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Multigenerational Homes - Here To Stay

By Stacey Freed Rise Writer
May 18, 2021

The coronavirus pandemic upended our lives in so many ways – including the way we live. College-age children came back to study. Adult children lost jobs and boomeranged back to their parents. Elders moved in with family members to avoid assisted living complexes. Will these new living arrangements stick around? Donna Butts, executive director of Generations United, a national organization that promotes intergenerational collaboration, thinks so. "In 2011 we saw a spike in the US because of the Recession and everyone said the numbers would go down when the economy improved," says. "But the numbers didn't go down. People came together by need but stayed together by choice."

GU's recently studied 2,051 US households. The results, titled "Family Matters: Multigenerational Living is on the Rise and Here to Stay," found that multigenerational living nearly quadrupled since 2011. GU defines multigenerational households as those with three or more generations living together. 

Generations United Study Results
Generations United Study Results. Photo Credit: Generations United

Why Are Multigenerational Homes on the Rise?

The economy is a factor, reported 66% of study respondents. Other reasons for the choice include eldercare (34%); childcare (34%); change in job status (30%); healthcare costs (25%); cultural and family expectations (23%); education and retraining expenses (23%).

In Canada, the 2016 census showed a 37.5% increase in multigenerational homes since 2001. As the Montreal Gazette reported, "this living arrangement is among the fastest growing household type in Canada, spurred by cultural norms imported from immigrant groups, financial necessity in a time of burgeoning house prices, and shifting values."

Families are facing housing questions beyond whether there's a spare room and enough sheets. How has the building industry responded to these changes in the ways we're living?

Prefab ADU Studio Shed
Prefab ADU. Photo Credit: Studio Shed

Are ADUs Increasing Multigenerational Living?

"Granny flats" or "mother-in-law suites" have morphed into fairly substantial attached or detached structures.  ADUs are usually between 600 and 1,000 square feet, according to The ABCs of ADUs published by AARP. But every municipality has its own codes and regulations for these structures, from size to height limitations to whether they can be located within or outside the main home.  

ADUs have grown in popularity in recent years. According to Kol Peterson, an ADU expert based in Portland, Oregon, who helped write the AARP material, California has seen the most significant uptick. Los Angeles alone issued 15 ADU permits in 2013 and 6,747 in 2019. Other cities and states are following the trend too. Portland, Oregon, for example, now has about 3,000 ADUs, and Seattle and other cities and states have adopted or updated ADU codes, Peterson says. In New York, Senate Bill S4547, intended to regulate ADUs, is making the rounds in the State Senate.

R-Hauz Prefab Laneway Home
Prefab Laneway Home. Photo Credit: R-Hauz

Are Laneway Homes Increasing Multigenerational Living?

There's more demand for multigenerational homes in higher-priced cities, of course. In Canada, Vancouver and Toronto are among the most expensive cities in the world when it comes to housing. 

In many Canadian cities, homeowners are building a type of ADU in place of a garage on the main property. These are known as "laneway homes." (Watch this video exploring laneway homes.) Owners may rent the houses, but they are considered part of the main house and cannot be sold as standalone structures. Not all lots are eligible; the main house has to be a certain distance from the laneway, for example. Different cities and municipalities have other regulations, like how far the dwelling must be to the nearest street and fire hydrants.

Toronto has seen a "real spike and interest in life-cycle housing," Leith Moore told the Toronto Star in June 2020. Moore is a former adjunct professor at the School of Urban and Regional Planning at the University of Waterloo and is principal and founder of R-Hauz Solutions. Moore's Toronto-based company manufactures turnkey, factory-built laneway and midrise avenue housing. Moore believes that COVID will wake many people to the notion of having family close by. He says that laneway houses are a great solution and alternative to fleeing to the exurbs.

Multigenerational Dining

Is Multigenerational Living Increasing?

Kevin Kennedy, host of the podcast "Your Valuable Home" and owner of VSP Home Remodeling in Richboro, Penn., about an hour from Philadelphia, says that there aren't many ADUs in his market. Most families looking for multigenerational living are building additions or remodeling interior space to fit their needs.

They do this for a variety of reasons, including budget and time constraints. And the pandemic has put pressure on both of those. "Doing something separate from the main house is more difficult.," Kennedy says. "Getting in the setbacks is more time consuming and costly, and Covid has amplified everything four to five months for getting permits and variances." It's difficult for builders to get an audience with local township boards.

And, when elderly family members need to move in, it's often because of frailty or illness, which doesn't leave a homeowner a lot of time to wait for construction. By modifying an existing structure, Kennedy can get work done in two months rather than six months to a year for a standalone project. Kennedy has seen an uptick in attached additions, bump-outs with a separate entrance, and second stories on garages. He says that "since Covid hit we get two phone calls a week about multigenerational living and what a homeowner can do."

Beyond additions, many builders are adding flex rooms, which, as the name implies, can be used for anything. Most people use them as offices, but there's demand for spare bedrooms, in-home gyms, yoga studios, and arts and crafts rooms.

Dahlin Group Concept Home
Dahlin Group Concept Home. Photo Credit: Dahlin Group

Are Multigenerational Homes Influencing Building Trends?

Both production and custom builders are taking the multigenerational living trend seriously. For example, Garman Homes, Raleigh, N.C.-production builder just broke ground in the Chatham Park community with an "attainable" home product (affordable for most people in the area) meant to accommodate various family configurations. 

Company founder and CEO Alaina Money Garman worked with Dahlin Group, an architecture and planning firm based in California, to create the 2,600 square foot concept home, which includes a guest suite off the front porch with a separate entry. Garman says her research showed that people were concerned about the ability to contain dirt and germs, and to be able to have an isolation space, whether for the homeowner, a guest, or a family member. 

The master-planned Lakewood Ranch community includes sections such as the Lake Club with homes explicitly designed for multigenerational living. The community is located in the North Port-Bradenton-Sarasota, Florida, metro region. Lakewood Ranch touts itself as "the #1 multi-gen community in the US" There are nearly 43,00 residents spread across 28 villages, two of which are 55+ age-restricted. There are schools (from pre-schools to colleges) and medical centers, trails and lakes, and various housing options. 

Lennar Next Gen Home
Lennar Next Gen Home. Photo Credit: Lennar

The homebuilder Lennar, based in Miami, introduced its Next Gen-Home Within a Home product a decade ago. The floorplans show the main home with an attached suite that includes a small kitchenette, bedroom, bathroom, common area, and a garage. 

Of course, multigenerational living means that people can share financial expenses and homeowner chores. And enough people in a neighborhood living this way make for a diverse community, Garman says. In many age-restricted communities, elders are siloed into their own separate neighborhoods. Garman believes "there's some risk if the older population lives all together and we can't get to them." She focuses her construction work on developing age-targeted neighborhoods. She goes on to say:

"All our differences weaving together create a rich fabric of a community."
Disclaimer: This article does not constitute a product endorsement however Rise does reserve the right to recommend relevant products based on the articles content to provide a more comprehensive experience for the reader.Last Modified: 2021-07-05T18:14:25+0000
Stacey Freed

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Stacey Freed

I’m constantly on the hunt for a way to hike and write simultaneously.