Gen Z-ers have been elected to Congress. They have upset big dairy. They refuse to believe that it’s too late to curb the effects of climate change with the refrain, “OK Doomer,” a play on “OK Boomer.”
But there’s something that many Gen Z-ers feel is not within their realm of possibility: owning a home.
The rule of thumb that one’s cost of housing shouldn’t exceed 30 percent of their monthly income is becoming less realistic for many in Gen Z, typically defined as people born between the late 1990s and early 2010s. Homeownership feels unattainable — more than a third of Gen Z respondents in one survey said it’s something they think they’ll never be able to achieve. According to the National Association of Realtors, last year, the typical first-time homeowner was 36 years old, a record high. Renting hasn’t been an easy alternative either, with those in search of apartments facing bidding wars and high rent costs.
About one third of the generation’s adults live with their parents and plan on staying with them as a long-term housing solution. Others are sleeping in living rooms, rushing moving in with their partners and migrating out of big cities.
The New York Times asked Gen Z-ers to share their stories and estimate how much of their monthly income they typically spend on rent. Here’s what young people from coast to coast are saying about how they manage to keep a roof over their heads.
Dekaila Wilson is a 23-year-old paraprofessional in The Bronx.
85% of her income goes to rent
Ms. Wilson said her goal of pursuing rap has had to take a back seat. She’s felt like she’s had to give up investing in herself. “You have to pay for studio time, you have to pay for video,” she said. “You need time and money for everything.”
Savannah Scott is a 23-year-old server in Reno, Nev.
75% of her income goes to rent
To make rent this month, Ms. Scott not only had to use the entirety of her paychecks, but she also had to dig into her tips. “I end up buying less groceries — I can’t be buying fun little snacks, it’s just like brown rice and beans. I was on food stamps for a while,” she said. “I only drive maybe once a week because I don’t want to have to pay for the gas.”
Manny Rawlings is a 25-year-old village trustee and nonprofit business manager in Mamaroneck, N.Y.
70% of his income goes to rent
Mr. Rawlings was elected to the village’s board of trustees in November, so moving out of Mamaroneck was out of the question. Still, he got a modest bump in his income with a biweekly stipend of $240 that he earns as a trustee. He also had to move out of his mother’s home because she would lose her Section 8 housing benefit with his income factored in.
Privacy is a priority for Mr. Rawlings, who moved into a one-bedroom apartment last fall. He is grateful to be living alone, but he’s felt trapped by the fact that most of his salary goes toward rent — it isn’t how he envisioned his 20s. “I have to make every extra dollar I have last,” Mr. Rawlings said. “I’m losing the ability to go out and have entertainment, to go to the movies or to go out to dinner with friends.”
Brigitte Dale is a 27-year-old book editor living in Stamford, Conn.
50% of her income goes to rent
“The prospect of someday buying a home or having kids is almost unfathomable,” said Ms. Dale, referring to New York City. She moved to Connecticut from New York in 2022 to afford an apartment with more space and a laundry machine.
She lives with her partner and pays $500 less in rent than she did in the city, but things are still tight. The couple both work side hustles as tutors to help boost their income.
Ives Williams is a 24-year-old sales associate in Baltimore, Md.
50% of his income goes to rent
It’s a “studio with a wall” is how Mr. Williams explained his apartment. Mr. Williams and his husband live in a high-rise apartment building in downtown Baltimore. The apartment is walking distance from his job, so the money he saves on gas ends up going toward rent.
“I feel like it’s been normalized among my generation to almost jokingly be OK with the fact that you may never have a home,” he said. “But beneath that current it’s very much like, ‘Yeah, I’m going to kill this American dream in my head before it even really gets too deep in there.’”
The future could take many forms for Mr. Williams. In addition to his interest in going back to school for mortuary sciences, he and his husband have lightheartedly floated the idea of buying a home with friends. They’ve joked that it would be like “one big sleepover,” he said. “But beneath that, there is the economic reality of, yeah, that might be the only way we get a house.”
Between 1999 and 2022, rent has grown 135 percent. Incomes have only increased by 77 percent in that time.
Finn Bradenday is a 27-year-old carpenter and emergency medical technician living on Peaks Island, Maine.
45% of his income will go to rent
Mr. Bradenday and his wife, who welcomed a baby in July, moved into his parents’ home for her unpaid maternity leave — they couldn’t afford to pay rent while she wasn’t working. In September, the couple will be moving into a rental home of their own.
“It’s tight. It’s my parents, and my sister, and now the three of us, plus some dogs,” he said. “We’re tripping all over each other a lot. We don’t have any of our own space.”
