Though owning a home was once the epitome of adulthood, people from all walks of life are turning to renting in record numbers. In fact, there are more dedicated rental households in the U.S. today than there have been since 1965, and a third of today’s renters are renting by choice and not circumstance.
It’s not hard to see why someone would choose to rent rather than own in today’s steamy real estate market. Beyond the hefty barrier to entry (not to mention the chance that homeownership could bring out the worst in you), owning a home is flush with financial hurdles that pop up both expectedly and unexpectedly, like monthly mortgage payments, property taxes, and maintenance costs. In other words, if you’re not crazy about signing away your financial freedom to a lender, doling out your life savings for a down payment, or shelling out your future paycheck for roof repairs, it’s a pretty pragmatic time to be a renter.
I was a renter long before it was the it thing to do. When I signed my first lease fresh out of college, I didn’t know how to cook and hadn’t yet mastered laundry, but you don’t actually need any of those life skills to rent an apartment. And for me, that was kind of the beauty of it.
Renting for the first time was the start of my adult life. Really, it was the crux of it. Having a place of my own meant that I could tell people to come over to my place, which was a glory in itself, but it also allowed me to take on real world responsibilities in a bite-sized way, giving me an appreciation for adulthood that living in my mom’s house or in grimy university residences simply didn’t. Renting led me to apply for my first checkbook, taught me how to budget big ticket expenditures, and was my first go at interior decorating. It also gave me a sense of permanency and constancy, which I sorely needed after four years of chaotic dorm life.
Close to a decade later, I’ve graduated out of that almost-adult limbo but I still have such a soft spot for rental living. Over the years, I’ve enjoyed having the support of my landlord and neighbors for times when life feels like swimming upstream. On days when I’ve locked myself out, have reached a stalemate with my laundry machine, am certain that I’ve left the oven on and my unit is about to burst into flames, or need someone to check in on my cat, I feel fortunate knowing that though I live alone, I’m never really alone.
Outside of the built-in aspect of community, rental living affords me, and so many others, an innate freedom that homeownership simply wouldn’t. Sure, I’m a flighty millennial who struggles with commitment and revels in dramatic, fresh starts — but for others, renting is not just a lifestyle preference, but a lifestyle requirement.
Earlier this year, the Pew Research Centre released a study revealing that COVID-19 will have long-term ramifications on the financial health of more than half of American households. With less financial latitude across the board, renting poses an affordable, inclusive, and flexible option for housing, enabling people to live within their means, relocate for employment or to be closer to family supports, and to work to live rather than live to work. And in today’s unique times, these are luxuries that, to me, trump a white picket fence.