As you surely have noticed, the media have turned telling us why millennials are Bad into a cottage industry. Millennials are not having sex, they’re not eating cereal, they’re living in adult tree forts constructed out of all the participation trophies they were handed while not buying crap like cars because we don’t actually want them/can’t afford them anyway. Millennials are not actually Bad, nor are they a homogeneous group of people who all act or tweet alike; when people talk about “millennials,” they usually mean a certain subset of city-dwelling white people from upper-middle class families who spend a lot of time on the internet. Millennials as a group are definitely not worse than Baby Boomers, many of whom were, it turns out, Bad the whole time.
But occasionally we get a reminder why this trope exists about millennials, like this story from DNAinfo yesterday about all the real estate companies that cater to “millennials” — aka people who have a lot of money to spend on apartments with fancy amenities — and offer discounts on lots of apps that divide you from actually interacting with your fellow New Yorkers.
“Our generation is so used to an on-demand lifestyle,” Lia Wayman, the 27-year-old co-founder of Room Ring, a service that matches roommates like an online dating service, told DNAinfo. “I used to say to my mom that I needed someone to do my errands.”
It’s these kinds of things that lead to the stereotypes of millennials that use words like “coddled,” “entitled” and “app-obsessed.” The story goes on to talk about Ollie, which operates a high-design micro-unit building in Kips Bay.
Renters in an Ollie-branded building, for instance, not only are greeted with sleek multi-purpose furniture that helps a small living room double as a bedroom, for instance, they also get high-speed Wi-Fi, cable, housekeeping services and a butler service called Hello Alfred, which has home managers who pay weekly visits to water plants, make beds and wash dishes.
Market-rate apartments in that building start at $2,400. Room Ring sets up roommates and gives them discounts on things like meals (through Blue Apron, UberEats and Drizly), fixing up your apartment (through Paintzen and Cleanify, basically like Seamless for painting and cleaning services) and more.
This is just the latest in the trend of “adult dorms” popping up around NYC (also known as “co-living,” which I’m old enough to remember referring to as “having roommates”). It fosters this disturbing idea that young professionals in NYC should live in housing silos with other people of a similar ilk, where your socializing and creature comforts are handled in-house so you never have to venture past your building’s air lock into the wilds of New York City. Whether they actually help the affordable housing crisis in New York, or are good for the housing stock long-term, is still up for debate. Housing advocates are skeptical; the apartments are clearly not advertised to low-income families, for instance.
“Of course, these units aren’t available to residents who can’t afford a private apartment,” Joanna Rothkopf at Jezebel wrote earlier this year. “Instead, they are for the tech millennial who has so much money they can actually buy their way out of adulthood.”
All of these amenities eliminate the opportunities for the gleeful chaos that living in New York City entails: the Russian roulette of shopping for roommates on Craigslist, where you can either end up with some of your best friends for life or with a gigantic swarm of bed bugs disguised in a trench coat (either way, it leads to a great story). Instead, you can get paired with a like-minded person, like being matched up in a freshman housing assignment.
Earlier this year, we wrote about how this thinking permeates subway advertisements too, in ads from companies such as Seamless that offer to fill the role of “your mom” and StreetEasy, which encourage you to have a very narrow-minded view of finding an apartment, breeding a terrible crop of new New Yorkers. To quote Sam, they’re “catering to a generation of soft New Yorkers by creating a virtual parents’ basement of apps — all dependency and convenience — where you’ll rot for the rest of your days.”
Living in New York is difficult, but it’s also meant to be messy. We don’t live in the suburbs for a reason — we like the random encounters and unintentional discoveries that come in jumbling around a giant rickety pinball machine with eight million other people. Hailing an Uber to the front door of your adult-dorm silo where you order in food every night takes you out of that equation; it puts you in a tower of tech-enabled sameness. Sure, you might not risk bed bugs by picking furniture off the street, but you also might never meet a neighbor who looks that much different from you.
Not everyone finds those amenities so appealing: The DNAinfo story ends with a quote from Amir Ahmdy, 32, who moved into one of the buildings after winning a housing lottery for one of the set-aside affordable apartments. He liked having a furnished apartment, but he declined to pay extra for all the added services
“Maid service and cable for $180 a month? It doesn’t seem worth it,” he said. “We have laundry, a nice roof, and really there’s plenty of space.”