Microblog #87 Generational warfare

Are we stoking generational warfare with our housing policies?

Much has been written about millennials and their different preferences for everything from food (avocado toast) to drink (craft beer and cocktails) to where to live (big cities). These clichés are so frequently repeated that many believe this single set of characteristics applies to the largest, most diverse population cohort in our nation’s history.

When it comes to housing, most assume that young Americans prefer to rent, not wanting the “anchor” of owning a home. In fact, our housing policies are shutting young people out of the housing market—both ownership and rental.

The starkest example of this “generational” warfare is “NIMBY”-ism. Or, more kindly, the preference of many older Americans to not want any change in their neighborhoods. This is most apparent in our failure to build more homes and develop more density.

Take San Francisco for example, which added half a million jobs since 2010, but only 76,000 housing units. It’s not unusual in public meetings to see younger citizens advocating for more housing pitted against boomer homeowners expressing concerns about traffic, property values, crime, schools and the litany of reasons to keep things the same.

In the map above, Unison shows the length of time it now takes to save for a down payment. In Richmond, a 25 year old at median income could expect to buy a home when they are 46. While many strategies are needed, an obvious one is to end policies that restrict the number of affordable homes.


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