A higher percentage of young Americans live with their parents, siblings or other family members now than at any time in the last 75 years. Data from Trulia show that 40 percent of young people aged 18-34 are living with their parents, the highest percentage since 1940.
Some experts are blaming high rents and "tough" mortgage standards, but that misses the actual root causes for millennials' reluctance to buy homes.
Trulia's survey shows the top reason millennials say they can't purchase a house is that they're "saving for a down payment." Some may want to use this data to troll millennials as being lazy or bad with money. That's not it. "Poor credit history," "qualifying for a mortgage" and "rising home prices" are also among the top reasons, but all tied to the same two major problems: inflated home prices and ballooning student loan debt. Both factors are being driven by bad government policies.
Average student loan debt at graduation is nearing $40,000, having gone up more than three times the rate of inflation since the federal government began subsidizing these loans. It's gone up at an even faster rate since President Obama nationalized the student loan industry in 2010, dropping almost any standards to qualify for student loans. Predictably, debt and defaults have both skyrocketed.
The unintended consequence? Less debt capacity for millennials to buy homes (and cars as well). It accounts for all the top reasons millennials list as to why they can't purchase a house. They can't save because they're paying off student loans. They have poor credit because there are a record amount of student loans defaults. They can't qualify for a mortgage because they have too much debt.
When experts say the answer to the millennial housing crisis is to lower lending standards, they ignore what is happening due to the government dropping student loan standards: tuition inflation, more student loan debt, higher default rates and a generation restricted by this debt.
The solution isn't to use government to drop lending standards. The answer is to cut housing prices by providing more inventory in metro areas where millennials can find work.
The problem is the exact opposite of what's happening in many metro areas across the United States, especially in places where millennials can find jobs. Many urban localities are not zoning areas to promote homeownership for millennials. Some are trying to stop housing growth altogether, while others are zoning for the wrong type of growth to promote home ownership.
Many urban areas are zoning and building plenty of apartments. These make good profits for developers and good tax revenue, but rentals do not allow millennials to build equity. Federal and state affordable housing programs also focus too much on rentals and not enough on affordable homeownership for millennials. Many states even ban localities from using zoning to require developers to build condos instead of apartments.
Local governments and real estate developers need to realize it's in their best interest to build more condos and smaller housing units that millennials can afford.
The government needs to stop being the problem for both housing prices and student loan debt if millennials are to have access to the American Dream. College affordability needs to be addressed with both higher education reform and a major shift in how we do student loans. Housing affordability must be tackled at all levels of government to allow for millennials to get their foot in the door with real equity.
Trulia's analysis says, "Millennials' dream of homeownership has fallen more than any other age group." Restoring this dream needs to be a priority at every level of American government.
Ron Meyer is the editor of Red Alert Politics (MediaDC owns both Red Alert Politics and the Washington Examiner). Thinking of submitting an op-ed to the Washington Examiner? Be sure to read our guidelines on submissions.