Seattle, WA

Most of Generation Z Cannot Afford Houses

Ilana Quinn

Whenever I take aimless walks through the different neighbourhoods scattered around my home city, I imagine living in the houses I pass along the way.

My favourite house was a charming bungalow with a small garden out front and climbing wisteria framing the pathway, the veranda snaking around the large bay windows. Another was a stately Victorian with spiring windows; harkening back to the typical homes in classic children’s Halloween movies.

If I’m in the mood to disappoint myself, I’ll search up the neighbourhood in question and browse current house prices in the area. Every time I do this, a wave of dismay crashes over me. Every single-family home is at least a million dollars and usually far more.

For context, I live in the most expensive city in North America. Even the outermost suburbs are extremely costly, including smaller properties such as condos, townhomes and apartments.

Renting isn’t any better.

As of 2019, $2,056 for a one-bedroom apartment unit is considered affordable by our city officials. With that much money being spent on rent alone, it is nearly impossible for young people to save for down-payments and mortgages, even when working well-paying full-time jobs.

I’ve joked with many friends about moving to a rural town or even a cabin in the woods to escape the steep housing prices plaguing many of the metropolitan areas in North America.

Though we one day want to start families of our own, many of us live at home to save money through university and work. Some are forced to begin their official “adult” lives earlier because of difficult circumstances at home, leaving them with no choice but to delay their degrees in order to earn enough to survive.

Thankfully, I love my family and they are more than happy for me to live with them as long as I need. But purchasing a home of my own still seems like a distant and intangible dream.

Why housing is so expensive

Across North America, many young adults are living at home against the backdrop of an increasingly hostile housing market.

When it was revealed in 2020 that more young adults were living at home than during the Great Depression, many were quick to blame this trend on the supposed laziness often attributed to millennials and members of Generation Z, such as myself. A distant acquaintance of mine even suggested if I stop buying Starbucks, I may eventually afford a place of my own (I don’t buy Starbucks in the first place).

Contrary to this pervasive belief, the lack of housing affordability has more to do with external factors than the work ethic of individuals.

In Vancouver, the aforementioned city with unbearably steep housing prices, the influx of wealthy foreign buyers leads to lower availability and subsequently low affordability.

There are entire swathes of neighbourhoods where homes sit empty. Because housing is seen as an investment opportunity—these wealthy individuals purchase multiple homes, driving up prices and leaving few housing options for actual city residents. Without government intervention, first-time home buyers may never even have the chance to make a purchase.

In March 2021, CNBC reported home prices had surged by 13.2% from the previous year. Amid the pandemic, as employees were given the chance to work remotely, more families moved to larger homes in suburbs, leading to a higher demand. Others in suburban areas were simply unwilling to sell, resulting in a historic low in housing availability.

However, housing was already becoming progressively more expensive prior to the outbreak of COVID-19.

According to UCLA urban-planning professor Michael Manville, other factors such as minimum parking requirements — the parking spaces required by the city whenever new buildings are developed—also drive up housing prices.

Other than encouraging driving, which is irreversibly damaging at this point in the climate crisis, minimum parking requirements waste vast amounts of land and make development more expensive. When every new building is required to provide an additional lot, the result is an unnecessary amount of often unused parking.

The importance of housing affordability

If major cities continue to allow foreign investment, the construction of luxury apartments, minimum parking requirements and other damaging policies — young people will be forced to migrate to more inexpensive areas. Logically, this would lead to smaller populations within cities and other abnormally expensive residential areas.

Apart from shelter being a basic human right, individuals and families are greatly benefited by access to more affordable living spaces and subsequently contribute positively to their local communities.

I still dream of affording a home. One day, I hope housing is again viewed as a basic right rather than a luxury.

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