Who’s Afraid of Renters?

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Perceptions seem to be changing but there remains an unfortunate bias against renters. In a recent essay in the Wall Street Journal (May 4, 2012) author Daniel Gross [Better, Stronger, Faster: The Myth of American Decline and the Rise of the New Economy] offers this characterization. “In the American mind, renting has long symbolized striving – striving, that is, well short of achieving.”

Millions of Americans rent; some 34% of them in fact. According to the Census Bureau’s Current Population survey, 42% of renters are under 30 years of age and 17% are over 65. How is it that anyone can lump together so many seniors and Millennials and then suggest that somehow they are not essential elements of the American mainstream that deserve choices in housing?

Renters are transient and disconnected the critics argue. To be sure, renters without children, both young and old, may be disconnected indeed from schools; the one basic hometown institution mostly supported by property taxes. However, from this observation it is a far and dramatic leap to suggest that renters by their very nature are disconnected from the community at large. What models of citizenship are we promoting that equate the value of contributions to a society by the dollars collected through a tax on real property?

Today renters are helping to stabilize and even save neighborhoods devastated by foreclosures just by the act of moving in.  Beyond their physical presence, renters bring income, purchasing power and the foundations of community.

People chose to live in the best place that they can afford.  That best place often has a mix of employment opportunities, welcoming neighbors, and some amenities such as open space or retail shops or entertainment venues.

Being welcoming to new residents regardless of their housing preferences is an act of good faith by a city. By using an inclusive approach, a city can demonstrate that it seeks to attract people of energy and talent to build a life for themselves and for those they hold dear. Such an attitude proudly declares that a community wishes to serve and support a diverse and unique corps of residents.