For San Diego Millennials, deciding where to live isn’t as simple as staking out the hipster, uptown neighborhoods.

Commentary - in-story logoHeeding the trends of their real estate choices can give us an idea how to plan for our region’s projected growth in population over the next few decades. Doing anything less would be a massive oversight by private industry and public policymakers alike.

Millennials, those currently between the ages of 18 and 35, made 31 percent of our city’s real estate purchases in 2014. If the job market continues to expand, and more young Americans can earn a living wage, that percentage will only grow.

Twenty-five percent of 2014 home purchases in Tierrasanta were made by Millennials in 2014. Tierrasanta is truly a suburban neighborhood, with a few grocery stores and small businesses. It serves primarily as a bedroom community for other commercial centers.

Compare that with North Park, where 40 percent of home purchases were by Millennials. North Park certainly is far more urban, with more services and entertainment options within walking distance.

So if we’re building for younger generations, what do we do? Should we favor urban centers that revolve around easy access to services and public transportation, or will the last century’s model of suburban America continue to be part of the American dream?

We Stand Up for You. Will You Stand Up for Us?

As Circulate SD’s Colin Parent pointed out and the local trends show, it’s not as black-and-white as urban vs. suburban, car vs. transit for Millennials.

Real estate agents and brokers hear the same reasons from their clients, of any age, when they move from an urban to a suburban area: They’re looking for safety, quality neighborhood schools and store options. Sometimes that means they sacrifice public transit access and walkability.

This in part explains why Millennials drive just as much as older generations: It’s often because they don’t have public transportation options available.

As we look at the future of our city’s growth, we can tap the current attitudes of consumers, not just statistics, to create communities that are walkable and safe, that provide easy access to services while minimizing commute times.

We can offer more affordable homes by increasing density the right way, and model our city around better access to good jobs, health care and so on.

We can’t afford to maintain a “if we build it, they will come” attitude in our region. Density without lifestyle will only provide shortsighted gains for developers. In 30 years, we’ll find ourselves in the same predicament we’ve been in for the last 10: beset with unattractive, overpriced housing options that don’t benefit San Diegans or provide our city with the communities we are capable of creating.

Justin DeCesare is a real estate broker and president of the Tierrasanta Community Council. He’s currently running for San Diego City Council. DeCesare’s commentary has been edited for style and clarity. See anything in there we should fact check? Tell us what to check out here.

    This article relates to: Growth and Housing, Housing, Land Use, News, Opinion

    Written by Catherine Green

    Catherine Green is deputy editor at Voice of San Diego. She handles daily operations while helping to plan new long-term projects. You can contact her directly at or 619.550.5668. Follow her on Twitter: @c_s_green.

    Mike subscriber

    Your statistics in the commentary are confusing.  What is your point?  

    Based on your raw data from the google doc link, 98 houses were purchased by millennials in zip code 92104 and 36 were in 92124.  That's a pretty big difference.  But what about 92101?  PB, OB, Carmel Valley, and Barrio Logan?  I'm not sure what conclusions we can realistically draw about people's preferences by just comparing North Park and Tierrasanta.  What about renters?  They really don't like to drive because many don't have garages and generally have lower income.

    I read a lot of politically convenient talking points in your commentary that every side of the urban-planning debate would agree on, but I don't see what your actual opinion is.  What are you actually trying to say besides "millennials don't flock to North Park?"

    JustinDeCesare subscriber

    @Mike Mike,

    In 600 words it would have been difficult to put in too many examples, but I do agree with you. Those two are good urban vs. suburban zip codes to look at in this debate.

    I think the key to the development dilemma is that, as the title says, we can’t put this home buying generation in a box. There is a higher percentage of younger buyers currently in urban areas, yet that doesn’t mean they entirely discount suburban neighborhoods either. We know with growth projections that using the land we have will require an increase in density for new development, and that shouldn’t mean simply building condos for the sake of adding units. We should focus our efforts on creating communities that have the best of both worlds, that cut commute times, offer quality services, and can provide a sense of pride in community.

    I think the new development debate should look at the successes of both suburban and urban areas to utilize the little spatial and environmental resources we have to create communities that are attractive for buyers and renters and will not be used simply because we are told it’s the best option.

    Mike subscriber

    @JustinDeCesare Which existing neighborhoods (areas) do you consider to be successes of suburban and urban development?  

    Mike subscriber

    "...overpriced housing options that don’t benefit San Diegans or provide our city with the communities we are capable of creating."

    What parts of town are you referring to?  Examples please.

    SDGIS subscribermember

    I don't think  "Millennials drive just as much as older generations" is the proper metric top prove the intended point. This assumes all age groups drive the same amount. How do millenials drive in relation to people of the same age a decade or two earlier, normalized based upon overall driving. 

    I remember my grandmother saying, "I don't drive more than 1 hours at a time."

    Sean M
    Sean M subscriber

    @SDGIS millenials not driving has more to do with the cost of living, student loan debt and underemployment than the availability of public transportation. millenials who can afford to buy property in tierrasanta can affords to purchase an automobile.

    Frohman subscriber

    Well said.

    Derek Hofmann
    Derek Hofmann subscribermember

    "Real estate agents and brokers hear the same reasons from their clients, of any age, when they move from an urban to a suburban area: They’re looking for safety..."

    They won't find safety in the suburbs, because "people who live in low-density sprawl are more likely to die violently than their inner-city cousins."

    Manny Chen
    Manny Chen subscriber

    @Derek Hofmann people looking for "safety" are usually scared of stuff.

    "good schools" means they want to avoid poor people.

    Erik Bruvold
    Erik Bruvold subscribermember

    Justin - could you let us know your source for the data on home purchasers in Tierrasanta?  I haven't seen that kind of data and it would be  very interesting to use.  Thanks!

    JustinDeCesare subscriber

    Erik, I'll post the data to a single doc on my twitter: @JustinDeCesare.