The Millennial Housing Crisis


America was built on the dream of an opportunity to own land. Success was built from owning your own property and this idea carried within America for centuries. Though, that idea of success has been changing rapidly in the new millennium. Only 37% of millennials (age 25-34) own homes, according to a 2015 report (Sanfilippo). This is 8% less than Gen X at the same age. To clarify, there are 3.4 million less millennials buying homes than the young Gen X. Higher student loan debt, restricted labor market, a greater need for flexibility in lifestyle… these are just some of the reasons why 51 million millennials are not buying homes. So where exactly are the millennials living? 22% still live at home with their parents and have been begrudgingly coined the “Boomerang Generation” even though this has become a necessity for many in today’s day and age. There’s a whole market for millennials who are seeking affordable independent lifestyles and Architects could provide the solution. Large multi-family/multi-use apartment complexes can be the solution to the housing millennial crisis.

More Debt, More Problems

To have a solution, the problem must first be defined. 44.7 million Americans have $1.56 trillion in student loan debt, according to Forbes (Friedman). With 11.4% defaulting on their loans and millions struggling to make the monthly payments, it’s no wonder why millennials are postponing homebuying. Renting is becoming, not just financially more appealing, but a necessity. The fact is, the median income can’t afford the median home in over 70% of America.

Generation of Fast, Easy, and Experience Driven

Affordability is a huge factor, but it isn’t the only factor as to why millennials aren’t buying homes. Another reason why millennials aren’t buying homes is also the reason why they are postponing marriage and children. The culture has drastically changed over the years, with much less pressure to make life long commitments at an early age. Millennials are seeking flexibility, convenience, and experience. Owning a home can become a burden when the priorities of a generation are shifting. We are in the age of Netflix, Uber, and Facebook. We want things now and we want it to be easy. Millennials are also the first generation to be defined by the internet. Anyone born after 1987 can’t remember a time where there wasn’t internet. The opportunity for learning and experience is unlike any other generation. Experience-based entertainment like escape rooms and ax throwing are thriving in today’s age.

The New Way of Living

Millennials need a long-term solution that embraces flexibility, convenience, and affordability. According to a Merrill Lynch survey, 75% of early adults today define success as financial independence from their parents (as opposed to building wealth and accruing assets for themselves). What does this mean? It means that this boomerang generation isn’t necessarily looking to own homes, but they are searching for a sense of independence. The emerging young adults need a long-term solution that can give them the financial independence from their families while also providing the benefits that a sense of community that single-family neighborhoods may provide. Large apartment complexes can provide a greater sense of community while also providing flexibility, convenience, and affordability that cannot be achieved through single family dwelling type neighborhoods. The community is developed through the amenities provided by apartment complexes which are expanding constantly. While utilizing mixed-use development, the complex can provide services that benefit the residents.  An outdoor swimming pool, gym, coffee shop, computer lab, game rooms, lounge, terrace views, and dog wash rooms are just some of the amenities that today’s apartment complexes are using to stand out from traditional living. Apartment complexes can keep costs down for a lot of the luxuries that a lot of millennials (and millions of other Americans that are struggling with debt) would not be able to afford otherwise. Residents can save space and money by sharing the amenities. You can enjoy a pool without the outright cost of upkeep (and construction), a gym without a membership, a lounge/game room/rooftop terrace without the cost of space. These are just some experiences that can be provided through apartment living. A new way of living provides comfort without the cost.

Creating a new experience through multi-family/multi-use apartment living could become the new norm for this generation. Single family homes are unable to fit the lifestyle or budget of many of the emerging adults. It is important for the field of architecture to ask the tough questions about the changing housing market because when a large shift in culture happens, it’s our responsibility to evolve with it. As architects, we have a unique opportunity to shape the new American dream.

-Hannah Helmes

Work Cited:

Choi, Jung. “The state of millennial homeownership.” Urban Wire, Urban Institute, 11 July 2018,

Friedman, Zack. “Student Loan Debt Statistics in 2019: A $1.5 Trillion Crisis.” Forbes, Forbes, 25 February 2019,

Hankin, Aaron. “The Real Reasons Millennials Aren’t Buying Homes.” Investopedia, Investopedia, 25 June 2019,

Min, Sarah. “More Millennials Are Living at Home than at Any Other Time This Century.” CBS News, CBS Interactive, 10 May 2019,

Olick, Diana. “Apartment rental demand soars as more millennials believe it’s cheaper than owning a home.” CNBC, CNBC, 8 July 2019,

Pinnegar, Robert. “Forget owning renting is becoming the end game for many millennials and baby boomers.” The Washington Post, WP Company LLC, 8 May 2018,

Sanfilippo, Marisa. “Why Millennials are Renting More- And Why It Works for Them.” MyMove, 10 May 2018,