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Scottish housing and the millennial dilemma

19th September 2019

Yesterday was Scottish Housing Day, which got me thinking about what housing means to me and to my millennial peers. For many, the first thing they think is, ‘I really wish I could buy a house, but I probably never will.’

It feels like there are weekly reports about how millennials can’t afford to buy property because we go out for brunch too much or because, more likely, property prices have inflated well above income. Regardless of the exact reasoning, fewer 20 and 30-somethings are property owners, and many feel like they never will be.

This has led to a massive boom in ‘renovation porn,’ as discussed in the New Statesmen. Under 40s can’t afford to buy their own place so instead they’re watching influencers create their dream homes. Like fitness, foodie and fashion vloggers before them, they’re aspirational and living the lives and having the things we all wish for.

But while we may be drooling over the Michalaks’ new kitchen in the sub-reality that is social media, in real life, a rift is growing between the generation’s ‘renters’ and ‘owners.’

A Vice article this week discussed the great millennial housing divide and the friction it creates. Many owners feel embarrassed they’re one of the fortunate few not sinking their income into someone else’s retirement nest egg because of the bitterness from their friendship group.

I also noticed that Guardian columnist Rhiannon Cosslett tweeted a link to the article saying she thought people posting about their owned homes on social media was a ‘bad look’ and ‘tasteless’ because only 27% of under-35s own property.

While I understand what she means to a point – bragging of any sort can be tacky – I do think there is space to be proud of owning a home, especially if you bought it without any additional financial support.

Last year, I bought a flat thanks to years of saving plus a withdrawal from the ‘Bank of Mum and Dad.’ Edinburgh is expensive and in a moment of parental weakness and sympathy for their elder child, they stepped in with some extra cash to get me over the line at closing date.

As Cosslett points out in her Tweet, if I was flashing my pad all over social media, in spite of many of my friends still yearning to be homeowners, it would be pretty crass. And because I had to rely on help to get there, I’m conscious that I didn’t earn it in the say way others have. Conversely, I don’t think that my best friend, who saved for seven years to buy her first home without a penny from her family, should ever feel embarrassed to tell people about what she achieved on her own through a lot of hard work.

One other interesting thing Cosslett suggested was that ownership isn’t really something we should ever take pride in. She said she thinks that ‘in the UK ownership of stuff (houses included) is strangely linked to notions of merit.’

I agree that western culture places a lot of weight on the possession of material things, and the idea that those who have more are better. But I don’t see the aspiration of home ownership – with its sense of security, stability, and financial benefit – as just the acquisition of another thing. Any person with a roof over their head should be thankful for their good fortune, but the feeling of home that comes from permanent accommodation is so valuable to people’s wellbeing, and the permanence of owning is incomparable to the fragility of renting.

I don’t have any solutions to the millennial housing dilemma. But I do know that no one should put pressure on themselves or others to buy, and I think we should all take time to acknowledge how lucky we are to have a home at all; whether it’s with family, friends, a partner, rented or owned.

I also think that it’s okay to want to buy one day, and to be proud if you’ve already managed it. If someone in your life is envious and makes you feel like you should hide it, they’re obviously not worth keeping around anyway. But just out of basic courtesy, maybe take it easy on how much you share. Everyone loves a completely redesigned bathroom – brick effect, white wall tiles and gold fixtures? Yes! But maybe not the step by step update. No one cares the grouting was finished yesterday and the ceiling is finally painted. Honestly, no one; not even your granny.

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