Laura Bliss is CityLab’s West Coast bureau chief. She also writes MapLab, a biweekly newsletter about maps (subscribe here). Her work has appeared in The New York Times, The Atlantic, Los Angeles magazine, and beyond.
A new report that tracks apartment searches between U.S. cities reveals the moving aspirations of a certain set of renters.
Renters come and renters go, but mostly, they’re trying to get the heck out of Detroit.
That’s one of many intriguing data points from Apartment List’s new “Renter Migration Report,” which maps the aspirational migration flows of U.S. renters who used its apartment search engine between January 2018 and May 2019. The Motor City isn’t showing up as a magnet for searchers from other metropolitan areas, in spite of the long-troubled city’s recent narrative of rebirth, but Detroit takes the second spot on the list of big cities where apartment hunters are searching for new digs outside the metro area. (Number one is Orlando, but that may reflect the essential transient nature of the theme-park mecca, which also makes the top ten list of cities attracting outsiders.)
Where are these people going? The report includes an interactive map that lets users play around with these anticipated inbound and outbound movement. In Detroit, apartment hunters are looking at Cleveland and Cincinnati in almost equal shares, with the Ohio cities taking 8.5 percent of searches apiece. Grand Rapids takes third place, with 6.8 of would-be movers considering settling there.
In general, though, Midwestern cities aren’t the biggest draws for renters coming from other parts of the country. In Apartment List, the largest share of people looking to leave their city are looking at Tampa, Florida, where nearly 63 percent of searches come from outside the metro area. “Many of these searches are coming from the nearby Orlando and Miami metros, but Tampa is drawing in renters from outside of Florida as well—the New York City metro is the third largest source of inbound searches to Tampa,” an accompanying report states.
In second and third places are Denver, which is enjoying a continued job boom, and—perhaps surprisingly—Baltimore. That’s because Washington, D.C, is less than an hour away: “The majority of those out-of-metro searches are coming from residents of nearby Washington, D.C, who may be looking for a more affordable alternative to one of the nation’s most expensive rental markets,” explains the report.
Also of note: While a lot of San Francisco renters are prowling for new accommodations in other tech hubs like Denver and Austin, the report finds that most are hoping to stay in the greater Bay Area, with 24 percent searching in San Jose, 6.5 percent searching in Sacramento, and 4 percent searching in Vallejo.
Those who’ve followed federal migration reports in recent years might notice that the Apartment List maps diverge from the big trends in actual population change, including where people are physically picking up and moving. According to census data, the fastest-growing big cities are in the South and West: Phoenix, San Antonio, Fort Worth, Seattle, and Charlotte.
A number of reasons explain the difference: First, this information reflects renters already living in U.S. cities—which excludes homeowners, immigrants, new babies, children in tow, and people who die. And second, they are but users of a single online apartment search engine. According Chris Salviati, a housing economist at Apartment List, the data reflects millions of individuals who’ve poked around the site. “Among our registered user base, the demographics skew younger, higher-income, and more female than the overall population,” he said via email. But this analysis included unregistered users, too, who Salviati believes is more representative of the renter population at large.
Caveats notwithstanding, the report does offer a peek into something that traditional population data misses—where mobile Americans dream of moving next.