To my fellow millennials, I apologize. I’m sorry for throwing generational unity out the window and not taking your side on this issue. Hopefully, when this is all over, you’ll find it in your heart to forgive me of my treason and we can all grab a beer (or glass of rosé or whatever infused cocktail is popular nowadays).
I take issue to how we, as a generation, view money and affordability. More specifically, I cringe every time I hear a millennial complain about how affordable housing affects them the same way I cringe every time someone says the word “moist.” Simply put, we millennials don’t understand what affordability means and how it relates to our spending habits.
About a month ago, 35-year-old Australian developer Tim Gurner tried to touch on the same topic on his country’s version of “60 Minutes” and, in one fell swoop, managed to earn the outrage of almost every millennial in the world by alluding that avocado toast and $4 cups of coffee are what is holding the generation back from being able to afford a mortgage.
I acknowledge that there are plenty of things at play when it comes to millennials being able to afford to buy a home. For starters, the average student loan bill is $351 per month (and rising, according to the Federal Reserve), health care costs continue to outpace inflation, and we haven’t yet been able to find an economically viable legislative solution for either. However, I think that we millennials should also look at ourselves in the mirror and ask, “What are we doing to impact our own personal financial situation?”
Sure, Gurner’s use of avocado toast and $4 cups of coffee was silly. But what if I changed those examples to clichéd millennial buzzwords like “wanderlust” and “turning up”?
I think one of the reasons why millennials can’t seem to find financial stability is that we have an inherent desire to spend a ton of money on Instagram-worthy things and experiences (#topshelf #Coachella #brewerytour #beachweekend). Hell, I’m guilty of it, too.
According to Travel Pulse, millennials spend over $200 billion annually on travel. With about 75.4 million millennials in the United States, that comes out to about $221 per month that millennials spend on travel and vacation.
Additionally, millennials spend an average of about $523 per month at bars and restaurants. And that’s on top of their student loan payments and other bills.
I love traveling and encourage everyone to take whatever opportunity they have to do it. In that same breath, though, I’d also warn that they would need to be prepared to make financial sacrifices in order to travel and do the “20 things that Buzzfeed says every 20-something needs to do.” The fact is you can afford a fun lifestyle on an entry-level salary, but you can’t afford that lifestyle and a nice house (or apartment) in a great neighborhood.
This brings me to the real topic of this article, and the thing that triggers me to no end: how millennials view affordable housing.
In Greenville, millennials complain about how living downtown is completely unaffordable and that more affordable housing needs to be built — and they’re completely right… but for the wrong reasons.
In my countless discussions on this issue with fellow millennials, I’ve found that most millennials want to live on (or near) Main Street. I respect that. I mean, who wouldn’t want to live in the heart of this great city?
The problem is found when millennials have to spend $351 per month on student loan debt; want to spend $744 per month on travel, bars, and restaurants; have to pay their other bills (food, utilities, health insurance, and cable/internet); should be saving money for a down payment on a home purchase; but want to live in a part of town where a one-bedroom apartment costs about $1,200 per month. The numbers just don’t work out — you can’t afford all of those things on the budget that many millennials are living on.
In the case of millennials, though, “you can’t have everything” isn’t an acceptable answer. So we demand affordable housing in the place where we want to live because, heaven forbid, we can’t be reduced to living somewhere with a 15-minute commute just because it’s more affordable to us than the place that we do want to live.
I hope I am making myself perfectly clear to all of my fellow millennials who may be reading this: Just because you can’t afford $1,200 per month in rent doesn’t mean that the very real affordable housing problem that we have in this city applies to you. The spirit of affordable housing isn’t to make sure that 20-somethings are able to have their cake and eat it, too; it’s to help those in our community who are truly struggling to pay for basic living expenses.
If you can’t afford a $1,200-per-month apartment because you’re saving money, traveling as much as possible, or paying off your student loans faster, good for you. If you aren’t saving money, traveling less than your friends, or making minimum payments on your student loans because you decided to live in a $1,200 per month apartment, good for you. Either way, live your best life. Just keep things in perspective.
The lack of affordable housing is a glaring issue that faces our city. However, if we continue to look at it with the wrong perspective, we will never find a solution.
Bobby Barreto is the CEO of Asterisk Development LLC, a member of the board of directors for the Greenville Area Parkinson Society, and an advocate for the continued growth of downtown Greenville.