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Housing Gen Y: Experience, not expanse

Recently Neil Takamoto of Cooltown Beta Communities wrote a blog post about housing trends and the preferences of “Gen Y”.

/ September 1, 2012 / www.millierdickinsonblais.com

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Housing Gen Y: Experience, not expanse

Recently Neil Takamoto of Cooltown Beta Communities wrote a blog post about housing trends and the preferences of “Gen Y”. Articles like this normally appeal to me based on my experience in both economic development and planning and an interest in how our behaviours are changing with the economy. As a Gen Yer having gone through several moves myself, I have struggled a few times with many of the issues my peers face about choosing locations, housing type, and tackling the own vs. rent decision.

Neil Takamoto offers insight to some of those issues in light of the current situations Gen Y individuals face: higher student loan debts, uncertain employment prospects, and different socio-economic values than previous generations; all of which are altering the demand side of the housing market. Apartments and renting the dream will become more common, as will smaller, perhaps even micro-sized homes or lofts and more medium- to high-density forms. The likely continued rise in energy prices adds credibility to these trends I think. Though not every Gen Yer will respond this way, I think the market is still in for a major shake-up about ownership, and as the most recent recession and lasting affects have shown us, borrowing beyond our means. I hope at least.

For Gen Y, “it’s not about the dream home, but the dream neighbourhood.” I found this conclusion to be really interesting. As economic developers, we are beginning to embrace this idea, viewing our “places” as a means of attracting and retaining the best and brightest. Neil suggests that Gen Yers, which I would expand to all creative or knowledge-based workers regardless of age, tend to be motivated by experience rather than consumption. As far as housing choices, it’s about the experiences that a vibrant neighbourhood can provide, rather than owning the largest home with the newest features.

Overall, I think this highlights the importance of focusing on crafting experiences through our economic development work. I’m not suggesting that we engage in investment attraction around housing but instead that we assist the communities we work with to build a collection of amenities that will appeal to a range of skilled workers. If that means supporting alternative types of housing that can attract skilled workers, perhaps we need to engage with developers, planners, local government, and community partners in land use discussions. Infill developments at higher densities over the next several decades will probably be a prime opportunity for this.

As economic developers we have the potential work in a number of different fields, and help decision makers understand how they influence the success of the local economy. All skilled workers are a valuable resource, but given that an estimated 9.2 million Canadian Gen Yers will be entering the workforce, looking for work, or wrestling with decisions to put down roots or stay mobile over the next decade, perhaps we need to be spending more time engaging them and understanding what it is they want from their communities over the longer term. Like the failure of the ‘push’ production methods of the Big Three automakers, does it make sense to keep producing a product that lacks lasting appeal? That raises a question about our current lower density land use patterns, but that’s a discussion for another day.

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