Sometime this year, millennials, who are roughly between the ages of 23 and 38 years old, will overtake baby boomers as the nation’s largest adult generation.
I, a millennial myself, spend a lot of time listening to and reading about what millennials want. (If only there was a millennial around to ask, right?) Here’s a small sample of the headlines:
“Millennials don’t want to be tied down… It’s a spontaneous demographic.”
“Tiny homes are perfect for wanderlusty millennials who want to go wherever the insta-wind takes them.”
“Millennials and Tiny House Living: Minimal-lennials.”
“Millennials are done with city life.”
What’s the biggest problem with this wild speculation about what millennials want? There are 73 million of us in the United States alone.
I don’t disagree with articles like this one that urge NH not to try to compete with Boston, but I don’t agree that all millennials want to live in Boston in the first place. For example, I don’t. If I did, I would have moved there already. The truth is, I adore New Hampshire. I adore it enough to write about it on this blog space twice a month. I adore it enough to stay, work, and play in this state. The headlines would lead me to believe there is something wrong with me. Am I the exception?
The answer, of course, is no. According to one study, millennials “do not appear to have preferences for consumption that differ significantly from those of earlier generations.” Millennials do spend less money that other generations, because we have less money to spend. And it is true that we are delaying homeownership, but doesn’t it stand to reason that this may be at least partially due to astronomical housing costs and a faster-than-ideal absorption rate?
Even the smallest, most rural town can attract millennials to their community by providing quality housing affordable to them. Not the millennials seeking an urban nightlife, but those seeking a smaller, more rural town where they and their growing family can put down roots. Millennials, who turn 30 this year on average, are doing a lot of the normal things we expected them to do at thirty. My younger brother is talking about buying a house, several of my close friends are engaged or recently married, a Facebook friend is pregnant with her first kiddo, and a colleague just had her second. It isn’t surprising that people in their thirties tend to seek a home they can afford, in a community with a good school system, within a reasonable commuting distance to their place of employment.
While there is nothing inherently wrong with “millennial-driven” housing, like tiny houses, micro-units, co-housing, or living with your parents (sorry, parents!) — it is dangerous to believe any of these solutions are THE solution to housing affordability for all millennials. Some of us just want a regular house.
So, make room at the table because the millennials are here and we want to be heard. Let us choose where we’ll put our roots down, and in what kind of housing. More than ever, millennials are stepping into leadership positions and that’s good news because the discussion about what millennials want is better left to the millennials. But, there is a role for communities: harness your strengths. Don’t try to become something you’re not – work on becoming the best, most welcoming version of what you already are. And ensure the infrastructure is there. Regardless of how wonderful your community is, you will struggle to attract young people if they can’t find a place to live. Make it possible for the next generation to choose your town.