September 9, 2016
By Daniella Soloway
Baby boomers and millennials grew up in very contrasted economies, with different opportunities.
Connect Media spoke with Professor Dowell Myers, Ph.D. (USC) and esteemed author Sarah Susanka, FAIA about the two groups regarding what they seek in the housing market, as well as how they are alike and different when it comes to their lifestyle, technological connectivity, and access to affordable housing. Both Myers and Susanka will be speaking at the upcoming HIVE (housing, innovation, vision & economics) conference in Los Angeles on September 28-29.
DS: People are quick to judge millennials as a generation. But, it’s often overlooked how the baby boomers and millennials’ opportunities have differed. What factors have shaped each generation’s way of life?
DM: Both generations are very similar and large. But, a big difference is that the baby boomers didn’t have the Great Recession. When millennials were graduating, there was a large group trying to enter the labor market just as the jobs dried up, which left them on hold for four to five years. This misfortune cannot be overemphasized because, while the baby boomers experienced the OPEC recession, the economy picked back up after about two years. However, the millennials had to endure about seven. The slowed labor market and student debt have greatly shaped their opportunities and ability to afford housing.
SS: It’s fascinating to compare the two generations because, in many ways, they have the same objectives, but they go about achieving them differently. To exemplify, many millennials either graduated in a post-recession world or struggled through it, causing them to be more cautious and sensible in how they spend their money. On the other hand, baby boomers had many opportunities, but went without the technological capabilities that are ubiquitous today.
Regarding housing: Baby boomers are downsizing and simplifying because they lived their version of the “American Dream”, and realized they don’t want that anymore. Similarly, millennials are more interested in their social (media) and real life communities than the five-acre parcels of land. Both groups seek quality over quantity and a sense of connectedness, but the housing industry hasn’t fully caught up with this shift in priorities.
DS: What are some similarities and differences between what millennials and baby boomers are seeking in the rental market?
DM: The baby boomers were the first to gentrify, and now, it’s more common because there’s been a revitalization in cities. Developers are trying to build new supply, but since the Great Recession, their access to credit and labor supply of construction workers has slowed the process. There isn’t the same level of development as there was during the baby boomers’ time. While the baby boomers built very standard supply, today’s multifamily sector is imaginative and has many locational and technological features. Despite the creativity, there are still many younger people living in older housing because it’s more affordable.
SS: Boomers are looking for connection and walkability. Their focus on technology is much less than that of millennials; they don’t think about it in the same way. Millennials are community-oriented as well, but their communities exist virtually and in the real world.
For my generation, community has always meant a place that you physically go to. This change has dramatically dictated how much technology is inside one’s home. Some boomers are still reluctant to completely embrace technology because of privacy and security concerns, but in another decade or two, there will be no distinction as technology will be completely integrated in every person’s life.
DS: How can developers ensure they build enough affordable housing, while still protecting their investment?
DM: It’s a mistake to assume that developers should be the only source of affordable housing. Traditionally, affordable housing comes from older product, but it’s been too expensive to build new supply, so there isn’t enough housing to do that. A good solution, which would only work in the long-term, is to build a lot of market-rate housing, so that the old housing can be turned over to millennials and others at an affordable price. This will allow it to trickle down from existing stock, but our failure to build housing for the last decade has thwarted that plan.
SS: The answer is in good design, which doesn’t need to be expensive. If buildings are designed right, they can be affordable for both generations and future renters/buyers. It’ll stand the test of time. If you look back at different eras of multifamily housing, you’ll notice that well-designed places are better kept because people realize the importance of sustaining beauty. As humans, we look after the things that we love, and those tend to be the things that we find to be beautiful.
For comments, questions or concerns, please contact Daniella Soloway