An article that once appeared in The Globe and Mail: How to buy a home for your adult children by Anna Sharratt has convinced me that, despite all the benefits of being a baby boomer, I’m beginning to think I was born a couple of generations too soon. We had to do it the hard way by going without material things and saving our money until we’d scrounged together a down-payment to own our first home. Even then, we had to be frugal with interest rates of up to18 percent in the seventies and killer mortgage payments.
When my first husband and I bought our starter home, we were both in our thirties, had no children, worked full-time jobs and the best we could afford was a townhouse in Pickering with linoleum floors, Formica countertops, a single-car garage and no clothes dryer because we couldn’t afford five appliances, and I wanted a dishwasher. Owning a house in the City of Toronto even forty years ago was simply beyond our budget and out of the question.
I keep hearing the arguments about how millennials will never be able to afford a home in the Greater Toronto Area (and other large urban centres) unless the parents kick in but I’m not entirely convinced it is beyond their means. I think more truthfully, it’s beyond the current standard of living they enjoyed while living rent-free and subsidized by their parents until they were in their 30’s. Having to go without material things and work for something makes us more appreciative of what we have achieved.
When I left home at the age of seventeen to work for Ma Bell in Toronto, I was informed by my parents that when things got rough, returning home was not an option. When I occasionally got homesick or was broke, there was no safety net so I became resourceful and got my shit together. It’s called being an adult and taking responsibility for my own life. I’ve had some pretty unglamorous jobs over the years in order to make ends meet.
Buying your first home or condo is never easy. It’s not supposed to be. My own parents sold their old used car to scrape together a down payment for their first house in 1951 and they already had two children. Homeownership means giving up certain lifestyle indulgences to get into the market. Boomer gals took a packed lunch to work for years to save money. We didn’t start out with granite countertops in a building close to work. I never had a car until at the age of 27 when I married someone who owned one, and I’d been working full-time for ten years by then. My husband drove it to work while I took the bus, the subway, then another subway line.
Does no one starting out in the working world today ever consider sharing a bachelor apartment with another person for a year or two, or putting three people in a one-bedroom apartment like some of my coworkers at the telephone company did in the sixties? Three girls crammed three single beds into a tiny one-bedroom apartment at Yonge and St. Clair. Does the current younger generation even know what a bedsit is? In 1968 I lived for a while in a stifling bedsit on the third floor of an old house in Parkdale. The other tenant across the hall was a cab driver and we shared a refrigerator and hot-plate in the hall for cooking. I once shared a small one-bedroom apartment with two sisters. They had the bedroom; I slept on the couch for nearly a year before the three of us moved into a two-bedroom at Yonge and Eglinton.
Boomers lived in a variety of cheap, inconvenient, and unglamorous shared accommodations for several years before we could afford to step up into a two-bedroom apartment on more convenient subway and bus routes in Toronto. Then, after we got married, we saved up for modest accommodations in the 905 area code, prepared to spend at least an hour commuting each way to work for the privilege of owning our own modest home with killer mortgage payments, often with a second mortgage.
I have lived in a series of modest townhomes for most of my adult life. I never enjoyed the privilege of living in a fully-detached house until I married my second husband and by then I was in my mid-fifties. Owning a home is a privilege, not a right. Many of the world’s people live their entire lives in rented accommodation. It’s a way of life in Europe, Asia and other countries.
I realize it’s difficult for millennials who lost jobs during the pandemic and have been forced to move back home. Not only is it humiliating but there’s a strange dynamic about living under our parents’ roof that keeps us forever ‘kids’. I left home at the age of seventeen and couldn’t wait to be free of parental restrictions. But I must admit, I’m more than a little envious when I see parents bankrolling homes for their offspring, buying them cars, or paying for vacations. How much easier life would have been with a financial cushion to help us over the rough spots.
I’m not entirely unsympathetic to the plight of young people trying to get into the real estate market. I acknowledge the cost of living today is high, with monthly telecom bills alone in excess of $400.00 (which didn’t exist in our youth) and car payments (both of which are often still paid for by parents), student loans, and hefty entertainment bills. I’m only suggesting everything is relative. And perhaps I’m more than a little bit jealous that my parents weren’t in a position or willing to foot the bill to buy me a house or a car to get me started. Perhaps I was just born too soon to still be taken care of once I became an adult. Boomers did it on their own and it certainly wasn’t easy for us either. Having to work for things builds character and that strength has served our generation well.
Would boomers have been as successful in business or as thoroughly independent and capable of managing life’s difficulties as adults if we had been subsidized along the way? It’s a moot question because I’m now an old retired boomer with a lifetime of struggles, accomplishments, and experiences under my belt. Like my boomer friends, we did it our way. For better or worse. I’m just glad the hard part is now behind us and we’re enjoying the good life now. We’ve earned it. Will younger generations ever be able to cope when the parental money spigot stops flowing? Time will tell.