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I wrote an opinion piece in the spring in which I listed the ways the housing boom is ripping apart the financial fabric of Canadian life. Several months later, I’m starting to think I missed something. An emerging negative from the housing boom is intergenerational tension.

A few weeks ago, The Globe and Mail published a First Person account that was headlined Boomers, stop bragging about your second homes. The author, a millennial named Kristen Darch, wanted to make baby boomers aware that their financial success in the housing market has contributed to the lack of affordability for young people.

I was already familiar with Ms. Darch’s story because I interviewed her for the article on damage being caused by soaring house prices. To keep the conversation going on housing, I asked her to do an e-mail Q&A. Here’s an edited version of our exchange:

What’s the response been to your article on bragging boomers?

It clearly struck a nerve on both ends of the spectrum. I expected pushback, but nothing like the level of defensiveness and personal attacks. People of all ages messaged me to say they were glad I wrote it, and shared similar anecdotes and concerns. The online comments have apparently been cruel (I won’t read them) and make a lot of assumptions about my circumstances.

Is it just me, or do people seem edgier on the topic of housing – millennials angrier, boomers more entrenched?

Very much so. Regarding boomer defensiveness, this is one of the most common reactions to having one’s privilege pointed out, regardless of age. People don’t like to think that they benefitted from unfairness, so the reflexive move is to say “I worked hard for what I have!” No one is saying that boomers didn’t work hard, or don’t deserve what they have, or shouldn’t have what they have. I’m saying we [millennials] work hard, too, and are priced out of the housing market. Things are objectively harder than they were. We have the data. You want to talk about your surplus of what there is now a scarcity of? Read the room.

Regarding millennial anger, housing is so deeply personal, so tied up with our awareness of our vulnerabilities. We’re not all young anymore. Many of us have kids now, so the stakes are higher. It’s not just about us anymore. The anger is towards the unwillingness of “the house-haves” to acknowledge that there is a real problem here. The implication that things would be fine if we just work harder or get a better job and manage our money better is false and frankly, insulting. People of all income levels deserve affordable housing.

What are your current living arrangements?

I rented prior to the pandemic. There were some health complications at the end of my pregnancy at the beginning of the pandemic and I needed support, so I moved in with family. There are immunocompromised members of the household so it behooved everyone for me to stay put and not be going back and forth from an apartment building with shared spaces. The pandemic is still going, and I’m still here. I’m planning my next steps.

Do you have a goal of owning a home? If so where and over what timeline?

I honestly don’t know anymore. Maybe the high cost of owning here right now presents an opportunity to embrace a different kind of lifestyle, like moving abroad to teach, or being a digital nomad. If I did buy here, it would be near Kingston, Ont., or Ottawa, and near family. My timeline would maybe be five years.

What would you like the next federal government to do to make home ownership as accessible as it used to be?

I like the idea of federal funding for new, small, affordable homes that give people a place to start, and providing a variety of supports to first time home buyers. We need to shift to approaching housing as a social rather than a financial asset. We need changes to zoning rules to allow for more densification in cities, and to counter the financialization of rental housing via community-owned nonmarket housing that is affordable in perpetuity. Co-ops and community land trusts – all these approaches are worth a deep dive.

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Rob’s personal finance reading list

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