New homes provide space for extended family

Builders across the country are beginning to respond to a demand for multigenerational housing where aging parents are living with their children or adult children move back in with their Baby Boomer parents.
BY AMY TAXIN Published: May 21, 2012
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— It's a home within a home — and it could be coming soon to a home near you.

Builders across the country are revamping home designs to meet the needs of a growing number of Americans who are now living with extended family.

The number of so-called multigenerational households — where adults are living with their elderly parents or grown children — has jumped since the Great Recession and has forced Americans to rethink living on their own. Demographic experts say it's poised to rise further as baby boomers age and so-called “boomerang kids” walloped by the weak job market stay home longer.

The housing industry is trying to keep up with the changes by adding self-contained suites to single-family homes from North Carolina to California to enable families to stay close while retaining a greater degree of independence.

“It's not the nuclear family, the American dream family that we see all the time,” said Jerry Messman, a partner in national design firm BSB Design. “The builders are starting to respond to it.”

After World War II, Americans were encouraged to move out of their parents' house when they reached adulthood and achieve independence at an earlier age. Over the next few decades, young families ventured out to live on their own, separately from their parents, in traditional single-family homes.

Since 1980, however, the number of families living in multigenerational households has steadily climbed, buoyed by a wave of immigration and delayed marriages. After the onset of the Great Recession, the number jumped even higher — rising 10.5 percent in a two-year period so that nearly 17 percent of Americans lived in multigenerational households by 2009, according to a report by the Pew Research Center.

During the last year, builders and home designers have started to respond to the trend by rolling out layouts for single-family houses that include a semi-independent suite with a separate entry, bathroom and kitchenette. Some suites even include their own laundry areas and outdoor patios for additional privacy, though they maintain a connection to the main house through an inside door.

Reanna Cox, 33, bought a new home earlier this year in San Bernardino with a suite that connects to her kitchen through a hallway. Initially, Cox and her husband planned to have his aging parents live there. But when her sister lost her job, Cox invited her to move into the suite with her young daughter.