PHILADELPHIA—New analysis of U.S. Census Bureau data by The Pew Charitable Trusts shows that homeownership has declined more in Philadelphia in recent years than in almost any other big city in the country. The Pew report, Homeownership in Philadelphia: On the Decline,finds that 52.2 percent of Philadelphia’s housing units were owner-occupied in 2012, down from 59.3 percent in 2000. Among the nation’s 30 largest cities, only Phoenix experienced a larger decrease during that period.
The drop in the city’s homeownership has been accompanied by an equally significant increase in renting. Even with this change, Philadelphia’s rate of homeownership remains relatively high compared with other major cities in the Northeast and Midwest.
Among the report’s other key findings:
From 2000 to 2012, a period during which homeownership declined nationally, the number of owner-occupied units in the city fell by 47,082 to 302,551, and the number of rentals grew by 36,885 to 277,323.
The decline in Philadelphia homeownership was most pronounced among groups usually considered to be traditional homebuyers: married couples and families with children. Even as homeownership dropped citywide, it rose among single-person households.
Homeownership in Philadelphia varies tremendously from one part of the city to another. In 31 of the city’s 46 residential ZIP codes, at least half of all housing is owner-occupied. Eleven of the 31 ZIP codes are in Northeast Philadelphia. From 2000 to 2012, homeownership levels declined the most in Lower Northeast Philadelphia and increased the most in and around Center City.
Some elements of homeownership in Philadelphia have not changed. Compared with other cities, Philadelphia has a very high percentage of low-income homeowners. In 2012, individuals earning less than $35,000 a year accounted for nearly 38 percent of owner-occupied properties. Among the 30 largest cities, Philadelphia was second in this regard, trailing only Detroit. Philadelphia also has a large share of owner-occupied homes that are owned free and clear, without mortgages—about 41 percent, the third-highest rate among the 30 cities, behind only Detroit and Houston.
“The drop in homeownership in Philadelphia has gone largely unnoticed, perhaps because the city was not hit as hard as some other communities by the housing crash that occurred before and during the Great Recession,” said Larry Eichel, project director of Pew’s Philadelphia research initiative. “The shift from owning to renting, should it continue, has the potential to be a major change. Having fewer homeowners could alter the character of various sections of the city in any number of ways.”
The decrease in homeownership in Philadelphia is attributed to a variety of factors, including stagnant incomes, rising home prices, and tight credit. These trends have made home-buying more daunting for middle-class households than in years past. In addition, many members of Philadelphia’s growing young adult population are waiting longer to make the commitment involved in purchasing a home. Some are doing so by choice; others are constrained by low-wage jobs, student debt, and decisions to delay marriage and family.
The Pew Charitable Trusts is driven by the power of knowledge to solve today’s most challenging problems. Pew’s Philadelphia research initiative provides timely, impartial research and analysis on key issues facing Philadelphia for the benefit of the city’s citizens and leaders. Learn more at the Philadelphia Research Initiative.