Small towns, generations and a housing crisis?

13 Mar

Via Bill Santos, I found this article, “The Great Senior Sell-Off Could Cause the Next Housing Crisis” on The Atlantic Cities’ site. I started writing a comment, which became, by length, a blog post in itself! Here’s what I wrote in response to the author’s piece.

*****

It’s easy to get caught up in the “Baby Boomer as Python” thinking. But it’s not accurate. Baby Boomers are only a large gen vis-a-vis the *prior* gen, which is the Silent Gen, or Depression Era babies (a gen which really extends from 1925 to 1942 for birth years). That was a time of much darkness. Humans naturally have fewer babies when they feel it’s dark/cold/scary/hopeless outside. Baby Boomers were born in society’s “spring,” a time of renewed hope and fecundity.

But the GenX generation is actually larger than the Boomers, by 28%. While the literal birth rate dropped during GenX birth years (1961-1981) , the *immigration* increased during that time, so when one takes the actual 2005 US Census data — using the correct-to-the-archetype birth years, that is — it will be known that to Boomers 64 million, GenXers had 81 million (and Millennials 79 million).

I offer that the major senior sell off is significantly from the Silent Gen, who are a *pioneer* generation. Think log cabins, plains, settlers … and new suburban homesteading (in the ’60s and ’70s). With a sweeping generalization, they tend not to move often after having “pioneered” territory, and much of their staying-around-ness has caused all sorts of housing/school districting problems all over the country as they’ve aged in place in homes designed originally for families.

The other significant factor with housing — I’d add — is that GenXers (born 1961-1981, and currently 32-52) have gone back to the edginess of cities, repopulating them and helping to make them safer for the hoards of early-wave Millennials who will flock to them, needing neither cars nor good schools so much as they are, at the top end, 32 in 2013 with half their generation still in school (at the youngest they are eight!)

But back to the author’s premise: I think she misses the point in falling for the myth that Baby Boomers are a large generation followed by a small generation; the numbers tell the opposite story. The issue has more to do with desires, current “wants,” what is considered preferable housing and environs.

And what will happen come 2020 (more like 2024)? The Millennials will be the gen moving into mid-life and the Homelanders will be the gen moving into young adulthood. It is always the gen in young adulthood that sets the *mood* of the country; and these Homelanders, who are share the same archetype with Silent gen (b 1925 – 1942) will want to “pioneer” something once again. The prediction: small towns with walkable downtown areas.

This will work well for Millennials, who always wish to be among their own. The Millennials, especially the latter half of the gen which spans from birth years 1982 – 2004, will need to find a place to be among their peers and they’re not all going to be either fit into or be able to afford living in world-class cities. In small towns with walkable downtowns, there will most likely be much housing vacancy, dilapidation and a genuine need for their civic/engineering/build/do/external focus. It will work for them because there won’t be many GenXers there and hardly any Boomers by then. And these small towns will work for Homelanders, who in “pioneering” a sector of the market that needs revival, can once again *homestead,* as is their way, and lay claim to land and space where they can begin to carve out their own cultural and power domain.

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