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Gen Z can’t compete in current housing market

Yesterday, I wrote about what Gen Z wants from a college education and why community colleges are capable of providing that. Their ability to attract Gen Z students depends on reshaping the campus experience and putting real value into their degree programs. With dozens of degree programs that offer only low-wage potential and an unfortunate shift to online classes and degrees, community colleges have given Gen Z students no reason to enroll in classes.

One of a Gen Z adult’s most critical needs is available and affordable housing. New analysis by Austin, TX-based New Homes Mate (a company devoted to helping first-time homebuyers navigate the new construction market, shows that Gen Z is at a particular disadvantage in the real estate market.

Currently, residential real estate experts suggest that the US is short on housing stock to the tune of more than 3 million homes. The lack of new housing stock means that more people are forced to stay in the rental market, where they’re met with rents that are rising unsustainably.

Right now, in Ypsilanti, there are approximately 8,900 rental units, with a 4.9% vacancy rate. The rule of thumb is that the ideal rental vacancy rate is between 5%-10%, so the market data show there are fewer available rental units than there should be. The market could support as many as 450 more rental units.

The housing market is even tighter. As of last week, there was a 1% vacancy rate for owner-occupied homes. That translates to a housing inventory of fewer than 3 dozen homes. The average price per square foot for recent home sales in Ypsilanti was $190.

If you want to retain Gen Z workers, they need affordable housing

The stats for Ann Arbor are worse. Currently, there’s an owner-occupied vacancy rate of less than 1%, and a rental vacancy rate of 2.8%. When people can’t find a place to rent or a place to buy, they go elsewhere.

There is no potential in either Ypsilanti or Ann Arbor for WCC graduates and their sub-$40K salaries to afford a permanent home. In many cases, they can’t afford to rent here, either. That raises the question of exactly who we’re providing classes for, when the one-out-of-four students who do graduate can’t afford to live in Washtenaw County.

There’s a bigger problem in the housing market. The median age of US housing is 40 years. In Michigan, the median age of housing here is 49 years. Zoomers want housing, but they want housing that is sustainable, energy-efficient, and affordable. We don’t have any of that in Washtenaw County. The average age of the housing stock means that buyers often need to make extensive renovations or repairs on homes, and that’s increasingly unaffordable, given the purchase prices in the current housing market.

To attract and retain Gen Z workers, Washtenaw County needs to develop a plan to build a lot of affordable, sustainable, and modern housing. Even if it means the new units are income-qualified and have other restrictions that limit their value on the open market.

Build. Starter. Homes.

It is short-sighted for a region that makes its living on higher education to provide no affordable housing, few local employment opportunities, and de minimis wages for young adults once they have completed their degrees.

Photo Credit: 401(k) 2012 , via Flickr