Before living in his parents’ guest room, the couple rented a 600-square-foot house together. To save an additional $300 in rent every month, Mr. Bradenday did several hours of carpentry work for his landlord. “We’re not starving or anything, but time is definitely a big stress. I wish I had more of it,” Mr. Bradenday said. “I only have one day a week where I’m not working on something.”
Adam Savage is a 22-year-old program assistant living in Arlington, Va.
45% of his income goes to rent
Mr. Savage moved out of Washington, D.C., “across the river” to Arlington so he could live alone after sharing a bedroom with a roommate for one year.
Choosing between living with roommates and saving money, or spending more to live alone was a tough decision. He knew it was “going to be a sacrifice” but ultimately decided to pursue solo living.
“I’m still getting used to it. I realized that I was more social than I thought myself to be. And so I do miss a little bit that sanctuary – of having roommates.”
Jess Walsh is a 25-year-old bartender in Somerville, Mass.
45% of her income goes to rent
In September, Ms. Walsh and her girlfriend are moving out of their studio into a one-bedroom. “We currently live super condensed,” she said. “Our apartment’s literally, like 20 x 20. It’s tiny. So, this is ridiculous but I’m actually really looking forward to having a door that I can shut because I am a night owl.”
Joseph Levin is a 23-year-old software engineer in Sacramento.
45% of his income goes to rent
“It’s definitely frustrating at times to be seeing older people who have purchased their houses 20 years ago and what they’re paying on their mortgage is a third of what I pay to rent,” Mr. Levin said.
He grew up sharing a room with two brothers. Now, he lives in a three-bedroom home. Since his girlfriend joined him in June, he’s hopeful he’ll be able to budget more of his money for long term savings goals.
Kellie Beck is a 25-year-old freelance theater director living in Brooklyn.
40% of her income goes to rent
Ms. Beck has three roommates, including her partner, who moved in this summer. Sharing a room with her partner means she’s saved on more than just rent payments. They’ve been able to split the cost of taking care of their cat, streaming subscriptions and hair and skin care products. The roommates all grocery shop and cook communally. “We each pay $25 a week toward groceries, and we take turns cooking dinners,” she said.
The setup has allowed for Ms. Beck to afford living in New York. “I work in the arts sector — you can’t make much of a living in live arts outside of major cities. Plus, I’ve wanted to live here all my life,” Ms. Beck said.
But living in one of the most expensive cities in the world isn’t without its downsides. She and her partner are both autistic, so “if one of us gets stressed out and overstimulated, it’s not great because there’s not really anywhere to go have a private moment,” she said. “If it’s really bad, I’ve just camped out in the bathroom, if I need a second.”
“I turn down a lot of opportunities to see friends, because it’s always over drinks, or dinner,” Ms. Beck said. “One night at a restaurant wipes out my spending for the week.”
Lola Motley is a 23-year-old former teaching fellow in San Francisco.
Until August, 40% of her income went toward rent, now she’s pulling from savings
“I think no matter what I do next, I will pay more,” said Ms. Motley, who recently finished a yearlong fellowship with AmeriCorps. When she gets her next job she “should theoretically be paying a smaller percent of my income on rent.” Until then she’ll be paying rent from her savings.
In her first apartment in San Francisco, Ms. Motley lived in a one-bedroom with two roommates. She was in “what would technically be the living room, and one of my roommates is technically in the dining room, and the last roommate is in what would actually be the bedroom.” At the beginning of August, she moved into a four-bedroom apartment with three roommates.
Ms. Motley recalled a memory from college when a professor asked her urban studies class who would want to own a home one day. Ms. Motley was the only one to raise her hand, she said. “Most people said that they were fine to rent forever,” Ms. Motley said.
Anja Chivukula is a 24-year-old graduate student in Los Angeles.
40% of her income goes to rent
At graduate student events, “we’ll just be joking about how none of us are ever going to own a home,” said Ms. Chivukula, who shares an apartment with another student.
The parties are often held at the lofty house of a senior faculty member, Ms. Chivukula said. “When you walk in, there’s usually this feeling of, ‘Oh, this is insane.’ And then you have to remember that this used to be more affordable.”
Nikayla Jefferson is a 26-year-old graduate student in San Diego.
0% of her income goes to rent
To save money, Ms. Jefferson recently moved into her parents’ home. “I really can’t afford to do anything else right now.”
She has considered that a big move would help her goal of pursuing writing. “But here in California, absolutely no way. There’s no way that I believe that I could start out as like a young writer and have any kind of chance of being able to pay rent or buy groceries.”
While Ms. Jefferson isn’t particularly interested in leaving her home state of California, “there is this kind of romantic longing for the Midwest” and the hope for affordable rent and “maybe one day in our dreams, buy a house.”