Gen Z Renters Flock To San Francisco–For Now

The great San Francisco exodus was never quite what it was cracked up to be anyway–the truth is, the major drivers behind SF’s recent population decline were factors the death rate and stalling immigration, and less so necessarily migration out of the area.

Be that as it may, the online rental platform RentCafe has it that at least one demographic still favors moving to San Francisco: young renters, those dubbed Generation Z.

That at least is the contention of RentCafe analysts, who ranked the most popular destination metros for young renters based on rent applications.

To be clear, the conclusion here is NOT that SF is the most popular city with Gen Z (people are already misreading the data to make this claim); cities like Davis, Boulder, CO, and Conway, AR (look it up) have the largest proportion of Gen Z renters currently.

Rather, SF saw the largest year-over-year increase in rental applications during the analysis period–101 percent from 2020 to 2021. For comparison, San Jose came in seventh place with 52 percent, and the only other city with even comparable numbers was number two-ranked Jersey City, with a 95 percent hike.

The huge figure is very handy in this case, because ordinarily these kind of isolated stat blips don’t necessarily mean much–after all, any given figure has to go up somewhere in America from one year to the next.

But 101 percent is such a tremendous spike that it probably really does mean something, although still keep in mind it’s just one year–so far.

As usual, the qualifiers:

  • This data comes by way of RentGrow, a resident screening service owned by the same parent company as RentCafe. So what we’re getting here is not necessarily a measure of all renters–just of those who applied with clients who use this service.
  • For the purposes of the this analysis, Generation Z is anyone born between 1997 and 2012. Presumably very few 2012 kids are renting their own apartments right now, unless they’re REALLY aggressive self-starters.
  • The studied period was January 2020 through October 2020, and then January 2021 through October 2021. This of course should give us pause, because 2020 was the Year Everything Became Weird, and then 2021 was the Year Things Got a Little Less Weird.

On the latter point, remember that any increase in rental activity from 2020 is going to be inflated because, well, it was 2020; we’d be much more interested to see how, say, this year’s numbers compare down the line. But naturally, for that we have to wait.

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