Forget the so-called American Dream of owning a home, how will our children afford to rent in Los Angeles County and surrounding areas like Pasadena, CA—where I grew up? For those of us Gen Xers who might have been the last generation to grow up in homes our parents owned, and to pull off homeownership ourselves by sheer will and determination, what about our children? Where will the millennials and other future generations that want to own homes live and raise their families?
To be honest with you, I hadn’t really considered much of this until the past few years, as my older sons started creeping toward their mid to late 20’s and apartment living became more and more unaffordable. In the 90s, when I was in my early 20’s, the path seemed simple, well maybe not simple but at least doable. You had a job but you might need a better job, or to work more hours, or save for a few months for a down payment. Most typically found a roommate that was on a similar path, and you planned to live with them until one of you ended up with the partner you wanted to move in with or have moved in with you. At some point, you assumed marriage (if that’s what you wanted) and homeownership would find you.
Not so much anymore.
To start, a lot of millennials live with their parents for much longer beyond high school and college. The reason this happens is two-fold. One, they often are in no rush to have the responsibility that paying one’s own rent brings on. Two, the rental market, for some, seems impossible to break into. Once a decision is made to rent a place, they are hit with the harsh reality of affordability over desirability.
According to TownCharts.com, 58% of the greater Pasadena region are renters, with the average rent for a one-bedroom apartment at $1,800 and $2,600 for a two-bedroom, states Zumper.com. The industry standard suggests renters use 30% of their salary for rent, but those of us living in the real world know that often renters are paying up to 50% of their income to afford their living situation. With 30% as a base, a person would need to make at least $6,000 per month to rent an apartment or house costing just under $2,000 monthly. What millennial do you know making $72,000 annually? I’ll wait.
With housing costs rising faster than wages, the steady increase in rent affordability makes it easy to see why our children are less eager and able to consider home ownership at this phase of their lives. Prior to this COVID-19 pandemic, rent was increasing far more than the hourly salaries of who would later be identified as our essential workers, most of whom are paid hourly. With a lot of millennials earning their living this way. The median asking price for a home in the Los Angeles area, as claimed by The Real Deal.com, is $930,000 while the median income is $62,000--$10,000 short of what is required to rent a one-bedroom apartment in a local suburb. Does any of this make sense to you?
It’s impossible to discuss housing affordability in Los Angeles and not mention its impact on the growing homeless population. Some economists at Zillow.com found that once cities cross a threshold where their residents are paying more than 30% of their income in housing, homelessness begins to spike. However, we’ve already established that rent prices are already at or above 30%. This is not rocket science people. Organizations like Community Change, founded in 1968 on the heels of the civil rights movement, have been doing exactly what is needed and can serve as a model for organizations in California and across the nation.
By forming and expanding resident organizing networks they're able to increase local and state revenue for affordable housing. According to the Housing Playbook, “the ongoing impacts of the pandemic and economic downturn combined with the amplified calls for racial justice further underscore the need to prioritize housing justice. Home is essential, but for far too many people a safe, stable, healthy home is completely out of reach.” If we don’t want more of our citizens to add to the growing homeless population that impacts all of us and will eventually meet us at our doorstep, we must find a way to lower and stabilize rent, steadily increase wages and pay attention to our mental health. And California, I’m expecting you to take the baton from organizations such as Community Change and others, improve on their model and pass it on. Everyone deserves a safe, affordable place to call home.