TractIQ Self-Storage Case Study: Montgomery, Alabama


The capital city of Alabama hasn’t grown appreciably over the past decade, and its median household income is lower than the national average. Even so, the city known both as the “Birthplace of the Civil Rights Movement” and the “Cradle of the Confederacy” has a few things going for it when it comes to the self-storage market.

The metro area has a relatively stable professional population, thanks to its position as the state’s capital. Birmingham is bigger, Mobile has more nightlife, and Huntsville is the home of rocket scientists, but Montgomery has about 23,000 employees working for the state. It’s also home to two state universities – Alabama State University, a historically Black university that hosts 3,600 undergraduates, and Auburn University at Montgomery, a branch campus of 5,200 less than an hour’s drive from the main campus of the state’s second-largest college.

Montgomery is also the home of Maxwell Air Force Base, which is best known as the site of the Wright Brothers’ first civilian flying school. More relevant to the self-storage industry, however, is its role as the host of the Air University, a top professional training school for the U.S. Air Force that attracts a substantial number of ambitious and intelligent current and future military leaders who rotate through its Montgomery campus. The school turns out roughly 3,000 graduates every year.

The city sits on a coastal plain with gently rolling hills. The major highway, the north-south Interstate 65, extends from Mobile (about 170 miles to the south) to Chicago. Interstate 85 runs from the eastern Montgomery suburbs through Atlanta (160 miles to the east) and into Richmond, Va. Three roads – U.S. 231, U.S. 80, and Alabama 152 merge to form an almost complete loop around the city. Two major suburbs are located to the north of Montgomery – Prattville, in Autauga County, and Wetumpka, in Elmore county. The city also has experienced significant growth over the last generation to the east, especially along the Atlanta Highway. 

Montgomery is highly segregated in places, with Black residents making up as much as 100 percent of the city’s Census tracts, especially in western and northern neighborhoods. White residents, meanwhile, have large majorities in old neighborhoods like Old Cloverdale, just south of downtown, and East Montgomery. The suburbs of Prattville and Wetumpka also tend to include heavily White neighborhoods.

Despite its low cost of living (one study estimates 75 cents in Montgomery is worth $1 elsewhere in the United States), Montgomery hasn’t experienced significant growth over the last decade. According to the 2016-20 American Community Survey, the Montgomery metro area registered a population of 178,400 in 2020, less than a 1 percent increase from the 2010 estimate.

Incomes also have been stagnant. Nationally, median household incomes grew 5 percent over the decade (adjusted for inflation) to $64,994. In Alabama, the figure grew 4 percent to $52,035. In the Montgomery metro area, incomes fell 2 percent to $54,250. Despite its history as a center of the Civil Rights struggle, Montgomery remains a deeply segregated city with wide disparities in income among races. White households in the Montgomery metro area report a median income of $69,353; Black households, $39,165. Hispanic households fare slightly better with a median income of $45,956. 

On a county-wide basis, Montgomery has 8.8 square feet of self-storage per resident – more than the national average of 8 square feet. Self-storage units, however, are almost entirely concentrated on the eastern fringe of the metro area, where new master-planned communities have sprouted across the plain, and around the northern suburbs of Prattville and Wetumpka.

It’s also worth noting that despite its slow growth, there are more than 1,025 housing units worth an estimated $190 million that have been planned, developed or built within a 10-mile radius of downtown since 2018, according to building permit records reviewed by TractIQ – no small amount of residential construction, given Montgomery’s relatively small size. Almost 20 percent of the new housing units are within one mile of the city’s center, an indication that Montgomery is following the lead of many other Southern cities in attempting to rejuvenate its downtown.

Zip Code 36104

The 36104 zip code in Montgomery covers a significant amount of territory, ranging from the mostly Black northwestern fringes of the city along the winding Alabama River to the quaint bungalows adjacent to its wealthy Old Cloverdale neighborhood in south-central Montgomery, former home of author F. Scott Fitzgerald and his wife, Zelda. Despite its size, the zip code only reports 4.5 square feet of storage per resident, only slightly more than half the national average.

Because it encompasses significant parts (and significantly poorer parts, at that) of West Montgomery, the zip code’s median household income is far below the metro median of $54,250. In fact, the median household income in 36104 is a mere $31,717 – less than half the national median of $64,994. Again, though, it’s worth noting that although significant pockets of poverty exist, the zip also includes the gentrifying downtown area, a substantial number of state government headquarters, and the Maxwell Air Force Base.

