My grandmother and I never lived under one roof, but I spent many childhood summers at her lake home in northern Minnesota. With the luxury of time on our side we hunted for blueberries in remote, wayside ditches – nothing delighted her more than beating out the bears to a fruitful patch. Or she would have us browsing garage sales where a neglected antique was likely to be rescued, nudged into her hatchback and later resurrected.
Her sense of searching out the bounty of nature and recycling that which could be made new again made it clear how The Great Depression had impacted her worldview. Independence and self-reliance were virtues akin to the ten commandments. Any peer that had to infringe on a relative for help was clucked-at or cooed-over with pity. The ability to ‘stand on your own two feet’ was not a desire, it was an obligation. And illness was an offence to God.
Perhaps she was representative of her generation. Pew Research, a non-partisan fact tank, reports the number of Americans living in multigenerational housing fell from a high of 21% in 1950 to a low of 12% in 1980. Since then housing which accommodates at least two adult generations or grandparents and grandchildren younger than 25, has been steadily on the rise. By the turn of the century the share of these households crept up to 15% and by 2016 the census reported that sixty-four million Americans, or one in five, were living in multigenerational homes.
As a realtor, I started hearing requests for main floor bedrooms quite some time ago. Clients were shopping for the typical two story suburban home with a multi-purpose office or bedroom which could lodge an elderly parent. The objective was to be close at hand for their care in their closing years. Owners discovered the layout was also most useful when they suffered unexpected surgeries, or other strains which made stairs a challenge.
The popular HGTV show Property Brothers has an episode entitled ‘Making Room for Grandma.’ As delightful as it is to watch the magic of TV accomplish a major renovation in half an hour, there are many challenges in renovating a home to accommodate significant floor plan changes. If you consider a split-entry home, one of the larger ones with a nice sized landing as you come in the front door, it can work out very well for extended families.
A couple inquiring about a split might be one of late-middle-age who intend to take over the main level while the lower level would be outfitted with a kitchenette for the elderly parents, when they return from wintering somewhere in the Sun Belt. Once I pointed out to similar prospects that there would be plenty of room to install doors in the landing, to which the daughter-in-law responded, ‘Oh no, we would want them to come up and visit as often as they like.’
A few of years ago I sold a more substantial property where a complete apartment topped the attached three car garage. The seller had built-out the space so their mildly disabled child could grow gradually into independent living. The buyers’ purchase was shepherded to accommodate parents who would eventually become full-time residents. At complete odds with my grandmother’s mantra of self-reliance, increasing numbers account for a younger generation who plan for housing three generations under one roof.
Lennar, a national home builder out of Miami, is also attune to Pew’s Research of this household formation trend and has come up with floor plans to accommodate “Two homes. Under one roof” in their NextGen plan. Their marketing materials read, “…imagine having both privacy and togetherness. Both independence and help nearby when needed.”
When my grandparents decide it was time to give up their family home, and build one for retirement, they carefully included no more than a handful of steps. My grandfather lived there until he passed. With much resistance, my nonagenarian grandmother transitioned to a very nice one-bedroom apartment in an assisted care facility for the last few years of her life. She fulfilled her dream of self-reliance.