Dowell Myers
Dowell Myers

Millennials won’t just solve entry-level housing woes. At the HIVE Conference in Los Angeles, Dowell Myers, a professor of policy, planning, and demography in the Sol Price School of Public Policy at USC, said that an influx of millennials would help all segments of the market.

“We need millennials to… be there for boomers when they’re ready to sell,” Myers said.

But they have to pay off debt as well. While marriage is a big factor encouraging people to buy homes, the debt issue is canceling that out to a certain extent. And, rents have also become a major headwind—with a majority of millennials spending more than 30% of their income for rent.

“High rents are holding millennials back,” Myers said. “We’re not building enough multifamily rental for new demand.”

For Timothy Kane, CEO of MBK Homes, the home ownership rate forced a change in strategy. Instead of being a home builder, the company is now a provider of shelter. That’s because Kane began building apartments. But he agrees with Myers and acknowledges more needs to be done on that front to meet housing needs.

“We have a pretty big challenge to make rental that’s safe and affordable,” he said.

Former HUD Secretary Henry Cisneros and Svenja Gudell, chief economist for Zillow, contend that regulatory challenges also play a big role in stifling affordable housing. “Regulator intervention is very substantial,” Cisneros said. “Time is a huge issue. It takes three years to get housing done in Southern California.”

Eventually Myers thinks millennials will save money enough to buy homes. And, in the process, they’ll pull up the home ownership rate. Gudell agreed, saying they have relatively conservative views of home ownership. “They think it’s a good investment to buy a home,” she said. “They think it’s part of the American Dream.”

Sue Rossi, a Chicago Real Estate Agent with RE/MAX, also sees the home-ownership rate rising because she doesn’t believe it was inflated a decade ago. Instead of going with a traditional mortgage, she contends, they were forced into ARMs. If they had stuck with conventional mortgage vehicles, they might have never lost their homes.

“People were manipulated into the market,” she said. “They did not want to own homes. They were just sold the wrong product. The subprime loan market [ultimately] made the home-ownership rate lower.”

Cisneros thinks there are other factors holding millennials as well. Specifically, he said they want to remain flexible so that can move for jobs. But, ultimately, he admitted what everyone already knew—it’s hard to stereotype an entire generation.

“Millennials are not a monolithic group,” she said. “There are some who do well economically and some who don’t.”