The zip code has relatively few homeowners; only 28 percent of housing units are occupied by owners, according to the 2016-20 American Community Survey, the latest data available. There are a substantial number of apartment complexes and housing projects, which may explain the relatively low rates of home ownership; only 44 percent of housing units in the zip code are single-family detached homes. The median value of a house in 36104 also is extremely low at $86,100 – barely one-third of the national average of $229,800.  Still, there’s a bit of a boom going on; since late 2018, 181 housing units worth an estimated $28 million have either been planned or built within five miles of the zip code, according to building permit records reviewed by TractIQ.

There is one self-storage facility just south of downtown, with five more located on the western end of the zip code near the Air Force base. To the east, there are more than a dozen facilities within a five-mile radius of downtown. Despite the relative scarcity, self-storage units in the area are inexpensive. Within a five-mile radius, the average cost per square foot is $1.05, rising to $1.09 within a 10-mile radius. The prices are far lower than the state average of $1.47 per square foot and barely half the national average of $1.99 per square foot.

Zip Code 36022

Sitting just north of Montgomery on the border between the suburban counties of Autauga and Elmore, the 36022 zip code offers somewhat better prospects for self-storage facilities. It offers 1.96 square feet of self-storage space per resident, less than one-quarter of the national average. Zip code 36022 is also roughly halfway between the growing bedroom communities of Prattville and Wetumpka, and barely 20 miles from downtown Montgomery.

More than three-quarters of households in the zip code are family households, and the population tends to be relatively stable, with 90 percent of its residents reporting that they’ve been in the same house for a year or more. The largest share 18.4 percent, have lived in 36022 between five and 17  years. About 75 percent of housing units are single-family homes (A substantial number, almost a quarter of the total, consist of mobile homes).

The zip code is well-to-do, with a median household income of $67,733 – almost $13,500 more than the typical household in the Montgomery metro area and better than the statewide median of $52,035. It also has significantly more homeowners than the metro, state or national averages. Slightly more than 85 percent of the 4,590 housing units in the zip code are owner-occupied, according to the 2016-20 American Community Survey. The median value of a home in 26022 is $173,600 – a bargain by national standards, but roughly a $25,000 premium over the median home values for Alabama ($149,600) and the Montgomery metro area ($144,800). Within a 10-mile radius, building permit records reviewed by TractIQ show 56 new housing units worth $14 million were being planned in 2022.

There are four self-storage facilities within a five-mile radius of the zip, and another 13, mostly in Elmore County and west Montgomery, within a 10-mile radius. There aren’t enough self-storage facilities to calculate an average cost per square foot, but it’s reasonable to assume that they’re in line with the statewide average of $1.47 per square foot, cheaper than the $1.99 national figure.

Zip Code 36067

The 36067 zip code includes much of the bustling suburb of Prattville. Since 1980, the Autauga County seat (whose boundaries also extend into neighboring Elmore County) has seen its population more than double to almost 38,000 people. The zip code, which covers about half of Prattville to the west, also includes a half-dozen smaller hamlets, such as Booth, Dosterville, and Independence. With an average of 6 square feet of self-storage space per resident, it’s not exactly devoid of facilities but still comfortably below the national average of roughly 8 square feet of self-storage space per resident.

The area is solidly middle-class, with a median household income of $52,343, essentially in line with the typical Alabama and Montgomery metro household. Slightly more than 56 percent of housing units are owner-occupied, less than the national, state or metro averages but more than several Montgomery-area zip codes. The typical home is valued at $134,400, almost a six-figure discount from the national median of $229,800. About 85 percent of its residents have lived in the same house for more than a year, according to the 2016-20 American Community Survey.

Within a five-mile radius of the zip code, more than 165 housing units worth an estimated $40 million have been in various stages of planning or construction since 2018. Within a 20-mile radius of the zip code, more than 1,000 housing units worth an estimated $190 million have been planned or begun construction.

Although the city appears to be saturated with storage facilities, the majority are located on the east side of Prattville, in the adjacent 36066 zip code. Within a one-mile radius of the 36067 zip code, there are only three facilities; within three miles, there are a dozen. Three miles northwest of Prattville, there are no self-storage facilities, contributing to the area’s lower-than-average square footage per resident.

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Author: Frank Bass

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