It has been a decade of adding renters and adding empty houses in Lawrence.
New numbers were released Thursday by the U.S. Census Bureau that show a snapshot of the 2010 demographics of the city, and also provide a glimpse at how much the city’s housing market has changed.
Here’s a look at what the numbers, which are part of the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey, say about everything from housing to health insurance to jobs:
• Lawrence’s population is becoming more dominated by renters. Lawrence, because of its large number of university students, long has had a higher percentage of renters than an average community. But the new numbers show that renters now make up 58.2 percent of the city’s total occupied households. That’s up from 54.1 percent in 2000, according to data from the 2000 Census. The influx of renters means that homeowners now make up 41.8 percent of the city’s total occupied households.
• Lawrence is adding renters faster than other places. During the last decade, Lawrence added renters at about five times the national average. Despite a decade of low interest rates, the percentage of renters in the U.S. as a whole did increase slightly, by 0.8 percent. But that was nothing compared with here. Lawrence’s share of renters grew by 4.1 percent during the decade.
• Renters may be part of the reason the city’s growth rate has slowed. The average size of a rental household in Lawrence is 1.94 people compared with 2.54 people in an owner-occupied household. What’s more, the average size of a rental household in Lawrence dropped significantly during the decade. The average size of a Lawrence rental household in 2000 was 2.07 people. That’s a drop of 6 percent. City leaders may pay more attention to those numbers as they try to determine why the Census Bureau’s population count for the city showed nearly 4,000 fewer people than what the city had estimated. The 2010 Census showed the last decade was Lawrence’s slowest in terms of population growth since the days of the Great Depression.
• Indeed, there are more empty houses these days. The number of vacant housing units in the city now stands at 7.1 percent. That’s up from 4.2 percent in 2000. Although it seems counter-intuitive, the Census Bureau says the homeowner vacancy rate — think of empty houses people are trying to sell — is much higher than the rental vacancy rate in Lawrence. The homeowner vacancy rate is listed at 8.1 percent. The rental vacancy rate is listed at 2.1 percent. That is almost exactly the inverse of how the national average breaks down. In total, the Census Bureau estimates there are about 2,700 vacant houses in Lawrence.
• Housing is taking a bigger bite out of the pocketbook. The number of homeowners in Lawrence who pay 35 percent or more of their monthly income on housing costs is now at 17.6 percent. That’s up from 11.7 percent in 2000. The Census Bureau now estimates the average monthly housing costs for a Lawrence homeowner — with a mortgage — is $1,413. The median rent in Lawrence is now $810 per month.
• Not all of our neighbors make more than we do. The median household income in Lawrence is $45,471. That figure counts everybody who earns any type of income. That’s far lower than in Johnson County, where the median household income is $60,483. But it is higher than in Topeka, where the median household income is $37,001. If keeping up with Willie the Wildcat matters to you, we’ve fallen behind there. The average household income for the Manhattan area is $46,150.
• Don’t get sick kids. Lawrence’s health insurance situation tracks pretty close to the national averages in most categories, except when it comes to children without health insurance. The percentage of children younger than 18 without health insurance is 11.5 percent. The national average is 8 percent. In total, the Census estimates there are 14,199 people in Lawrence without health insurance, or about 15.5 percent. That is also the national average. The bureau also estimates that 17.1 percent of people who are employed in Lawrence don’t have health insurance. The national average in that category is 18 percent.
The American Community Survey gathers its data from a continual set of surveys that it conducts in Lawrence and other cities and counties across the country. It uses the surveys to produce estimates that it releases once per year. The program took the place of the long-form questionnaire that the Census Bureau used to issue once every 10 years. The American Community Survey data is more timely than past Census data but generally has a higher margin of error because it relies on a smaller sample size.