More builders looking to offer multigenerational homes

More builders are constructing multigenerational homes:

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.

Some McMansions are already multi-generational homes

While some have suggested McMansions can be renovated for multi-family housing, one Australian observer suggests this has already happened to some degree:

“We’re seeing a new efficiency or a new austerity where people are thinking a lot more about costs such as rising energy bills,” he says.

“And it’s the return to the multi-generational household where you’ve got the parents, their adult children living at home, sometimes with their own little ones.”

McCrindle says as a result there is a question mark hanging over already established large properties.

“What’s going to happen to the McMansion? Are they going to be in demand, or are they going to drop in value?” he says.

“I think that problem is already being sorted out because those McMansions are becoming multi-generational. Some downstairs rooms are being turned into granny flats, kitchenettes are being added and whole bedrooms are being turned into study rooms or home offices. For the future, it will be about building housing stock that is flexible and will adapt to our needs.”

Perhaps the children of the “accordion family” can use this as a rallying cry: “Our living at home helps mitigate the aesthetic, environmental, and financial disasters are parents made by purchasing a McMansion.”

It would be interesting to talk to McMansion owners and see if one of the reasons they purchased the home was for the possibility that adult family members might be able to live there. If so, perhaps the McMansion purchase isn’t completely misguided as critics would suggest?

Imagining the conversion of neighborhoods to multi-family housing

A journalist imagines what might happen to neighborhoods of McMansions:

I’ve long thought with a kind of evil glee about what might happen one day to all those horrid McMansions dotting the suburbs. I visited one for a story a few years back that was three stories. It had five bedrooms — each with its own bath. These places have kitchen, breakfast room, dining room, living room, den, office and solarium.

In other words: Perfect for being split up into multi-family housing…

Enough suburban decline, and who’s to care — or perhaps even notice — about the chicken coop in the back yard?

How long before the entire front yard is a cornfield?

Somehow, thinking about this makes me happy.

Others have also suggested this idea. Wouldn’t the truly green solution to McMansion be to allow these neighborhoods to return to their original natural state?

At the same time, turning McMansions into affordable, multi-family housing would require a lot of changes to communities as well. While it may be relatively easy to convert houses, this would lead to changes for local school districts and other services. Additionally, these neighborhoods would still lack public transportation and still be set up so that walking to necessities would be difficult. This would be a much bigger project to truly transform these neighborhoods.