Barbie’s (Affordable) Dreamhouse?

NHPF's Pamela Lee on helping renters achieve their goals.

Barbie's Affordable Dream House

Pamela Lee

As an affordable housing practitioner, when I think of the new Barbie movie it hits differently for me than merely looking forward to how the producers have taken a feminist, inclusionary look at the iconic doll.

The film got me thinking about how this generation and those yet to come will ever afford their own “Dreamhouses,” whether that be owned or rented.

With recent articles proclaiming “the average renter expects that they will be renting for life” and “the average three-bedroom rent is more affordable than owning a comparably sized median-priced home,” it is not surprising that many younger people are rethinking what a dream house even is and if they will ever have or want one.

In a recent NHPF survey, we asked renters about the difficulty of finding affordable housing. For renters with HHI under $80,000, 87 percent  considered it at least “somewhat difficult” with 25 percent finding it “extremely difficult” to find appropriate accommodations for their budget.

There is also data showing that over one-third of Americans currently rent their homes and there are about 2,654 new renters every day. However, fresh research also shows that for the first time, millennial homeowners outnumber millennial renters. So, now we know who the current customers for Barbie’s house are.

But what about Gen Z renters? Perhaps they should consider the option of single-family rentals as their dream home. Here are some steps renters can follow to prepare for that path and for eventual home ownership if they choose.

1. Improve credit scores—often by rent reporting Esusu is the leading platform providing such reporting, in addition to property management analytics, and rental assistance. This rich data helps unlock financial access and stability for renters and property owners alike.

2. Seek out “single-family home rental resiliency”courses such as one that NHPF offers renters of our single-family development Hollander Ridge in Baltimore. There are courses offered by Fannie Mae and many others.

3. Cast a wide geographic net Post-pandemic, many people have tremendous freedom in where they can live, so they can open themselves up to cities and regions with many more affordable options than ever before. But they should not discount the plusses that can be associated with buying near family, friends or other important resources.

4. Take advantage of savings programs like HUD’s FSS (Family Self Sufficiency) program for families who live in federally subsidized affordable housing. The initiative allows renters to recapture the rent increases they must pay when their incomes rise, placing those funds into an interest-earning savings account. Upon meeting certain requirements, they later receive the savings to use as they wish.

Weigh the pros and cons of each housing option: Single-family, condo, townhouse? What about a spec house that residents can have input into as they are being built? Or investing in multi-family housing that will produce income as well as a place to live? What about a pre-fab modular home? A tiny house?

Or yes, even a big pink plastic beach house with no kitchen or walls originally purchased by a young single woman with no credit history! We’re not saying homeownership or long-term renting today or tomorrow will be that simple, but opportunity is out there.

Pamela Lee is NHPF‘s director Development for Washington, D.C., Maryland and Virginia. 

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