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Affordable Housing , Community Development , Housing Policy Briefs

Connecticut’s Mass Exodus of Millennials and Empty Nesters: Why it Matters, and How Affordable Housing Solves the Issue

25 April 2018
Partnership for Strong Communities (PSC)

Mark Walerysiak Jr., Development and Communications Consultant, Partnership for Strong Communities

Something bad is happening to Connecticut. It has been for quite some time, and it’s eating the state alive. Millennials and Empty Nesters, aka folks old enough to have grown kids who have flown the coop, are leaving Connecticut in droves.       



At the water coolers one might hear luminous responses like, “Well, cause Connecticut’s boring.” Or, “Um, dude, because our state sucks and the budget’s a mess.” But the real reason requires more beneath the surface thinking than that. 

The secret? 

We aren’t providing enough desirable places for folks to live in.

The powerful Millennial and Empty Nester markets are seeking something very specific, and guess what? Connecticut isn’t providing enough of it. 

So what do these elusive environments look like? Surprisingly, not rocket science. 

First, it’s usually a place that has a concentration of cool things like shops, restaurants, services and entertainment. It’s typically in a city center or within reasonable walking distance (25-30 min). It contains resolutions of activity like public squares, green spaces, and things to do like biking paths. 

These “missing markets” are seeking housing options proximate to this lifestyle. 

Born just inside the Millennial cusp, I wanted these things too. It’s why I left CT in my mid-twenties for life in the Big Apple only to return a few years later, but not necessarily by choice. Instead, a rather fateful opportunity presented itself to make things better in my hometown of Bristol, but most people will not be provided such a strong hook. 

Millennials want adventure outside their doors, just like Empty Nesters, with little Johnny out of the house, have a vanishing desire to shovel snow and take care of a big house. I was willing to cram into small apartments with roommates in New York City because the experience was worth it to me. Roommates were my way of creating affordable housing in a place that was desirable.  

The problem? 

Where are all these “cool” communities in Connecticut that check all the aforementioned experiential boxes? What do you come up with? Maybe not enough, right? But the $64,000 question is, are they also affordable to these ever-important demos? Herein lies the problem.

When the experience isn’t quite as grand as major city living, people are far less likely to compromise by taking on roommates to make a unit affordable. That means smaller cities need to be especially competitive on housing prices to be attainable and attractive. 

The issue is the vast majority of these places are not affordable to young professionals with entry level salaries, your workforce teachers and firefighters, nor are they for Empty Nesters and retirees on fixed incomes. The solution for these folks is to relocate to other states to find the experience they are seeking at an affordable rate, whether that means living with roommates in a big city, or living in affordable housing in a quaint downtown somewhere else. Sure, CT may not have enough desired experiences, but we also are not competitive enough on entry-point pricing either. That’s what we call a lose-lose. 

The business analogy of not offering enough affordable housing options is like imagining Connecticut trying to become a new McDonald’s franchisee, thinking there are already enough options on the menu and therefore choosing not to serve hamburgers, and then wondering why they are performing so much worse than other franchises. In this alternate reality, Connecticut would be out of business. 

But there is hope. 

Fulfilling the desire of these “missing markets” by providing the environments they love with entry-point housing options will keep our children and parents from leaving, our families intact, and attract new residents for the same reason we are losing ours now. 

It gives us a chance. 

If Connecticut utilizes affordable housing as a tool to till the soil for Millennials and Empty Nesters to root into our land, we will have provided them the opportunity to remain here, contribute to our communities, and graduate into larger investments like homeownership, businesses, and so on. 

And just think about the well-meaning individuals living in poverty or sub-standard living situations being provided opportunities to live in and contribute to communities they actually want to be in so that they can continue to thrive. It could be a game-changer.

Right now, we are missing out. Big time. And we’re paying for it.  

Affordable Housing, much like a farm system, gives us a chance to harvest a next generation. It allows for discretionary spending and provides critical mass for businesses to be supported, boosting the state economy. Retail, businesses, and companies will always follow rooftops. Remember that. 

Right now, where is our next generation? The answer is in other states. 

So if you want to solve Connecticut’s mass exodus of Millennials and Empty Nesters, and get the 42% of Millennials still living in the state but stuck living in their parents’ homes, out contributing to our communities?    

Build affordable housing to till the soil. You might be surprised the benefits that blossom from it. 

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