The only generation to record an increase in renting activity in the past year, up by 21%, Gen Z is playing a big role in the urban revival. And Peoria is among the trendiest destinations for Gen Z renters.
Currently representing over a quarter of lease applications nationwide, Zoomers are swarming large urban hubs that promise job opportunities, bringing new life into cities that were once considered doomed due to the pandemic.
Meet the next Zoomer hotspots: San Francisco; Jersey City; Manhattan; Philadelphia; and Boston saw the sharpest spikes in lease applications from the youngest generation of adults, with increases of up to 101% in the past year. Like their Millennial peers who headed for the big cities in the years following the Great Recession, Gen Z renters are now moving to large urban areas that provide job opportunities and a vibrant social scene, after a one-year hiatus in their college towns or their families’ small towns in 2020.
Nationwide, the number of applications for apartments from renters of all generations increased by an average of 10% year over year, from 2.9 million applications in 2020 to 3.2 million in 2021. The increase in activity was mainly driven by the youngest renter group, the oldest of whom are 25 years old. Compared to 2020, there were 220,000 more Gen Zers who applied for an apartment in 2021. Technologically savvy, extremely concerned with social issues and more diverse than any prior generation, Zoomers are starting to exert their influence in the housing market — they were the only generation to record an increase in renting activity in 2021.
The cohort of Gen Z renters is growing rapidly. In fact, of the 3.2 million applications for apartments analyzed, 27% were from Gen Zers — up from 23% in 2020. Aiming for the title of largest renting generation (which is currently held by Millennials with 45% of applications), Zoomers’ renting activity increased by 21% in one year, while lease applications from Millennials were down by 8%.
However, renting activity among Gen Z’s slowed down compared to the previous year, when their share had gone up 36% in 2020. One reason for this may be the pandemic itself, which hit this generation particularly hard: half of adult Gen Z’s reported that they or someone in their household experienced job loss or significant pay cuts. Coupled with decreases in migration due to travel restrictions, these factors may have temporarily stunted the movement of the next generation of adults.
Gen Z Renters Are Giving the Golden City Back Its Shine
The first group of true digital natives is flocking to the home of technological innovation: San Francisco. And, they’re not only breaking into the tech industry of Silicon Valley — they’re doing it with a bang. The #1 trendiest city for Generation Z, San Francisco logged the greatest increase in Zoomers who moved into new apartments in 2021, at 101%. By doubling its share of Gen Z rental applicants, the Golden City seems ready for a revamp — and this young cohort is set on taking the tech world to the next level.
Meanwhile, the tri-state area in the Northeast remains one of the nation’s hottest regions, luring young renters back into the bustling urban scene. As a matter of fact, the East Coast took the rest of the top five spots, with Jersey City, NJ and Manhattan apartments in second and third place, respectively, for the highest spikes in applications.
The second trendiest city for Generation Z renters, Jersey City has seen a development boom as of late, especially in the downtown area. With an abundance of new buildings and plenty of nearby attractions, Chilltown has attracted almost double the amount (95%) of Zoomer renters that it did in 2020. Its vicinity to Manhattan’s financial district is a bonus, as work-from-home policies still in place allow Zoomers to live in areas within their budget, but not too far from the office in case full or partial reopenings will come.
The third Zoomer hotspot, Manhattan offers a substantial job pool that attracts many young renters to the city, recording a 63% spike in Gen Z rental applications in the past 12 months.
The Big Apple was followed by Philadelphia and Boston, which round up the top five hotspots for Gen Z renters. This year’s young renter migration continues the 2010-2020 trend of population increases in Philadelphia, turning the City of Brotherly Love into a post-Millennial hotbed, with a 60% change in share. Moreover, data from the U.S. Census Bureau showed that, in 2021, Philly also grew in diversity — ticking an essential box for the most multicultural generation.
Digital in Their DNA: Major Cities Fulfil Gen Z Desire for Fast Connections
A lively vibe, diversity, jobs and great connectivity are just a few of the many reasons that the youngest generation of renters finds large cities attractive. Gen Z was born to be digital and, as such, a fast and reliable connection is no longer just a choice, but rather a necessity. And, with an average internet speed of 175 MB/s (which far exceeds the national average of 99 MB/s), Boston satisfies the digital needs of its increasing share of Zoomer renters, up 59% compared to 2020. What’s more, with renowned higher-education institutions nearby, Boston is a breeding ground for future IT professionals. It’s also one of the best metros for graduates, offering a high concentration of STEM-related jobs.
Furthermore, Zoomers are becoming a sizeable presence in some of the nation’s largest cities: they account for more than one quarter of active renters in the past year in San Diego, Los Angeles, Manhattan and Philadelphia — all with a population of over one million. Likewise, according to Census data, 13 of the 20 trendiest cities for Gen Zers are large cities with populations of more than 250,000.
“Big cities are appealing for a host of reasons—big cities offer diverse job opportunities. Big cities offer many amenities that are not available in smaller cities or rural areas, from dining and entertainment options to public transit, to services like gyms and spas. And big cities offer opportunities for social networking—whether Gen Zers are looking for professional colleagues to bounce ideas off of, or romantic partners, they’re more likely to find someone to connect with, in a big, dense city.” points out Nicholas Dempsey, Associate Professor of Sociology at Eckerd College.
College Towns Continue to Boast Largest Shares of Active Gen Z Renters in the US
Given that most Gen Z renters are either college students or recent graduates, it’s to be expected that they are well represented in college towns. In fact, in some locations, they are the largest renting generation.
To that end, compared to last year, Davis, CA took the crown from Boulder, CO, becoming the top Gen Z city with the largest Zoomer majority — 69% of all apartment applications. Here, the University of California, Davis recorded a year-over-year enrollment growth of 1.1%, whereas the University of Colorado Boulder’s enrollment dropped 1.2% in 2021. Although these numbers seem negligible, they might offer some context as to why Boulder dropped to second place with a 66% share.
Meanwhile, Conway, AR, maintained its third place this year, as well as the title of “City of Colleges,” while Lynchburg, VA, took a massive leap from 14th all the way up to 4 th place. Finally, Bloomington, IN — home of Indiana University Bloomington — dropped one spot, rounding out our top five with a 57% Gen Z renter majority.
Despite these shuffles, a look at last year’s top 20 cities for Gen Z renters proves that not much has changed in 2021: College towns are still the places with the highest number of Gen Z applicants year-over-year. However, unlike 2020, when only the top three cities had a majority share of Gen Z renters, this year, two other cities’ Zoomer population exceeded 50%.
While attracting young renters to college towns may seem like a simple feat, getting them to stay after graduation is a different story. Former students turned permanent residents bring prosperity to the local economy and are a driving force for innovation. But, in order to flourish, they need access to a more diverse job market that is specific to bigger cities.
And that’s not the only trait a college town needs to have in order to retain students, according to Professor Dempsey. “A college town needs a diverse offering of jobs, particularly good-paying entry-level jobs. Further, towns with more amenities, which can include anything from access to wilderness parks to diverse options for dining and entertainment, are more attractive to young renters.”
Top Trending Cities with Highest Increases in Gen Z Renters by State
Use the arrows to browse the top trending cities for Gen Z renters in each state, ranked by the change in share of rental applications submitted by this age group below.