Einstein, Katherine Levine, Joseph Ornstein, and Maxwell Palmer. 2021. “Who Represents the Renters?” Working Paper.
Owning a home profoundly shapes Americans’ economic and political lives and preferences. A wide body of housing policy research suggests that homeowners receive favorable treatment from public policy at all levels of government. We know virtually nothing, however, about the descriptive representation of renters and homeowners. This paper combines a novel data set of over 10,000 local, state, and federal officials with administrative data on property records to assess the descriptive representation of renters and homeowners in the United States. We find that renters are starkly underrepresented by a margin of over thirty percentage points–a gap that persists across a variety of institutional and demographic contexts. Public officials are substantially more likely to own single-family homes that are more valuable than other homes in their neighborhoods. Collectively, these findings suggest deep representation inequalities that disadvantage renters at all levels of government.