By Jenny Connelly-Bowen, CBN Graduate Research Assistant

In this week’s newsletter, we’re exploring housing tenure and residential longevity. The maps below examine the distribution of homeowners and renters in the St. Louis region, as well as the length of time occupants have been living at their current residences.

In our August 31st newsletter, we shared an interview between How Housing Matters and Georgetown University sociologist Brian McCabe, author of No Place Like Home: Wealth, Community, and the Politics of Homeownership. McCabe discusses his research on homeownership and civic engagement and questions the notion that homeowners necessarily make more active community participants. He explores the idea that residential stability, the act of “settling down” in a particular place—not someone’s status as a renter or homeowner—tells a more complete story about a person’s capacity for community involvement.

Jake Wegmann probes similar issues in a recent Rooflines blog post, where he proposes stepping away from our model of housing tenure that primarily considers two groups—homeowners and renters—with various hybrid housing options in-between. In reality, Wegmann argues, housing tenure is better understood as a two-dimensional map that measures two variables: wealth-building opportunities and the degree of control that residents have over their decisions about how and whether to occupy their living spaces. Although our typical one-dimensional model assumes that these two variables go together, they don’t always. Wegmann cites manufactured housing communities, limited-equity co-ops, and community land trust arrangements as several “decoupled” examples. The post includes a visualization of this two-dimensional housing tenure model, with markers for the various privileges, responsibilities, and tradeoffs that accompany different forms of homeownership and rental. Wegmann concludes with a brief analysis of the model and a look at its implications for public policy—in particular, subsidies and legal protections granted to specific types of housing tenure. He invites readers to explore alternative ways of thinking about housing tenure and encourages us to champion a variety of “best fit” options for different American families:

“Even this very general map and analysis of tenure helps us push beyond the ‘renting vs. owning’ debate, as well as focus on alternative models. It shows us the diverse reality of American housing tenure, as it exists today, and so rather than focusing on promoting one type of tenure, the question has to become how to support and protect all American homes in their full diversity. What is a good tenure for one household may not work for another. What is a protected tenure in one place may be risky in another. One form of tenure may work for a household at one point in life, but not another.”

How are homeowners and renters distributed in the St. Louis region, and how do these patterns compare to the residential longevity of occupants in a specific area? The maps below were compiled in QGIS using data from the 2010-2014 American Community Survey (ACS) Five-Year Estimates. The first breaks down patterns of homeownership and rental in St. Louis City and County according to the dominant type of housing tenure by census tract. Blue tracts are areas where homeowners outnumber renters by at 2:1 or more; yellow tracts are areas where renters outnumber homeowners by 2:1 or more; and green tracts are areas where the distribution of homeowners and renters is more evenly split (that is, somewhere between the two ratio measures listed above). Perhaps unsurprisingly, we can see that the majority of renter-dominated tracts are in St. Louis City, particularly along the Central Corridor, and that homeowner-dominated tracts are more common in St. Louis County. Tracts with a more balanced distribution are scattered throughout the region, although—notably—they are much more common in North St. Louis County than in South and West St. Louis County, where homeownership typically dominates.


How do these patterns compare to the residential longevity of each census tract’s population? The next two maps break down residential longevity by census tract in two different ways: the first looks at residents who moved in during 1979 or earlier, and the second looks at residents who moved in during 2010 or later. As a proportion of total occupants of that census tract, red tracts have a relatively high percentage of residents who moved in during the time period being measured; blue tracts have a relatively low percentage.



The second map seems to reflect patterns that people might typically expect to see when looking at areas with high concentrations of renters: many tracts with the highest concentration of residents who moved in during or after 2010 are in the City (especially the Central Corridor), and all five of the tracts with the highest proportion of this occupant group are renter-dominated. But the reverse pattern does not hold true on the first map, where we can see that many of the tracts with the highest percentage of occupants who have been in their homes since 1979 or earlier are also in the City—and in North City in particular. Furthermore, only one out of the five tracts with the most residents of this type is owner-dominated. The rest are home to a more balanced distribution of owners and renters.

The top five tracts for each of these residential longevity measures are listed below.

Tracts with the highest percentage of residents who moved in during 1979 or earlier
1. Tract 2160 (St. Louis County – Wellston): 60% owners, 40% renters
2. Tract 1105 (St. Louis City – Fairground): 51% owners, 49% renters
3. Tract 1075 (St. Louis City – Mark Twain): 56% owners, 44% renters
4. Tract 1269 (St. Louis City – Mark Twain I-70 Industrial/Penrose): 69% owners, 31% renters
5. Tract 1072 (St. Louis City – Walnut Park): 54% owners, 46% renters

Tracts with the highest percentage of residents who moved in during 2010 or later
1. Tract 1255 (St. Louis County – Downtown): 23% owners, 77% renters
2. Tract 1256 (St. Louis City – Downtown): 9% owners, 91% renters
3. Tract 1193 (St. Louis City – Grand Center): 5% owners, 95% renters
4. Tract 1157 (St. Louis City – Dutchtown): 28% owners, 72% renters
5. Tract 1184 (St. Louis City – Midtown): 3% owners, 97% renters

To see maps from previous editions of the Community Builders Exchange, click here.