Most Americans know their neighbors by name, new research finds, and might even invite them over occasionally for tea. That is, unless the neighbor is — gasp — a renter.
Indeed, people are more prejudiced against renters than any other group living on their street, according to a survey of over 3,000 adults released Thursday by research firm Harris Interactive on behalf of Trulia, a real-estate firm. Of those picky neighbors, 33% want people on their street to speak the same language, 16% want their neighbors to have the same family structure and 10% prefer the same race or ethnicity. But 35% (even those who are renters themselves) said it was most important that their neighbors be homeowners. In fact, 51% of homeowners say they prefer to have other homeowners as neighbors.
That may be disheartening news for the large proportion of renters who can’t actually afford to buy a home. Homes in just eight of the 25 largest urban areas are within reach of median-income households, according to data released last week by Interest.com, which tracks consumer credit. “Millions of owner-occupied, single-family homes that went into foreclosure in 2008 became rentals,” says Jed Kolko, chief economist at Trulia. The home ownership rate now hovers at 65%, the lowest level since 1995, after peaking at over 69% in 2004, according to the Census Bureau.
Other surveys give renters an even harder time. About three-quarters of homeowners in a recent survey by NeighborsFromHell.com say that renters are bad neighbors. “Renters are less likely to adapt to local customs concerning noise, trash, parking and lawn upkeep,” says Robert Borzotta, founder of the website NeighborsFromHell.com, which consistently rates noise as the No. 1 complaint about neighbors in its annual surveys. “Homeowners are perceived to care more about their property, its appearance, safety of the community and property values,” he says.
A face-off between neighbors can often be reduced to homeowners versus renters, even if the renter is in the right. When Christopher Taylor-Edwards, a digital strategies manager at a New York-based non-profit, was moving from Washington D.C., his neighbor was unhappy that the moving truck was taking up space on the street. “I explained that we needed to move and use the parking space and told him, ‘I live here and pay taxes too,’” he says. His soon-to-be-ex neighbor screamed back, “Well, I’m a homeowner!” Taylor-Edwards says singling him out as a renter upset him more than the moving van issue. “I was enraged by the arrogance of that attitude,” he says.
Americans have long preferred to live near “people like us,” studies suggest. There has been a marked increase in “residential segregation” by income over the past three decades, according to a 2102 survey released by Pew Research Center, which cross-referenced household income and “census tracts” by the U.S. Census Bureau. The share of middle class areas in the U.S. is down to 76% in 2010 from 80% in 1980, Pew found, with the share of lower-income neighborhoods rising to 28% from 23%, and upper-income areas doubling to 18% from 9%.
On the upside, two-thirds of people say they do like their neighbors and only 4% care about their neighbors’ political views. And there’s evidence that plenty of people don’t know the first thing about their neighbors: Only 46% of urbanites know their neighbors by name, according to Trulia. Plus, some folks are increasingly likely to spend more time in their cyber-community than in their traditional neighborhood, Borzotta says, despite the downsides: “Try borrowing a cup of sugar from your Facebook friend four states away,” he says.
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