For a lot of reasons, though, this trend is not temporary. It won't reverse when the housing collapse fades from memory, nor as the economy picks back up. In fact, according to a new projection from the Urban Institute, homeownership in America will likely keep falling all the way out to 2030. It will fall for the young and the middle-aged, for blacks and for whites. By 2030, Urban predicts, the U.S. homeownership rate will be as low as 61.3 percent — a number we haven't seen in half a century.
Viewed another way: A big surge in renters is coming. And this trend has major implications for the kind of housing we should be building, as well as all of the housing we've already built. Between 2010 and 2030, according to the report, a majority of the estimated 22 million new households that will form in America will be renter households.
The number of homeowning households will grow (because the U.S. population will), but the number of renters will grow a lot faster:
That's going to mean several things: Developers will have to cater more to renters, many communities will need more apartments, and single-family homes that weren't originally built for renters will increasingly be used by them.
So what, exactly, will drive this long-term shift? The recession will have lingering effects for years, particularly among black families whose wealth was decimated by the housing bust.
Another part of the story is demographic. Minorities have historically been much less likely to own homes than whites, and their share of the population is growing. Because the age of marriage and childbearing in the U.S. has been rising, that means related life milestones like forming a household and buying a home are happening later in life, too. In effect, people who do buy homes will spend less of their lives as homeowners.
The Urban Institute also argues that stagnating incomes and rising student debt will drag down the ability of many Millennials to buy their own homes as they age into that stage of life. And many baby boomers will age out of homeownership at the same time. They'll move into retirement communities, or their children's homes, or event rentals of their own.
Along the way, between now and 2030, maybe we'll even change how we think about homeownership, which has long been viewed as a norm in America to which everyone should aspire.