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Boomers, once critical of millennials, are more sympathetic to their housing plight, says professor

CBC News with Nancy Worth 08 July 2019

Rebecca Goldstone calls herself a “1 per cent millennial.” Thanks to financial support from her parents, she graduated in 2016 without debt and landed a full-time job in Toronto soon after.

Now a freelancer in commercial film, the work is steady. But she doubts her career will enjoy the lifetime positions, good benefits and pensions those in the generations before her could expect.

That’s something the newly engaged 28-year-old is thinking about as she looks ahead to buying a home with her partner.

“[We] still have to work constantly, all the time, to be able to afford to live in the city and we very much feel … we can’t leave our apartment because we’re fortunate enough to have a one-bedroom apartment that the rent isn’t insane on,” she told Cross Country Checkup.

According to Checkup callers, housing affordability and job security are top of mind for young Canadians. On Sunday, guest host David Common asked listeners if baby boomers were to blame for the challenges facing millennials.

While some saw the retirement-age group as responsible for everything from outrageous home prices to climate change, others characterized millennials as entitled, lazy and financially irresponsible.

Goldstone recognizes that while individuals of that generation aren’t necessarily to blame, she says the group’s embrace of capitalism has “irrevocably changed the world,” resulting in consequences including climate change and a higher cost of living. 

“I think that our future has been mortgaged for us before we were even able to have an opinion about it,” said Goldstone.

Decades of saving

Economic geographer and University of Waterloo professor Nancy Worth has studied why millennials — often faced with student loan debt — are choosing to continue living at home.

According to a 2017 report co-authored by Worth and funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, the nature of work, and the prospect of home ownership is changing for young Canadians.

She adds that, anecdotally, their parents — many of them boomers — have also grown sympathetic to their plight.

“A lot of parents really recognize that their kids have it really different getting on the property ladder than they did perhaps in the 1970s,” she said.

Though lazy millennials living in the basement of their childhood home, sponging off their parents’ good will, was once a common stereotype, Worth says parents actually see staying home longer as an opportunity.

“It’s a way of saving for the future and making good financial decisions,” she said. “Maybe helping their kid get money for a down payment.”

According to a recent study by research and advocacy group Generation Squeeze, it takes the average young Canadian 13 years to save for a 20 per cent down payment on an average priced home. 

That’s compared to five years for someone of the same age and income bracket in 1976.

In Toronto, the group says it now takes young Canadians 21 years on average to save for a down payment. That number jumps to 29 in Vancouver.

“To put it simply, the price of homes has skyrocketed while earnings have remained stagnant,” said Sutton Eaves, co-executive director of Generation Squeeze.

‘1 per cent millennial’

One change that could improve housing affordability, particularly for young Canadians, is by taxing housing wealth, Worth says.

Statistics Canada, through their Canadian Housing Statistics Program, found that nearly 40 per cent of condominiums in Toronto are not owner-occupied, instead serving as investment properties.

“That means they’re owned by investors or they’re rented out as income properties,” Worth said. 

“We really see a shift in, especially Toronto’s housing market, of housing being about an investment — a way of making money, rather than being a place to live.”

Goldstone expects she and her fiancé will be able to purchase their first home within a decade. However, the freelancer worries for friends and colleagues who face high costs of living without support, and for whom home ownership is out of reach.

“I weep for my peers because I know most of them don’t have that, and I feel lucky,” she said. 

“Eventually I’m going to get there … whereas I know that’s not the case for a lot of people.”