The new extended American family
Tomorrow is Thanksgiving Day and although we may not be thankful for the national economy we’ve been enduring during the past four years, we are all thankful for our families. But what happens when families may be a little too close for comfort like living in the same house?
Last week I talked about micro living units either being built or at least being considered in large cities. These micro units are fulfilling a need for affordable housing for single young people and seniors. The need to fill this gap has multiplied since the financial crisis with adult children moving back in with their parents who also may be responsible for providing living space for aging parents.
One out of five college graduates ages 25 to 34 is living with his or her parents according to the Pew Research Center. In addition, the number of shared households, meaning an adult not enrolled in school living with another adult who isn’t a spouse, rose 11.4 percent between 2007 and 2010. At the same time, the baby boomer’s parents are aging and want to downsize, making for an interesting collision of generations living under the same roof.
Traditionally, single family homes located in suburban communities have not encouraged and have made it difficult for underused space like garages and basements to be turned into living areas. Zoning laws in suburban areas were intentionally designed to keep communities of single family homes at a low density. But with changing demographics and radically changing economies, should some of these strict zoning regulations be reconsidered?
Across the United States, homeowners are pressing for changes in zoning to allow separate apartments within their homes to accommodate either their adult children or aging parents. In addition, aging homeowners who want to age in place also are asking for some zoning changes to allow them to rent space in order for them to offset the increasing expense of maintaining their home in the face of declining interest income.
Builders in some states are starting to pay attention to the demand in houses for in-law suites or quarters with separate entries to accommodate the new extended American family. Lennar Corporation has rolled out a Next Gen model calling it a home within a home.
The houses, which range between 1,600 to 4,000 square feet, feature a completely separate unit within the footprint. The home within a home has its own entry, kitchen, bathroom, bedroom and living area which is attached to the main house with a double door similar to adjoining hotel rooms.
The company says they can’t build them fast enough, indicating people want to live together either because of choice or necessity, but do not want to live on top of each other. Since the houses are attracting buyers that are primarily families who use the extra units for their grown children or elderly parents, they aren’t facing much resistance from municipalities that may be worried about an excess of rentals in their area. At this point, Lennar is offering the Next Gen model in Arizona, California and Nevada.
Everything old is new again, and multiple generations living in the same house is really a throwback to an earlier time. Since most people are occupying housing that is three to four times what they really need, maybe Next Gen housing is an idea whose time has come.
Have a wonderful Thanksgiving and enjoy your family, no matter whose roof they’re living under.