Shifting Rental Trends Have Big Impact on Carbon Footprints
Climate change concerns are a hot topic in the rental industry today; green amenities are gaining popularity, and many property owners are considering how they can support sustainability in new projects with modern design and architecture. Despite the rising importance of environmental protection, recent rental trends in the U.S. are actually pointing towards a higher carbon footprint for the average American.
In the wake of the pandemic, many Americans are being forced to relocate to find more affordable housing options. As a result, many are choosing to move outside of large urban areas and into suburban counties where prices are lower. From 2019 to 2021, fringe counties of large cities have seen population increases of around 2.4 percent, and central counties have grown by only 0.1 percent. Beyond that, some urban centers are actually decreasing in population, including counties in San Francisco (-7.5%), Boston (-4.1%), and Washington DC (-5.1%). This trend raises issues in terms of climate — the average household carbon footprint is 18% higher in suburban areas compared to city-central regions.
Researchers from Apartment List provide insight into the connection between housing trends and climate change. “Housing is inextricably linked to the climate, and the way that we organize our cities has a profound impact on our carbon footprints. In densely populated urban areas — in which individuals occupy less space and are less reliant on cars — per-capita emissions are significantly lower than they are in the surrounding suburbs, where cars are typically the dominant commute mode and residents often bear long drives in traffic to access jobs in the city.” For example, the average household carbon footprint in Manhattan is 32.6 tons of CO2 emissions per year, whereas the average in fringe counties of New York City is 54.1 tons, a 68% increase.
Looking to the future, we should prioritize dense, transit-oriented development in our city centers. Unfortunately, impacts of the pandemic seem to be pushing us in the opposite direction.
One influential factor is the rise of remote work. For many, proximity to the office is no longer a high priority, which is aiding in the push toward city outskirts. “Demand for rentals has been strongest in the suburbs of large metros, with the potential to drive precisely the type of sprawl that is at odds with progress on emissions,” researchers note.
This demand is most largely driven by affordability and economic strain. “Crucially, this flight to the further reaches of large metros is not driven purely by preference, but largely by affordability – a lack of new construction has made housing in the urban core prohibitively expensive in many cases.” Rental data indicates the need for a greater supply of affordable homes for sale and apartments. “With housing affordability having reached crisis levels across the country, it’s crucial that we not only grow our nation’s housing supply, but do so in a sustainable way,” the Apartment List team emphasizes.