A reader sent me an article I had missed from the New York Times, titled “Realtors Want to Sell You a Home. Their Trade Group Backs Evicting Others.” It was… well, it’s New York Times, which used to be a great newspaper. The article was posted in the Money section, and I kept looking for some kind of tag that said “Op/Ed” or “Propaganda” or something along those lines. Couldn’t find it. This was published as a straight news story from the world of Money.
I then ran across an amazing video takedown of this article by Leigh Thomas Brown, a real leader in the industry and particularly within NAR. We have our differences, but I find myself agreeing with Leigh most of the time as she talks plain common sense.
So let’s celebrate that video response from Leigh Brown some more:
It deserves to be seen by as many people as possible. This is a beautiful takedown of Ron Lieber’s article. Housing matters, but that means housing providers — the people who actually provide that housing — also matter. And while Leigh appears to be somewhat hostile to Wall Street institutional landlords, she correctly points out that many/most of the landlords are individuals and families who own investment property and want to do the right thing for their tenants. So kudos, Leigh.
So you might ask, why is this post called Step Up, YPN instead of The Mighty Mighty Leigh Brown?
Because as correct as Leigh is about everything she says in that video, as commonsense as her recommendations are, the trend in American politics right now is against her.
First of all, if you haven’t been following Ray Dalio, the founder and Chief Investment Officer of Bridgewater Associates (the world’s largest hedge fund), then ask yourself whether you like being optimistic or not. If you do, don’t follow him or his work. If you don’t mind a huge dash of pessimism, follow his work.
Here’s an interview that he gave to CNN in December of 2020:
Dalio cites history, contemporary politics, and economics to say that “large wealth gaps with large values gaps at the same time that there’s a lot of debt and there’s an economic downturn produce conflict and vulnerability.” He has openly worried about civil war, and internal conflict because of economic gaps. He openly talks about “revolutionary type of changes” that happened in the 1930s and the 1860s — eras when major social and political upheavals.
So we have that macrotrend that Dalio (and others) have warned about.
Let’s optimistically (realistically?) assume that we won’t have actual violence or actual armed conflict. Instead, we’ll have political conflict. That means we have to ask who the voters are.
Millennials and Gen-Z
In 2021, I don’t think it’s really debatable that the voters who really matter are Milennials and Gen-Z. The Center for American Progress, a left-wing think tank, certainly thinks so:
Finally, there are vast shifts in the generational composition of the country. The Baby Boomers—a generation that has constituted a larger share of the electorate than any other for more than 30 years—is about to be eclipsed by younger and more diverse cohorts of Americans. While it is already the case in 2020 that Millennials and Gen Z make up a larger share of eligible voters than Boomers (38 percent versus 28 percent), it is likely that, by 2024, these younger cohorts will also outnumber Boomers among voters.
By 2036, Millennials, Gen Z, and as-yet named generation that follows Gen Z will constitute 60 percent of the electorate. By that time, Boomers will be down to 17 percent of eligible voters and the Silent generation, already under 10 percent in 2020, will almost completely vanish.
Seems obvious that in order to vote, you have to be alive… and at least 18 years old. Well, time marches on.
So we need to take a look at how Millennials and Gen-Z think about politics generally, and housing specifically.
Millennials & Gen Z
According to Pew Research, Millennials and Gen Z believe in big government:
For example, members of Gen Z are more likely than older generations to look to government to solve problems, rather than businesses and individuals. Fully seven-in-ten Gen Zers say the government should do more to solve problems, while 29% say government is doing too many things better left to businesses and individuals. A somewhat smaller share of Millennials (64%) say government should do more to solve problems, and this view is even less prevalent among older generations (53% of Gen Xers, 49% of Boomers and 39% of Silents).
In addition, Millennials (and GenX) think that society is unfair and unequal:
Nearly two-thirds of Millennials (66%) and Gen Xers (65%) say the system unfairly favors powerful interests; six-in-ten Boomers say the same. By comparison, members of the Silent Generation are more divided on the fairness of the economic system: While 50% say it unfairly favors the powerful, 45% say it is generally fair to most.
It’s safe to assume that Gen Z thinks American society and economy is unfair and unequal as well based on this study from Morning Consult:
What the chart shows is that Gen Z has a +3 favorable opinion of Socialism, and a -2 unfavorable opinion of Capitalism. Think on that.
One of Leigh’s contributions in her video is a strong, unapologetic defense of landlords — at least, individuals and families. As she says repeatedly, landlords are your neighbors who want to make money providing good housing to other neighbors.
However… I think you have to living in fantasyland to think that the public image of landlords is… poor. The media tends to pick up only horror stories of horrible landlords, of slumlords, of the bad apples. I can’t remember the last time I saw any kind of media coverage of the landlord who bent over backwards to help out a family in need.
Public perception of landlords is not good. As Millennials and Gen Z flood into the rental market, it does not strike me as realistic to think that their perception of landlords is going to somehow change to being more positive.
The biggest problem in (rightfully) defending landlords is public perception but right now, because of this crazy market, we face another problem. Despite everything that Leigh said being true, it is still a bit tricky to defend people who own two, three, four homes… when the average Millennial buyer is dealing with this absolutely insane market. They’re having bids rejected left and right, and feeling stressed out, and feeling as if they will never achieve the American Dream… and here are REALTORS defending people who own multiple homes.
“I can’t buy one, but you got three? And you want me to feel sorry for you?” is a difficult objection to handle.
Yet, handle it we must. This is where the YPN comes in.
Step Up, YPN
In a number of previous posts, I have called upon the YPN to focus on the issue of housing affordability and Millennials:
That is what the YPN must do: change organized real estate to better address the issues of the consumer of the future. This is what justifies the existence of YPN at all. If the new leadership coming out of YPN does not embrace this challenge, then all we have are old heads on young bodies, old ideas in younger brains, and the same old words on younger lips. Then we must conclude that YPN is nothing more than a social club for young people paid for by their parents’ generation. That will not do.
Well, in 2021, in the midst of a housing crisis for next generation of consumers, I’m going to sound the call again. Maybe it isn’t just on behalf of individual/family landlords — housing providers, as Leigh so eloquently put it. But it is for the sake of preserving property rights generally and the American Dream specifically.
You must educate Millennials and Gen Z as to the reality of the housing market. I can’t think of a better place to start than the landlord issue.
Fundamentally, however, the issue is that future generations of voters are increasingly favoring outright socialism over capitalism. Younger voters are increasingly looking at bigger government to provide solutions and provide basic necessities from healthcare to housing. And politicians and policymakers are paying attention.
For example, you might take a look at HR 6308 – Housing is a Human Right Act of 2020, which has 15 cosponsors… and may not go anywhere, but it fits the generational shift in political attitude. Here’s some support for the bill from the National Homelessness Law Center:
“Our Nation was founded on the principle that everyone is entitled to the rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, and with the emerging threat of coronavirus, it has never been more clear that those rights must include the basic human right to housing,” said Maria Foscarinis, Founder and Executive Director at the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty.
This is just one example. We will undoubtedly see more and more pressure like this at all levels of government. Who stands in the way of socialized housing, if not REALTORS? And who among REALTORS are best suited to talk to, educate, and change the minds of Millennials and Gen Z voters/consumers than Millennial and Gen Z REALTORS?
If this is not the reason for YPN to exist, what is?
Step up, ladies and gentlemen. The industry needs you, the consumers need you, and frankly, the nation needs you.