When I turned 33-years-old, I decided it was time for me to become a “real adult” and do things real adults do — eat meals at a table, learn what a stock is, and maybe even buy a house.
The former goals were what I could foreseeably accomplish, the latter was what I wanted most of all. All of my high school classmates did it, even the ones who couldn’t tell the difference between Martin Luther and Martin Luther King Jr. As someone who has plenty of unresolved adolescent psychodrama, I refused to accept defeat.
So I downloaded multiple housing apps and did what I knew best: I swiped.
There are dozens of real estate apps — Zillow, Trulia, StreetEasy, and Realtor.com to name a few — but there are infinite ways these apps have managed to consume every free moment of my time and every available neuron of my brain. I started off my house hunt by casually swiping “just to see what was out there,” before the apps became a soul-mutilating obsession.
I swiped before work, during lunch, and at all mealtimes. I swiped on my way up elevators and down escalators and on each and every one of my commutes. Books? Why read books on the train? Friends? Why talk to friends in real life? I was working on building my future, I was swiping damnit.
After all, swiping had served me well in my twenties: swiping got me my girlfriend (on Tinder), my apartment (on Naked Apartments), my therapist (on ZocDoc), and hundreds of followers on Twitter, just by liking the right poisonous trash.
There was nothing I could do, there was no way I could stop myself: Securing a house was the last milestone I needed to reach so I could secure my financial future and one-up all my frenemies on Facebook with photos of my newly polished softwood kitchen floors.
I just couldn’t swipe my way to a house, though. Housing prices were astronomically higher than my extremely dumb 20-year-old brain ever imagined. Even as I lowered my standards — a studio apartment for me, my girlfriend, and our future two kids, or a “fixer upper home” that included a collapsed toilet full of cat hair — it all felt painfully out of reach.
It became increasingly clear that I couldn’t afford anything I needed. If I wanted a home, I’d have to leave the city entirely and find a new career. I’d have to give up on having more than one child or find a way to monetize the cute one. To be fair, things could change for me and the millions of people in my generation in the exact same financial position.
By now, the statistics about home ownership are familiar and exhausting. Home ownership for millennials is low: a full eight percent lower than Gen-Xers and baby boomers’ rates when they were at the same age. By this point, we should have 3.4 million more homeowners than we currently do.
For communities of color, these numbers are even smaller. Black home ownership has dropped far more dramatically than other comparably sized demographic since 2000, according to the Urban Institute.
Sure, in some parts of the country, home prices have been dropping. Yet home purchases have decreased as mortgage rates have gone up. Real estate brokerage firm Redfin recently found that the supply of homes middle-class families can buy has declined by 86 percent in 49 different metropolitan areas.
The reasons for this crisis are well-documented, including spiraling inequality, flat wages, decreased housing supply, and rising school debt. In the case of the black community, you can add on decades of gerrymandering, subprime mortgage lending, and racial bias.
It’s not like millennials have much of a choice about where they live, either. Many millennials move to urban centers where housing prices are highest because that’s where the best career opportunities are. If you’re queer, or trans, or a person of color, moving to rural or suburban areas where housing prices are often lowest isn’t always the best option. You need to move to diverse cities, where you can find other people just like you.
I would love to make a living as a writer who works out of her beautiful rustic queer commune in Northern California. Alas, I cannot.
In the cities, the dream of homeownership is even more distant. If I were to rely on only my and my partner’s salary alone, it would take us 45 years to buy a two bedroom apartment in New York. I would be eighty years old by the time I made my first down payment. My flesh will be falling off my face. My uterus will look like a California raisin. Even then, I won’t be able to write that check unless housing prices stay constant which, lol.
The future is bleak for most of us. None of it stops us from swiping.
Despite all of this crushing economic data working against me, I still haven’t deleted these apps. I love to pretend that with just the right amount of scrimping and saving and relatives dying, I’ll be able to secure a two bedroom apartment within an hour radius of my job. I also do love the swiping.
To be clear: iI the economic environment does change, home ownership is theoretically possible for me, which it isn’t for most people my age. That makes it an absolute privilege. Until that day comes, however, I’ll be window shopping on the internet, ooh-ing and aah-ing over granite countertops and stainless steel appliances and — because I live in New York — closets.
Apps are designed to keep you clicking. Housing apps are built to make you desire. There are photos that you feel forced to swipe through, descriptions and data you feel compelled to analyze. Thanks to Trulia, Zillow, and StreetEasy, I can now picture myself in a 12′ x 25′ living room with an antique pocket door and an oversized window that overlooks a tree, not a rat den.
I just can’t do much besides imagining. The apps won’t save me. Forgive me if I don’t stop hoping that one day, they will.