Moving to Santa Fe Helped Millennial Afford Home


The median value of an owner-occupied home in New Mexico is $243,100, compared to $715,900 in California, according to the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey.
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  • Julia, 39, lived in California for more than 20 years before moving to New Mexico.
  • High housing costs in the Bay Area meant a tiny home with mold and a revolving door of roommates.
  • She thinks you shouldn’t have to have a stroke of luck to own a home — it should be a human right.

For Julia, 39, the straw that broke the camel’s back was when she found out her tiny house was moldy.

The elder millennial had moved to California in 2009. During her time in the Golden State, she went through what’s come to characterize the millennial housing experience. By her own count, she has lived with 35 different people since the age of 22.

“It often can feel like a real revolving door, but it’s also the way to find a place to live that’s still affordable, especially in a place like San Francisco,” said Julia, whose full name and employment are known to Business Insider, but withheld over privacy concerns.

“My experience really was that in a lot of ways we all felt really held hostage by our landlords,” she said, speaking of the dynamic in which renters put up with deferred maintenance and poor conditions because they don’t want to be kicked out in favor of higher-paying tenants.

Right before the pandemic, Julia felt ready to leave the city; she moved into a 250-square-foot tiny house in a former garage outside of San Francisco. She was paying around $1,500 a month, she said, and when the pandemic started she and her partner both worked from home. But during her year and a half living there, she also began to feel ill. That’s because the tiny home had some water damage that hadn’t been repaired properly, leading to mold and health issues.

“Here we were in a situation where all we could afford was a moldy tiny house that was making us sick. And we combed Craigslist and we looked around and yeah, there wasn’t an option. It just felt very, very clear that my time in California was over and that was okay. I felt ready for a change,” she said.

And so, in 2021, Julia left California. She’s not alone: Homeownership in California is becoming increasingly out of reach for millennials, and the state’s population has been falling. Californians ages 35 to 45 have seen their homeownership rate fall precipitously over the last 40 or so years, according to a paper from the Terner Center for Housing Innovation at UC Berkeley, with their homeownership rate falling to 39.7% in 2021 — down significantly from 64.4% in 1980.

That might be leading younger Americans to forsake the state completely. A previous BI analysis found that the typical mover out of California was a Gen Zer or millennial, with 37.9% of movers in the millennial cohort.

Julia and her partner ended up buying a house in Santa Fe, New Mexico, in 2022, after making the move out there in December 2021. The median value of an owner-occupied home in New Mexico was $243,100 in 2022, compared to $715,900 in California, according to the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey. Even in pricier Santa Fe County, the median home value was $450,700 in 2022.

Julia and her partner had both independently been saving for a decade in hopes of being able to make a down payment someday. Even so, they looked for a house for a year during an incredibly competitive process — and were finally able to finagle a 5% mortgage rate. Rates have since shot up to around 6.6% as a result of the Federal Reserve’s war on inflation. She said that their current mortgage costs less than renting did in California.

“The odds are just so stacked against younger first-time home buyers right now. It’s a scary situation to see. I mean, we had to have everything work out absolutely perfectly, the exact right timing for it to work out for us,” Julia said. “It was hard, and it’s a little bit baffling to me because it shouldn’t be this impossible, whether we’re talking home ownership or finding a place that’s safe and healthy to rent.”

For Julia, being a homeowner has been a game changer: She started sleeping through the night for the first time in decades. She had no idea the impact that being in a stable place — one where they had say over the maintenance and repairs — would have on her nervous system.

“I know that that sort of anxiety is something that a lot of people in my generation live with,” she said. “I would love to see more of us feeling so secure that we were able to sleep through the night and not worry so much”

With no “true public safety net” in the US, Julia said, she wanted to be sure that they had housing that would support them as they age. She’s observed the difference between being a lifelong renter and a homeowner, because she watched an elderly neighbor on a fixed income and a loved one face precarious renting situations. She believes that housing should be a human right – not a “get rich quick scheme.”

“I feel very little faith that our current systems will have my back or the backs of more vulnerable people as we age, get sick, or face economic challenges — owning a home means I have the start of a real safety net,” she said. “So much more needs to be done at a much larger scale to protect people who aren’t in a fortunate position to buy like we were. We got amazingly lucky on so many levels, but safe, stable housing shouldn’t depend on having those odds.”

She also recognizes that there’s some animosity toward the people who move out of California into other states, especially as that might shift housing costs elsewhere. She also wishes people understood that their new Californian neighbors are dealing with similar financial pressures, and just trying to find a safe place to call home.

“I feel like what happened was a trap door in the universe opened up to get us out of a situation where we were never going to be able to buy a home,” she said. “We were never going to be able to comfortably retire. We weren’t going to be able to set up financial stability for ourselves in California.”

Are you a Californian or millennial struggling to buy a house, or afford housing? Contact this reporter at jkaplan@businessinsider.com.



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