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Americans Experience Shift In Living Arrangements

Americans Experience Shift In Living Arrangementsi
October 28, 2013 2:17 PM
Homebuilders and developers in the United States are seeing a growing demand for homes that can accommodate families that span generations -- from aging parents to grown children, and even grandchildren. Elizabeth Lee reports from Irvine, California, where a new neighborhood has been built to address these needs.
Elizabeth Lee
Homebuilders and developers in the United States are seeing a growing demand for homes that can accommodate families that span generations -- from aging parents to grown children, and even grandchildren.  A new neighborhood has been built to address these needs.

Alicia Byassee came to look for her dream home.  But instead, she found a floor plan that would help her mother better care for her grandparents. “She’s driving over an hour every day to come see them [her parents] or to come stay with them and it would just be a lot easier on her and her family if there was something like that that they can live in,” she said.

This new development is filled with homes with a so-called “mother-in-law suite” -- a section of the house with a separate living space, kitchenette, bedroom and bathroom.  Perfect for those entering their 50's and 60's, said developer Emile Haddad. “The baby boomers are all reaching an age where one of the two parents are passing away and a lot of people would like to have mom or dad move in with them rather than going into a [nursing] home,” she explained.

A nationwide survey by homebuilder PulteGroup finds a growing number of homeowners expect to have more family members live with them.  

Pulte's Kristin Pasternak said that includes aging parents and grown children. “It seems like there is starting to be a little bit of a cultural shift about maybe a different attitude towards multi-generation families living together and staying in the same space,” she said.

The study finds that many of these families are planning to either renovate their home or buy a new one.  Helen Artienda is one of them. “I’m kind of looking for a house within a house so that my son can move back home after he finish his school since the economy is not [doing] too well nowadays,” Artienda stated.

The economy is one of the main reasons why living arrangements are changing, said architecture and gerontology, professor Victor Regnier. “In 2008 a lot of things happened.  People lost equity in their house.  They also lost wealth, and I think that idea of imagining how a conventional housing unit can be sliced into different types of areas is something that is much more common today than it has been in the past,” he said.

The U.S. Census finds there has been an increase in the number of families with three or more generations living together in the U.S.  A large share of them are Hispanics, African Americans and Asians. Yet Regnier said this trend is really driven by economics, instead of cultural norms.
“A lot of third world countries have had this kind of housing arrangement partly because they didn’t have enough income to be able to purchase additional space and so everybody lives together in a communal way,” Regnier explained. 

Regnier said China and India are examples, though he says demographers expect people in these countries to live on their own as they become more affluent.   But in the U.S., he said, the idea of a home within a home may be here to stay, because the extra space can serve multiple functions and add to the house's value.

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