Twenty-something Long Island millennials have three stark living choices: Move to New York City or out of state after high school/college, live at home with parents, or take a risk renting in Long Island's housing market.
I've done all three -- moved back with my parents after college, then to Manhattan, and back home for a few months before settling in Long Beach this summer. Amid all that shuffling, I learned a few things:
That shameful stereotype of living at home isn't exactly true. Lazy, unemployed adults moping around their parents' basements eating junk food is not often reality. Most of my college friends not from Long Island moved to New York City after graduation, and I was self-conscious about being back home. But I shouldn't have felt that way.
Some 16.3 million young adults live with their parents, up from 13.4 million in 2007, says a new report by the Pew Research Center. That's 26 percent of young adults, and anecdotally I'd say that percentage is higher on Long Island. What's more, many have careers, significant others, are in the military, travel, run marathons -- all signs of functioning adulthood.
Living at home helped me build savings and focus on work instead of having my entry-level salary swallowed by rent. I often felt like I was mooching off my parents' generosity, but five years after college, my friends who lived at home were able to save down payments for houses -- homes Long Island's economy desperately needs my generation to buy.
We graduated into the beaten-up job market of the Great Recession, and having the comforts of home during depressing job hunts and rounds of layoffs was reassuring.
Fleeing doesn't exactly mean independence. When I moved to Manhattan, my millennial friends and colleagues faced different struggles. A lot really weren't able to save because of the high cost of living on top of college debt.
Many depended on financial help from their parents. Friends who moved out of state still spend heavily to fly back home often for weddings, holidays and other events.
The local rental market is tough for us. It's the suburbs, the land of single-family homes, and it just wasn't built for what my generation is experiencing. College, grad school and the tough economy pushed a lot of us off the marriage-and-buying-our-first-home track until closer to age 30. Sure, there are basement and attic apartments that many homeowners rent to supplement their incomes. But that set-up is not always legal, and it's hard to justify using half of your entry-level salary to pay for someone's extra space -- particularly when parents make their home available. (Thanks Mom and Dad!)
Communities across Long Island viciously fight apartment buildings and "mixed-use zoning," which drives up rental prices and pushes the region far below the national average for rental openings.
What needs to happen.I was lucky because my family was so supportive of me staying at home. Others, though, have complicated home situations that don't lead to such arrangements, including retired parents who have left Long Island. Parents and millennials both want independence, but not when doing so is financially detrimental to starting a life.
I appreciate the boomerang years I spent in my early 20s at home with my parents. I bonded with them as roommates -- sharing coffee with my mom in the mornings and arguing politics with my dad at night.
Now in Long Beach, I appreciate the space, being able to visit home often and seeing plenty of 20-somethings peacefully (mostly) coexisting with families, which is why I'm frustrated by the region's aversion to rentals unless they are for those 55 and older.
More rentals would be a good first step, but we need even more creative solutions. Renting does not build equity for the renter, and many of us realize this and want alternatives to the rent-or-buy-a-home dichotomy. I would love to see more affordable housing options, like co-ops, that would require lower down payments, or programs that offer grants to help with home purchasing.
The lack of housing choices is pushing millennials off the Island or to move in with their families. It's time to stop judging when we pick those two options if Long Island won't build what we need.
Amanda Fiscina is a online producer for Newsday Opinion. Follow her on Twitter at @adfiscina.