Study Finds Renters Are Highly Underrepresented at All Levels of Government

A new study from researchers at Boston University and the University of Georgia, “Who Represents the Renters?,” examines the extent to which renters are represented among public officials at the local, state, and federal levels of government relative to homeowners. Using property records and voter registration data, the researchers found that across each assessed category of elected office, at least 93% of officeholders either own their homes or likely own their homes. Across each type of elected office, the estimated share of renters varies from 2% to 7%. The gap between renter and homeowner representation remained consistent across local, state, and federal government offices and across demographic groups.

The researchers built a dataset of over 10,000 public officials including all members of Congress, governors, state legislators, and federal district court judges, as well as mayors and councilmembers from the country’s 190 largest cities. Using publicly available voter file records and property records, the researchers matched officials’ names across data sources to determine homeownership status. The researchers categorized officials’ homeownership status as “yes,” “no,” or “likely.” Officials were categorized as “likely” homeowners when their name matched multiple property records.

For each type of public office, at least 93% of elected officials owned or likely owned their homes. The researchers also found that 79% of officeholders lived in single-family homes, while single-family homes make up only 67% of the national housing stock. Officeholders’ properties were, on average, worth 50% more than the median home value in their respective ZIP codes. This disparity increased as the level of office became higher, with governors, U.S. senators, and U.S. representatives owning homes that tended to far exceed the median home value in their ZIP codes.

At the local level, the researchers estimated that 89% of city councilmembers owned their homes despite the overall homeownership rate for the sample cities being 51%. To assess whether this disparity was merely the result of an underrepresentation of women and people of color in local elected positions, the researchers also assessed homeownership rates by race and gender. The study found that white mayors and councilmembers were only slightly more likely to own their homes than Black and Hispanic officials. The combined rates of homeownership and likely homeownership at the local level were identical for men and women at 93%.

The researchers emphasized that the low rate of renter representation generates a variety of policy consequences. Many homeowners in office may lack the perspective needed to understand the struggles of renters, for example, and may also be biased towards the interests of fellow homeowners.

Read the new study at: