What Millennials Want: Plugging CT's Generational Drain


This op-ed was first published in The Hartford Courant

Diana Deng is a policy and communications analyst at Partnership for Strong Communities who co-chairs the Young Energetic Solutions initiative

We need more millennials in this state. But times are tough for millennials. The data show that 18- to 34-year-olds in Connecticut today have more education than 18- to 34-year-olds in 1990, but they also have more education debt. And a smaller percentage are employed now (67 percent) vs. then (74 percent).

And we don't make much money. The median earnings for full time 18- to 34-year-old workers: $40,849. With student loans, housing costs and auto expenses, there's little to no savings. It's not that millennials don't want to stay in this state, near family and friends. But high housing costs and low pay make job offers from more affordable states hard to pass up.

My fiance and I had an experience a few years ago that exemplifies the problem. We thought the impossible had happened — a fast housing purchase.

We had put an offer on the first house we viewed and it was accepted. It was a perfect 1,000-square-foot starter home within walking distance to a park, restaurants and even a convenience store. But that is where the lucky housing purchase story ended and reality arrived. A day before closing, the sellers declined our offer and, instead, accepted an all-cash offer from a downsizing older couple. They too were moving on to the next stage in their lives.

This scenario is replaying repeatedly across the state, not just for homeownership, but for rentals as well. Baby boomers and their adult children, the millennials, are looking for almost identical smaller, denser, more affordable housing options close to shopping, town centers and transit. And over and over, they end up competing because there aren't enough of those choices to go around. Connecticut is full of large single-family homes on large plots of land removed from commercial centers in towns with no sidewalks. Too much of the same thing, and too expensive: Connecticut has the sixth highest median monthly housing costs and the 10th highest median gross rent in the nation.

There simply aren't enough options and we need more to offset what's coming. Most of Connecticut's municipalities — 153 of 169 — are projected to see a drop in their school-age population between 2015 and 2025. Meanwhile, the state's 65 and over population is projected to increase by 34 percent over the decade, according to Partnership for Strong Communities' new HousingInCT2015 report. What's worse, the real property grand lists in 151 municipalities have decreased since the crash in 2008, and their reliance on too many single-family homes for which there isn't enough demand may be a significant contributor to this phenomenon.

Our future? Things are not as bleak as they seem. The Young Energetic Solutions or YES initiative, MetroHartford Alliance's HYPE and other young professional organizations know the need to keep young professionals in Connecticut. They are trying to get young professionals involved in key government, nonprofit and private institutions.

A new generation's voice in the decision-making process widens the perspective. A 29-year-old serving on the economic development commission in a town with an aging population may offer ideas from a different viewpoint than a 65-year-old and influence decisions that could help attract more young residents. Involving millennials in decision-making conversations does not mean focusing on the needs of that one group. As my home-buying story illustrates, generations don't necessarily have dissimilar needs.

Connecticut can retain and attract millennials. But we must ensure millennials are welcome and engaged in our communities and encouraged to provide input that leads to tangible change. We need to do a better job of connecting employment to housing to transit options to a sense of community. With all the investment in Connecticut's infrastructure, there is no better time.

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