Another Perspective

Another Perspective features guest bloggers who provide commentary on issues related to housing and its impact on upward mobility or family stability. In this post, we asked one of our millennial colleagues, a recent college grad, to share her thoughts on juggling financial obligations, career decisions, and the issue of housing affordability. Here’s Ashley.

If you ask me and my friends, the top four issues we constantly discuss are: buying/renting a house or apartment, working from paycheck to paycheck, earning extra money, and paying off student loan debt. For us, the splintering of the American Dream results from the lack of affordable housing, upward mobility, and rising housing costs.

My peers who choose to live in the Washington D.C. area do so because of career advancement opportunities and quality of life. Moreover, Washington, D.C. offers easy access to work, grocery stores, restaurants, and activities with friends. Those who choose to live outside of the DC area do so to be closer to their families. Some of my peers are married with kids, single parents, or live with a family member.

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Low wages/stagnant salaries and rising housing costs force us to delay important life decisions such as homeownership, marriage, and family plans. For us, transportation costs and location of employment are two factors that play an integral part in choosing where to live. The National House Conference recently released a report, “Paycheck to Paycheck,” which examines housing affordability for millennial workers. In the DC metropolitan area, the average millennial salary is $22,000 (i.e. $11 per hour and $1,760 per month) and the rent for a single person living in DC is $1,230 per month (1BR apartment) and $1,458 per month (2BR apartment). Most of us live with 2-4 roommates because of the exorbitant housing costs.

Job competitiveness is another key factor in affordable housing. In order to compete in the DC area, job seekers must have a bachelor’s degree. If you advance to a post-graduate degree in law, medicine, business, or public policy, you have a better chance to be considered (but not guaranteed) for a job opportunity. Aside from my genuine interest in government and policy work, I obtained my master’s degree in public policy to compete for a better job and salary. Over the years, I’ve learned that just because you have a master’s degree, it doesn’t mean that your degree will advance your salary. Many of my friends have master’s degrees, but most of them have second jobs to pay for their living expenses. Some of my friends have moved away to other states because of the high cost of housing, and the difficulty in moving up in their career field. Naomi, a classmate and friend from college, decided to leave the DC area when two problems collided: stagnant salary and increased rent. After a year and a half of searching for advancement in her field, Allison found a job opportunity out of the country.

It’s challenging to live and work in the metro DC area. With rising housing costs and declining upward mobility, millennials face tough decisions on how to build a sustainable life for themselves. If income growth remains stagnant along with decreasing options for housing that’s affordable, we’ll leave DC and move to cities or regions with options for housing that’s more affordable and allows us a better quality of life.

Ashley Shuler, a native of Northern Virginia, works for a marketing agency in Washington, DC.