According to the 2010 Census Bureau, the percentage of owner-occupied housing units is on the decline, while the percentage of renter-occupied units is on the rise. Some market observers say that the recession has brought with it financial pressures that make homeownership out of reach for many. While that may be true, Peter Fugiel, a longtime Chicago housing analyst and frequent contributor to, says that we are not likely to become a nation of renters anytime soon.

“Homeownership is embedded in the housing inventory and social infrastructure of most U.S. communities,” says Fugiel. “And that’s not likely to change.” In most markets, single-family housing is the predominant housing unit relative to apartment building and multi-family units. This type of housing stock is hard to rent, and difficult to maintain, particularly if the previous owners have allowed the unit to deteriorate.

Fugiel and other market experts say that the current percentages reflect a return to more traditional levels of homeownership versus rentals. It does not represent an impending change to the structure of the U.S. housing market.

Even though many homeowners may entertain the thought of selling their property and moving to a rental unit, this is not a seller’s market. In most regions of the country, home prices have fallen, and homeowners who choose (or are forced) to sell now stand to take a loss on their investment.

“Homeownership is embedded in the housing inventory and social infrastructure of most U.S. communities … And that’s not likely to change.”

As illustrated by the table below, the percentage of owner-occupied housing units in 2010 is slightly down from 2000, but is actually higher than in 1990. The increase in occupied units was very small compared to the previous decade; most of the loss of occupied units can be attributed to foreclosures.

% of Owner-Occupied Units % of Renter-Occupied Units
2010  65.10%  34.90%
2000  66.19%  33.81%
1990  64.19%  35.81%

Source: U.S. Bureau of the Census via American Factfinder

Over the course of the past decade, there was a significant increase in owner-occupied housing units, in many cases, as a result of cheap, often irresponsible mortgage practices, which triggered a sales boom in the housing market.  

These 2010 figures signal a return to the fifty-year trend of moderate increases in the owner-occupancy rate.