Nationally, 34.9% of occupied homes were rented in 2010 compared with 33.8% in 2000, according to Census data. Percentages of homes rented in cities with at least 50,000 people:

Almost 4 million homes have been lost to foreclosures in the past five years, turning many former owner-occupied homes into rentals.

The shift to rental housing is potentially long-lasting and portends changes for neighborhood stability and how people build wealth, economists say.

The swing from owner- to tenant-occupied homes in the past decade has been dramatic in some places:

•Of the 100 largest cities, some of those with the largest shifts were Irvine, Calif., which went from about 40% of occupied homes rented in 2000 to 49.8% in 2010; Philadelphia, from 40.7% to 45.9%; and Birmingham, Ala., 46.3% to 50.7%.

•Twenty-five cities — including Baltimore, Minneapolis, Salt Lake City and Sacramento — swung from having more than half homeowners in 2000 to majorities of renters in 2010. In one — Reading, Pa. — 57.6% of occupied homes were rentals in 2010, up from 49% in 2000.

•Florida, California and Arizona had the most cities where the share of renter-occupied housing grew by at least 5 percentage points. All three states have been hit hard by foreclosures.

Nationwide, 34.9% of occupied homes — including houses, condos, and apartments — were rented in 2010, up from 33.8% in 2000. The Census data that USA TODAY analyzed for cities covered only housing within the cities’ boundaries, not their much larger metropolitan areas.

Vacant properties, excluding seasonal or vacation homes, accounted for 7.9% of U.S. housing units in 2010. It’s not clear how many of those have since become rentals or owner-occupied homes.

The renter household market remained fairly stable from 1990 to 2006, says Daniel McCue, senior research analyst at Harvard University’s Joint Center for Housing Studies.

Since 2006, when housing prices peaked, the number of renter households in the U.S. has grown an average of 692,000 a year, while owner households have fallen an average of 201,000 a year, Census surveys show.

Several factors will boost rental growth for years to come, Zandi says, including continued foreclosures, continued drops in home prices that frighten buyers and potential cuts to government subsidies supporting homeownership. On the other hand, 74% of renters think owning is superior to renting, said a recent survey by mortgage giant Fannie Mae.