Zoomers.

“Big cities are appealing for a host of reasons,” Nicholas Dempsey, an associate sociology professor at Eckerd College, said in the report, citing plentiful job opportunities, restaurants, gyms, public transportation and opportunities for networking (both professional and romantic).

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The top 10 trendiest cities for Gen Z renters

  1. San Francisco
  2. Jersey City, New Jersey
  3. Manhattan, New York
  4. Philadelphia
  5. Boston
  6. Arlington, Virginia
  7. San Jose, California
  8. Seattle
  9. Minneapolis
  10. Los Angeles

RentCafe's list was based on a comparison of rental application data from between January and October 2021 and from the same period in 2020. The trendiest cities had the highest percent change in the share of Gen Z rental applications between 2020 and 2021.

Renting vs. owning: Which is cheaper?

Renting is a great option for young people, people building up their finances and credit, and folks who want lots of flexibility in their living situation. But as the housing market continues to burn white hot, rents are rising, too.

A recent survey from the real estate firm Redfin found that rents across the United States rose more than 15% between January 2021 and January 2022, with some cities — like Portland, Oregon; Austin, Texas; and Newark, New Jersey — seeing rent growth above 30%.

Increasingly expensive rent means that in some major American cities, it’s actually cheaper to own a starter home than it is to rent a comparable place to live. For those who’d rather buy than rent, a previous RentCafe report identified the cities where it’s easiest for a young family to save for a starter home. Bloomington, Illinois, topped that list.

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