Is home ownership a realistic aspiration for Gen Z?

By guest columnist Aleigha General

As society develops and expands, more and more is demanded of our lives and the communities we establish.

We no longer expect to live in a cabin in the marshland with the mosquitoes and centipedes, and have pioneered our way to a booming society with modern infrastructure and million-dollar condos crowding the beachfronts.

So why is it that when you speak to young Caymanians, and even some older ones, about their housing and living experiences, they can barely afford a month’s rent and almost none of the older generation are in full ownership of a home?

Typically those that are, work government jobs which provide them with the stability to take out a 30-year mortgage. But the thought of sitting behind the same desk for the next three decades to support that mortgage isn’t appealing to the majority of this  generation of movers and shakers.

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People who are often told they are the ‘future of this country’ are finding it increasingly difficult just to find a one-bedroom apartment for less than $1,000 a month (you’ll be lucky if that includes water and electricity).

So why is it that we can ensure the future of the tourism, overseas banking and legal industries but not the future of our students, our blue-collar young men and women and those meant to bring this country into its next phase of life?

Maya Angelou once said, “the ache for home lives in all of us. The safe place where we can go as we are and not be questioned.”

Home ownership is often portrayed in many cultures as a milestone that represents the pinnacle of financial stability and a fulfilled life.

From a young age, people may have a plan for their lives that goes something like this: “Graduate, find my calling, and find a job with that calling that allows me to buy a home from my own hard-earned money.”

As we should all know by now, sometimes things don’t go according to plan. This is particularly true when the current generation of youth have new ideas and feelings surrounding what exactly would make their life a success.

While it could have just been assumed that young people want to settle down and establish roots, it seemed much more fitting to actually ask them what they wanted. The responses reiterated the desire for a safe and personal space to call their own, but they all also hinged on the same issue and question: “Is it realistic to try and pursue home ownership in Cayman?”

The views of parents and guardians, Cayman’s safe-haven environment and the aspiration towards generational wealth are all big influences of why young Caymanians would want to build a home here, but they must also come to grips with the current housing market that has been left to them.

Rent a challenge

Even affording rent is a significant challenge.

According to research that was conducted via EcayTrade and other popular real-estate websites, the minimum cost of a one bedroom, one bathroom home in Bodden Town is $1,300.

Considering  that most entry level jobs that young Caymanians would occupy only pay a maximum of $8 per hour (equal to approximately $1,664 per month if they are working Monday to Saturday, 9am-5pm) it would be expected that at the very least, necessary expenses like insurance, car maintenance, groceries and personal hygiene items would be cheaper.

But the reality is, all of those costs leave a person just barely able to pay rent, assuming they don’t have any pre-existing debts and can find a job that pays them more than minimum wage.

Young Caymanians aren’t oblivious to this discrepancy; in fact, it is exactly what prevents them from actively pursuing home ownership in the long run. It is seen as more financially beneficial to work towards job stability and growth rather than a home to permanently call their own.

This results in what can seem like a lifetime of renting and uprooting one’s personal space without much personal satisfaction to make up for it.

For those who still simultaneously  pursue a permanent home and a job they are passionate about, they may decide to build their own property. This is a great way to stimulate the economy as it provides local workers (in most cases) with jobs for given periods of time, but it is not without its own volatility.

Affordable and construction-ready land is becoming more and more scarce due to the influx of foreign investment and purchasing of large plots of land for commercial and high-scale residential development. In addition to that, the maintenance of a construction project is heavily dependent on the financial situation of the investor/investors.

The instability of the job market and resulting layoffs, makes financial security even harder to attain when pursuing a project such as construction, resulting in little to no young Caymanians seeing this as a viable investment option.

Many emigrate

With these constraints in mind, it is not uncommon for Caymanians to emigrate to places like the United Kingdom and Canada which, while promoting cultural diffusion and the development of a diaspora, also unfortunately means that fewer qualified young Caymanians are available for managerial positions here.

Companies must then look elsewhere for individuals to fill these important roles. It is a harsh cycle that pushes Caymanians out and draws non-Caymanians in, which also has serious social impacts.

When asked about what would make owning property in Cayman more appealing to them, a few young Caymanian respondents said the following: decreased cost of living, increased wages, and more education surrounding home ownership and real estate.

As with many of the problems we face in these beloved isles, re-educating due to the miseducation of past generations is the crux of seeing true progress towards a brighter future.

Making classes or courses about financial management, investment and real estate mandatory are all very tangible actions that can be taken to equip this next generation with the skills they’d need to provide themselves and their families with stable and secure homes.

The best way to help someone become better is to give them the tools to grow for themselves and we have the capacity to do this.

As it can be seen, this issue will not be fixed by simply putting it under review for the next several years or just talking about its intricacies. Until we realise just how much it intersects with our other issues and begin to really press our government for true action, nothing will change.

It really boils down to finding that balance between outsourcing and insourcing investment and employees so that we can equip our own countrymen and women with the tools they need to live a fulfilling life here, rather than seek that fulfilment elsewhere.

* Aleigha General, 18, is a recent graduate of John Gray High School and Li Po Chun United World College of Hong Kong.


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