Local mayor calls out "expert" for saying millennials don't want backyards

Feb 24 2022, 12:42 am

The mayor of Port Coquitlam couldn’t help but roll his eyes when he heard a 70-year-old self-proclaimed policy expert say millennials don’t care about having backyards or homes to call their own.

“Young people don’t want to have kids or live in single-family homes anymore. They don’t attach any value to having a backyard,” said the expert in question, during a meeting about housing challenges that was attended by several local members of government.

Brad West, one of the youngest mayors in the province, and a young dad, took exception to the comment. He invited the senior to “discover how wrong he was” on Twitter.

“Yes, there are people who will make the choice he describes, but most of my friends do want kids and enough space for them to live,” he tweeted.

It’s not because young people don’t want to work, either, he said. Instead, it has more to do with the housing market and accumulating debt.

He recounted his conversation with the expert during an interview with Daily Hive.

“It really struck me, you know. I’m sitting there, and I’m by far the youngest person there, certainly one of the youngest elected officials in our province, and you’re listening to a bunch of people talk about your demographic, and they’re talking about it in such definitive terms,” he says.

“I’m thinking, ‘This bears no resemblance to the conversations I’m having with my friends who are my age.’”

He also just happens to be the father of two kids, so his mere existence is evidence against the so-called expert’s point, he says.

“It’s just a cop-out and an excuse rather than a real explanation,” he says.

West understands some millennials don’t need more than a tiny condo, but there are so many who want a detached home of their own. The mayor says giving them opportunities to thrive starts with acknowledging their hurdles.

One of the greatest barriers to home and land ownership across Canada is the cost of living. Compounded by inflation and low wages, it’s incredibly difficult to afford a home, especially anywhere in Metro Vancouver. 

“People in their mid and late 20s and 30s do want to have families, do want kids, and do want to have a space to be able to raise their kids,” he says. 

“The reason they struggle to do that is that they can’t afford it!”

Even young people who don’t ever want to be parents probably would like to have a house and a yard someday, West figures.

“This individual’s attitude was, ‘Oh, well, you know, they just don’t want that,’ implying that this was really just a choice that young people are making today,” he says.

“What underlies that sort of attitude is the idea that … those who might want to be able to own a home or have a backyard or a family, that government has no obligation to those people because really, that’s not what young people want nowadays.”

He says that’s misrepresentative of reality and unhelpful to progress.

The disconnect is concerning, but he doesn’t have the solutions, aside from a reality check.

“I don’t know how we’re even supposed to try and address some of the problems and challenges we have in our province when it comes to housing if we can’t even get on the same page in terms of acknowledging that there are a lot of diverse needs out there and not everyone is going to be the same,” says West. 

A lot of older people do understand the reality of the situation already, he adds, saying he doesn’t want to make unfair generalizations.

What he can say with certainty is that young families are moving further east to find a suitable place to settle down, flocking to areas like Coquitlam, Langley, and Abbotsford. West anticipates that trend will continue.

“The number of people who are having children is at an all-time low, so there’s a larger societal issue at play here. What also ties in is the absence of jobs we’re seeing and real wage growth, because if you look at wage growth over the last decade, it’s really stagnated,” he says.

“We’re being told to take on more and more debt, and we’re being sold the idea that debt is really cheap.” 

That puts the generation in a pickle, for sure, particularly for anyone who wants to own a house.

Without help from family, the chances of covering a down-payment on a property are slim to none for most young people in Metro Vancouver. Even then, they might come out with mountains of debt they’re not equipped to settle.

“All of these issues are really serious challenges, and I’m not pretending to have the solution or the silver bullet to all of them, but I at least think we need to be talking about them, and when we talk about them, we have to be grounded in the reality of real people’s lives,” says West.

It’s time for all levels of government to accept that, he says.

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