To be sure, multigenerational living is nothing new. For years people have found creative ways to make space in their house for a friend or relative. The concept is a mainstay in many parts of the world, especially in places where housing is expensive. In the U.S., multigenerational living was relatively common until a suburban building boom helped make housing more affordable.
The Pew Research Center said the trend is on the upswing. Last year almost 17 percent of Americans lived in multigenerational households, including households with parents and adult children, as well as skipped generations with grandparents and grandchildren. That’s up from 12 percent in 1980.
The primary driver in recent years is economic. The recession forced many families to double up to save money, and a tough job market meant that many college grads had to move home. The Pew report showed that the trend actually helped reduce the poverty rate. There’s been a cultural shift, too, in the way of new entrants to the U.S. who are more accustomed to such arrangements.
Stephen Melman, director of Economic Services for the National Association of Home Builders, called it an “underserved market,” and said that a significant portion of these households have the buying power to choose high-quality housing that specifically meets their needs. Future growth of multigenerational households largely depends on the direction of the economy, he said.
Several thoughts on this:
1a. The article hints that the American preference for houses solely for immediate families is an American cultural value (perhaps also helped by relative economic prosperity) as immigrants might be more interested in multigenerational homes. Americans have a tendency toward mobility and weaker extended family ties.
1b. In recent decades, there have been numerous skirmishes in suburbs about how many people can live in a household. Such complaints are commonly directed at immigrants and minorities. So now this would be okay or even desirable if the homeowners are middle- to upper-class whites?
2. The houses mentioned in this article are still quite expensive and cost over $500,000. A multigenerational home might be desirable but how many could afford a new multigenerational home with over 3,500 square feet?
3. It is interesting to note that this article mentions nothing about the possibility of renting out space to people instead of only accommodating family members. Buying a home could be a more attractive prospect if renters helped pay the mortgage. I suspect this is where many suburban neighborhoods would draw the line: family can be trusted but renting out space to people then becomes too much like multi-family housing. Suburban residents think this is linked to transience, a lack of care for the neighborhood, and more unseemly activity.