Real Estate Papers

Document Type

Journal Article

Date of this Version


Publication Source

Cityscape: A Journal of Policy Development and Research





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The decision of whether to rent or own a home should involve an evaluation of the relative risks and the relative costs of the two options. It is often assumed that renting is less risky than homeownership, but that is not always the case. Which option is riskier depends on the risk source and household characteristics. This article provides a framework for understanding the sources of risk for renters. It outlines the most important determinants of risk: volatility in the total cost of obtaining housing, changes in housing costs after a move, and the correlation of rents with incomes. The article characterizes the magnitudes of those risks and discusses how the effects of risk vary across renter types and U.S. metropolitan areas. In addition, the article shows that renters spend less of their cash flow on housing than do otherwise equivalent owners and, thus, are better able to absorb housing cost risk. Finally, potential policy approaches to rental housing that avoid increasing rent risk are discussed. A simple way to maintain renters’ capacity to absorb rent risk is to avoid subsidies that result in an incentive to consume a larger rental housing quantity. Targeting rental subsidies to more mobile households or those living in low-volatility cities, where renting is less risky, should be considered. Long-term leases would provide an intermediate position between renting annually and owning but are currently rare.

Included in

Real Estate Commons



Date Posted: 27 November 2017

This document has been peer reviewed.