The need of affordable housing for young adults

Perhaps the most transforming and revolutionary years of a person’s life are after she/he becomes 18 years old. Leaving childhood, teenage years, parents and school behind and entering adulthood, becoming a young adult. And they need housing.

Housing is a fundamental right according to several international conventions;

  • United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, article 25,
  • United Nations Convention on Economic, Social and Cultural rights, article 11
  • European Social Charter, revised, article 31

These declarations are not just “for show”. They have to be carried out in reality and they of course apply even to young adults. A researcher called housing a freedom right because it is fundamental to human flourishing. And that is obvious for young people.
Young adults face the possibility of so many choices for the future, that is – if you belong to the few lucky ones that can afford to choose; the choice of vocational training, education and a career, choice of a partner, choice of living arrangements, choice of political belonging, etc. All in all, choices that lead to a young person´s independence. In most cases this independence also includes the desire and the need for housing of one´s own.
But many young adults have no other choice than to stay with their parents because they cannot find any affordable housing. Young people are increasingly squeezed out of the housing market. In the vast majority of European countries there is a great shortage of affordable housing in both the private and social rented sector, and buying a home is out of reach for the majority of young people.
In 2008, approximately 46 percent of young adults aged 18–34 in the European Union still lived with at least one of their parents. There are differences between countries in the north and the south of Europe. But even in northern countries where the share is low too many young adults lack housing of their own and security of tenure. All data suggests that the situation is even worse now.

And there are considerable differences between eastern and western Europe. Inhabitants in the new member states generally have a lower material housing standard and a higher degree of overcrowded conditions compared to the older member states in Western Europe.

Someone may say: ‘But they don’t want to move from their parents!’ But that is not true, at least in most countries. When this issue was discussed at the Housing Forum Europe & Central Asia in Budapest a couple of years ago, several representatives from countries where the age when leaving parental home is high, around 30 or more, assured us that the majority of these young adults really wanted to move away from home, but the choice was not theirs to make.

 There simply is no affordable housing available where they want to live and where they could find education or a job.

Some parents don’t want the children to move out and even want to decide over their future choices: education and future job and even sometimes whom they should marry.

In the book The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran (Lebanon) the prophet says to a mother:

“Your children are not your children

They are sons and daughters of the Life’s longing for itself

They come through you but not from you

And although they live with you, they anyhow don’t belong to you

You can give them your love but not your thoughts,

because they have thoughts of their own

You can house their bodies but not their souls

Because their souls stay in the home of tomorrow

which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams

Strive to imitate them, but don’t try to make them to be like you

Because the life does not return and linger with the day that is gone.”

Young adults should have the right and the possibilities to make their own decisions regardless of the economy and beliefs of their parents. Housing of one´s own is a freedom right that makes it possible to live an independent life.

 The lack of affordable rental housing is not only a problem for young adults but it is also a problem for the economy. If young adults want to work but cannot move to where the jobs are they will stay unemployed and the companies and institutions might not get the employees they seek. Likewise, if they want to go on with higher education at a university but cannot find housing this will hamper the intellectual capital.

 When governments subsidize owner-occupancy the effects are increasing prices. The subsidies are capitalized, especially in regions and cities with expanding economy and higher education. High prices make it even harder for young people to move to these places. Especially since the supply of affordable rental housing is quite insufficient. Many governments also decrease the supply of affordable housing by cutting down and even abolish subsidies and give rental housing worse terms than owner-occupancy.

 In a period of recession and rising unemployment, investment in housing construction and refurbishment is the best way to create and sustain jobs and provide affordable housing. Compared with other types of construction projects such as road building, house building utilizes proportionately more labour.

 Young people are other future. We must invest in the future. Young people need more – not less – affordable rental housing.

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