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Millennials’ demand for affordability driving housing agenda

Attainable Homes Calgary is a non-profit that helps make home ownership achievable for Calgarians, with projects such as these stacked townhouses in Edmonton.

Attainable Homes Calgary

Millennials are fast becoming a "political powerhouse" and affordable housing, in all its forms, is high on their agenda. This was the message from generational change consultant David Coletto at Calgary's Opening Doors conference, held last week by the city's affordable-housing community to mark National Housing Day on November 22nd.

Mr. Coletto, chief executive of Abacus Data, a market-research company based in Ottawa, was the keynote speaker at the conference. Millennials, as a generation, are defined as those born between 1982 and 2004.

A millennial himself, Mr. Coletto supports non-profits and businesses in adapting their strategies as the number of "peak millennials" in Canada, defined as those between the ages of 25 and 30, is projected to exceed three-million, for the first time, by 2021, an increase of 17 per cent from 2016.

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"Two-hundred-and-seventy thousand new millennial households will form in Canada every year, for the next five years," Mr. Coletto said. "For years, people said, 'Young people in Canada don't vote,' but, during the 2015 federal election, voter turnout among young Canadians increased by nearly 20 per cent, proving that assertion is no longer correct."

"By 2019, when the next federal election comes around, there will be more millennials eligible to vote than baby boomers," he continued. "That electoral mass has created a circumstance where politicians are being more responsive to the issues this generation of Canadians care about: our research shows that one of those issues is housing affordability."

Market research carried out by Mr. Coletto's company in April, 2016, indicated that 51 per cent of Canadians 18-25 felt that making housing more affordable should be a priority for the federal government.

A national survey by Royal LePage in August this year shed light on why housing affordability might be high on millennials' agenda. While 35 per cent of peak millennials surveyed already owned a home, 50 per cent were renting and a further 14 per cent were living with their parents.

Fifty-seven per cent said they couldn't afford to buy a home and 44 per cent say they wouldn't buy one because of job insecurity. Nearly half of those surveyed believed that the federal government's new mortgage regulations had affected the types of property they could afford, pushing them into lower-priced but more competitive markets.

Twenty-four per cent of those surveyed said they didn't qualify for a mortgage at all; in Alberta, this rose to 32 per cent, and 50 per cent of 25- to 30-year-olds in Alberta – more than any other province – said they didn't believe they'd be able to afford to buy a home in the next five years.

Mr. Coletto said the challenges faced by Millennials entering the housing market are "further compounded by high rates of student debt, higher living costs, rising property values and greater job insecurity, all of which amplifies the effect of unaffordable housing on their lives."

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Jennifer McCarron, marketing manager for Attainable Homes Calgary, an non-profit that makes home ownership achievable for moderate-income Calgarians, said the stats match what they're seeing in the upper end of the affordable housing spectrum, where light subsidies provide a hand up for those caught in the city's growing housing gap. Currently, they serve more millennials than any other demographic.

"Our 'bread and butter' clients are age 28 to 36 and they're mostly looking for townhouses or stacked townhouses, which is an apartment-townhouse hybrid," she said.

"Right now, demand isn't as high as it has been during the boom times, because the economic downturn has reduced rent and increased rental inventory in Calgary, which means people are less motivated to buy," she said. "But as consumer confidence returns, we're seeing interest rise again and we expect the growing demographic of millennials to continue to drive demand in the years ahead."

Mr. Coletto said the increasing number of millennials entering the affordable-housing spectrum and accessing supports will ensure it remains a political priority.

"If, as a country, we are more attuned to what it costs to put a roof over our heads, and how challenging that can be, it creates space for advocates to start a conversation about those vulnerable members of society, who are least likely to be able to afford a home," he explained. "That presents an opportunity for social-housing advocates that hasn't existed in Canada for quite some time."

Martina Jileckova, vice-president of housing at HomeSpace, the housing department of the Calgary Homeless Foundation, which currently manages a $60-million portfolio of subsidized rental housing, said they're keen to seize the opportunity.

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"Millennials are a group of people who are going to be very influential in terms of their thinking around housing affordability. They're already helping to shape public agenda, their opinions matter, and, in our experience, they're a group which is very engaged and focused on social and public good," she said.

"Affordable housing exists on a continuum and that's a good thing. We want the conversation to involve everybody," she added. "By not understanding millennials and generational change, we miss the opportunity to discover housing solutions which make sense to them. We also miss the opportunity to engage them in the wider cause."

Ms. Jileckova said evidence of a shift in government priorities with regards to affordable housing, driven in part by the millennial generation, can already be seen.

"The municipal and provincial governments have adopted their affordable-housing strategies, the federal one is expected to be announced shortly. We see this is a time of great opportunity, and responsibility, for the affordable housing sector to work with the governments on implementation, so that we see meaningful action," she said.

Alberta's 2016 provincial budget committed $1.2-billion over five years to improve the existing 70,000 units and construct an additional 4,100 units by 2021.

"With the adoption of The City of Calgary affordable housing strategy, we have already seen some very positive action coming out of the implementation work," Ms. Jileckova said. "Such as the city making land available for non-profits to develop housing. This is the first time the city has released multiple sites to the non-profit, affordable housing sector at below market value. If we can keep this momentum, and millennial voices are key to that, we're can make a big difference."

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