SALT LAKE CITY — As Utah continues to grapple with a housing shortage, a new survey found most of today's high schoolers want to own single-family homes of their own someday — despite beliefs that those in Gen Z might prefer a different lifestyle than that of their parents.
The Salt Lake City-based Envision Utah Youth Council, composed of high school and middle school students, found that 90% of teens say they want a single-family home by midcareer, and almost 80% of them want to live in a suburb, according to a recently released survey.
"I think we know that Utah is a pretty family-oriented place already, it definitely is compared to some other states for sure, so I think it kind of does continue that trend. We liked how we grew up, so I want the same as that," said Caleb Grow, a student member on the youth council.
Ari Bruening, CEO of Envision Utah, agreed.
"One big takeaway for me is the desire to have a family and to have that traditional family lifestyle has not gone away, but there's a question of whether that's going to be affordable. So taking action to keep housing more affordable so that people can get something closer to what they want is critical," he said.
"I think there's been a lot of talk about younger generations wanting to live differently," he said.
But the survey results released April 9 show that they don't, according to Bruenig.
"They look a lot like their parents, that ultimately they want to have a family and have the space to raise that family, at least as they get later on in their career. And I think for some, that may be surprising," he said.
The idea for the survey came about as the youth council discussed a variety of issues facing Utah at the beginning of the year, and decided to look into their peers' opinions on housing "because we felt like it was something we could maybe affect a little bit, and we settled on it also because it's a big part of our future," Grow recalled.
"We thought housing would be a good topic that youth voices mean a lot in and could make an influence in," said Sierra Sun, also on the council.
The students were surprised that about 50% of teens want to be in a single-family home at the beginning of their careers, as well as a higher-than-expected percentage of teens who want to live in rural areas. Sun said that about 11% of students said they want to live in a rural area at the beginning of their career and 17% at the middle of their career.
"I would say that it means, in terms of housing that needs to be built, there needs to be lots of different types of homes because people want and need different kinds of housing depending on what stage of their careers they're at," Sun said.
The youth council surveyed 2,500 students in high school and eighth grade in Utah between October and February. District and school leaders also shared the survey with students.
The sample population included in the survey was "found to meaningfully reflect the racial/ethnic make of Utah's population," according to the youth council.
The survey found that most expect to live in something other than a detached. single-family home at the beginning of their careers. But eventually "the vast majority expect to end up in a single-family home with enough bedrooms for a family and a yard," the council said.
The students rated safety and affordability as the most important factors in deciding where to live, followed by home size and schools, according to the survey.
The council found that many teens are also thinking about things like energy efficiency, earthquake safety and carbon footprint, and placing less importance in features like large garages and proximity to transit.
Only 5% said they expect to live in a town house and 4% said they expect to live in an apartment or condo midway into their careers, the survey found.
Bruening said those surveyed also showed an interest in living someplace other than a traditional suburb. Many said they would prefer walkable suburbs such as Daybreak in South Jordan or downtown city areas.
"And I don't think, currently, we offer enough of those places to serve that demand," Bruening said.
Grow said it's important to him to be involved in community issues even in high school "because we have a unique perspective right now as young people that this is the future."
"This is our future, so why not grab it and make sure that our voices are heard too, because we have thoughts and opinions as well. And sometimes, it may be hard to have your voice as a younger person, but certainly, everyone's voice needs to be heard," Grow said.
He acknowledged that the survey shows what youths hope or expect in the future, "not necessarily what we're going to get" as that even now Utah faces a housing shortage and affordability crisis.
"I think that even now in Utah, it's unrealistic even now," as many in their midcareers don't live in a single family home. "Even though this is what the youth are hoping for, this is what our 2,500 respondents said, that doesn't necessarily mean that's what's going to happen in the future," Grow said.