Staff Reports

The Measurement of Rent Inflation

January 2010  Number 425
Revised August 2015
JEL classification: E31, R31

Authors: Jonathan McCarthy, Richard W. Peach, and Matthew S. Ploenzke

Shelter represents a large portion of the typical household budget. Accordingly, rent, paid either to a landlord or to oneself as an owner-occupant, has a large weight in the CPI and the PCE deflator. Nonetheless, the way in which rent inflation is measured is not widely understood. In this paper, we describe how the Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates tenant rent and owners’ equivalent rent (OER) inflation. We then estimate alternative tenant rent and OER inflation rates based on American Housing Survey (AHS) data, following BLS methodology as closely as possible. Our alternative tenant rent and OER inflation series are generally consistent with the corresponding BLS series. In analyzing the AHS data, we find a strong inverse relationship between rent levels and their rate of increase. We also find that substantially more than all of the increase in housing units for the upper half of the income distribution comes from new construction, while nearly three-fourths of the increase in housing units for renters in the bottom half of the income distribution results from downward filtering of units that had once been occupied by higher-income households. This finding suggests that lower-income households tend to face higher overall inflation than do middle- and upper-income households.

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