By Anne Helen Petersen (BuzzFeed News)
For most millennials I know, the American dream of homeownership doesn’t just feel far away, but impossible. Especially if you live in an urban area, if your own parents didn’t own a home, if you’re saddled with student debt — it doesn’t matter if a mortgage payment might be equal to what you’re paying in rent when you’re struggling month to month, barely putting enough aside to save for an emergency, let alone a down payment.
And it doesn’t just feel like fewer of us are buying homes. Statistics bear it out: According to a 2018 report from the Urban Institute, as of 2015, the homeownership rate for millennials (then age 25 to 34) was around 37% — that’s 8 points lower than the percentage of Gen X’ers or boomers at the same point in their lives. According to the study, there are multiple, intersecting reasons for this, all of which will likely sound familiar to millennials shut out of the market: We’re getting married and having kids later; we have far more student debt; and many of us are drawn (by necessity or choice) to urban areas with “inelastic housing supplies,” where both home prices and rental costs have skyrocketed.
When I lived in Brooklyn, I’d gaze at the prices for a studio apartment in my neighborhood (between $700,000 and $1 million) or a brownstone ($2 million to $5 million) and wonder: Who could ever make this happen? Rich people, sure. But people tend to get rich, at least in part, by owning real estate. To get there, you need a down payment. And if you’re putting your extra money toward child care, or loans, or medical bills — how do you come up with that down payment? And how do you find a home you can actually afford?
Homeownership, like other forms of participation in the American dream, increasingly resembles an exclusive country club, with membership predicated on who your parents are and your race. To wit: A millennial’s likelihood of owning a home increases 9% if their own parents were also homeowners. While 39.5% of white millennials own homes, the black homeownership rate is just 13.4%, the Asian ownership rate is 27.2%, and the Hispanic ownership rate 24.6%. “Left unchecked,” the Urban Institute study declares, “current trends will result in even greater wealth disparities among white, black, and Hispanic millennials.”