MINNEAPOLIS – Jessica Healy plans to break ground soon on two houses near Independence, Minnesota.
One, a three-bedroom, two-story modern home, is for her family, which includes her partner, Dr. Thomas J. Kaminsky, and their two young children. The other, across a shared courtyard, will be a small accessory dwelling unit (ADU) built with her and Kaminsky's parents in mind.
"Our intent is to welcome our parents right away to stay there for part of the year or periodically as needed," she said.
Down the road, she expects her parents or Kaminsky's mother to live there full time. "We are excited for the kids' grandparents to be so directly involved in their childhood."
Households with two or more adult generations of family members have been on the rise in recent years. The pandemic has only accelerated the trend, bringing relatives at both ends of the age spectrum together.
Many young adults have moved back home or remained there out of economic necessity. A Pew Research Center study in September found that a majority of young adults 18-29 — 52% — were living with one or both parents, up from 47% in February 2020, surpassing the peak during the Great Depression.
"The job market is not great for those folks," said Lisa M. Cini, an Ohio-based expert on senior living design. "The [federal stimulus] checks helped everybody, but you can't live on it."
And, as lockdowns and quarantines have made it difficult to visit older relatives in assisted living or care facilities, many families have decided it's better to live together.
"Most definitely, people are moving out of congregate care and senior living," said Cini, adding that family members dislike being unable to visit older relatives. "For a lot of people, that's a no-go. They would rather have them in their intimate circle."
Developers have taken note of the trend, said Cini. "The multifamily housing folks are listening hard. They're revamping — adding mother-in-law suites, more bathrooms, mini kitchens."
While practical concerns may trigger such living arrangements, other positives sustain them, said Donna Butts, executive director of Generations United, of Washington, D.C.
Many families who came together during the Great Recession remained together once they discovered they liked the benefits — from help with child care to richer relationships.
"We thought it would decrease after the economy improved but it didn't," said Butts. "People are seeing the value and benefit when they share. They came together by need and stayed together by choice."
Those benefits carry added value during the pandemic.
"Parents are juggling a lot," said Butts. "For families who are schooling at home, a grandparent can help. It gives an older person a sense of purpose. And for children, there's nothing like having somebody else who loves you unconditionally."
Borrowing from the pastTwin Cities architects say they've gotten more inquiries about ADUs since the pandemic started.
"There is a lot of interest," said Christopher Strom of Christopher Strom Architects and Second Suite.
Some people are wanting an ADU to house a young adult or aging parent; others want an ADU for a home office. ADUs don't come cheap, but for those who can afford them, they provide autonomy and privacy without sacrificing proximity.
"Almost all our projects have some component of how to handle family members," said architect Geoffrey Warner, owner of Alchemy, the firm that designed Healy and Kaminsky's home and ADU. "People are thinking differently about their living situation because of the pandemic."
While the pandemic "cemented" Healy's desire for multigenerational living, it's also what she grew up with, living with her maternal grandmother.
"Even when I was young, I understood her role in helping to raise my sister and I, given that my parents both worked full time," she said.
She expects her 500-square-foot ADU to cost about $180,000 — comparable to the cost of four or five years in a senior living facility, said Healy, who works in commercial real estate.
But it's not about the dollars. Healy believes living close to elderly parents is a better solution than "outsourcing them to for-profit companies. We [Americans] are very much outsiders, to outsource our elderly, compared to the rest of the world."
Gail Runge, of Minneapolis, is looking forward to spending her later years in her daughter and son-in-law's backyard. Runge is about to put her longtime home near Bde Maka Ska on the market, the next step in her plan to build a small house on top of a garage behind her daughter's home in Tangletown.
"I love the idea of no maintenance," said Runge. She's also looking forward to having a brand-new home close to family, including her teenage granddaughter.
"We all get along extremely well," Runge said. "I'm very excited about starting a new life at 80. I wish it could happen sooner."
Runge's daughter Rya Priede said having her mother close by "seemed like a no-brainer. I can look out for her. It would give me some peace of mind. Her as well."
Like Healy, Runge grew up in a multigenerational home with her grandmother. Her new home, which is being designed by Strom, will be a 670-square-foot ADU expected to cost about $300,000. Her daughter and son-in-law will contribute $80,000 to cover the cost of the garage, and Runge will fund the balance, once she sells her house.
"The upside is it becomes part of our assets," said Karl Herber, Runge's son-in-law. Down the road, "we could rent it out or move into it and rent out the big house."
Some separation requiredWhile it's growing in popularity, multigenerational living is not without challenges, including getting in each other's way and getting on each other's nerves.
"You have to be able to separate, to have defined space," said Cini, who has firsthand experience living in a four-generation household. Separate entries also help, "so people can come and go and have a little autonomy."
And with more people working and learning at home, adequate Wi-Fi is essential. In addition to work and school needs, many seniors have medical devices that are monitored online, Cini noted; kids need bandwidth for gaming.
"You can live on rice and beans, but if you don't have Wi-Fi you'll kill each other," Cini said.
Communication also is essential, ideally before families combine households, to reduce the tension of different expectations, said Butts. "Is it temporary or long-term? Who's going to buy food? Who's going to the clean the house? Things need to be hashed out together."
Even families who can create a separate space, such as an ADU, have issues to address, said Strom. "Which way does the door to the ADU face? Do you want people to know when you're coming and going? Do you want the other person looking into your kitchen? Is the person in the ADU going to have use of the driveway?"
For Rya Priebe, having a separate dwelling for her mother was a must. If they tried living together in the same house, "we'd drive each other crazy," she said. Still, she's looking forward to increased togetherness in their future. "We get along great," she said. "We could go for walks every day. It will be nice to have her here."
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