Fortunately, the storyline may be changing. Bloomberg Business Week, The New York Times, and Money all report that as the economy improves Millennials will finally begin to pursue homeownership en masse. The catch, as young house hunters may discover, is that entry-level options, in the $200,000 range, are limited.
Destination cities such as New York, San Francisco, and Washington, D.C., are simply priced out of reach. Concurrently, we’re witnessing the rise of the NORC, or naturally occurring retirement community. Boomers around the country are embracing the idea of aging in place and opting to remain in their homes, which reduces both resale inventory and the likelihood of remodeling jobs from recent purchasers.
The new construction landscape is just as grim. “More and more builders have been chasing that luxury and 55-plus buyer, and all of that stuff is at higher price points,” John Burns Consulting’s Rick Palacios Jr. tells Builder, ARCHITECT’s sister magazine, in an eye-popping feature titled “Are New Starter Homes History?” Furthermore, Palacios says, “It’s really difficult, given what land prices moved up to, for a builder to make that entry-level product pencil out.”
It’s not that home builders are avaricious. In his story, Builder deputy editor Les Shaver enumerates a host of factors that make the starter home a financial nonstarter, including zoning that prohibits density and the rising cost of materials, land, and labor.
So if the free market can’t meet the pent-up demand for starter homes, whether old or new, where are Millennials to turn? It’s tempting to imagine Good Design swooping down and saving the day singlehandedly, like Superman or Wonder Woman (but in an all-black unitard, of course).
There is precedent. As in 1927, when a league of 17 early modernists—among them Corb, Gropius, and Mies—industrialized the building type with the Weißenhof model housing estate in Stuttgart. Or in 1967, when AIA Gold Medalist Moshe Safdie wedded prefabrication and prehistoric settlement patterns at Habitat in Montreal. But neither would’ve been built had the architects’ radical ideas not aligned with the policies of the governments footing the bills.
Nowadays, architects must reconcile a myriad of powerful interests—not just those of the client, but of bankers, planners, community groups, the trades, and on and on. It’s a tall order, but it’s also an opportunity for the profession to take a leading role. Already, architects are poised to make major contributions, in areas such as prefabrication and energy harvesting.
Demand for low-cost housing is only going to increase with time. According to a recent Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate survey of Post-Millennials aged 13 to 17, a full 97 percent of respondents believe they will one day own a home, and 82 percent say it is the most important part of the American dream. Architects can help make that dream a reality.