Our house

A growing number of families are making room for multigenerational living under one roof

March 22, 2009|By Donna M. Owens | Donna M. Owens,Special to The Baltimore Sun

About two years ago, Idie Goldsmith started to see signs that her parents' advancing age was beginning to affect their daily lifestyle - and her own.

Goldsmith, an attorney, had hired an aide to drive her parents and perform other tasks while she worked. But still, the lion's share of caring for her father and mother - ages 91 and 88 respectively, at the time - fell on her shoulders.

"My father is a diabetic, so I was running back and forth to help get his breakfast, then I would come back for supper," says Goldsmith, mother of seven sons, two still at home. "My mother also needed help with certain things. I started to think that the idea of them living alone was not good."

So Goldsmith and her husband, Isser, who live in a split-level house in Pikesville, decided to do what real estate experts nationwide say is becoming more common. They moved her parents, Herman and Rosa Roth, in with their brood, and gave them a separate wing of their own.

"We built an addition on the first floor off the dining room, and it became an apartment for them," Goldsmith says of the space, which has its own entrance, along with a bedroom, a den, a bathroom, a kitchen and a stacked washer-dryer inside the closet.

"At first, my mother wasn't too happy about selling their home and moving here. But they brought some of their furniture ... so it looks like their own mini-house."

Although her mother recently suffered a stroke and is being cared for at a nursing facility, Goldsmith says the living arrangement worked out well, and they are hopeful her mother can return home.

Anna Custer, executive director of Live Baltimore, which promotes city living, says the Goldsmith family is among a growing number of multigenerational families in the area, though data is scarce.

"We do hear of [extended] families who are living under one roof. Many times, it's about care-giving, but sometimes, it is about economics," she says. "It may be that the recent college graduate hasn't found a professional position yet, or that a longtime employee has been cut from a job and can't afford to maintain a household on his or her own."

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, since 1990, the number of multigenerational families grew by 60 percent. Today, there are nearly 4 million multigenerational households (defined as three or more generations of a family living together) in the U.S. Some 78,000 households nationwide had four generations under one roof.

And, with more Americans feeling the fallout of the economic crisis and the plummeting housing market, multigenerational households may become more prevalent in the coming years, say some experts.

"The recession is having an impact on people of all ages, and the effects are starting to be felt at home," said Jim Toedtman, vice president of AARP Bulletin, a monthly news publication aimed at those ages 50 and older. "We see more people living under the same roof as their parents and their adult children. As Americans face tougher economic conditions, we'll likely see more of this."

Earlier this month, AARP Bulletin released the results of a January survey that examined housing trends and how the economy may be affecting adults and their living situations.

More than 1,000 people ages 18 and older were queried about such topics as who they live with; how likely it is that they'll need to move in with another family member or friend; and how comfortable they would be living with additional friends or family members, should it become necessary.

The results: 33 percent of respondents ages 18 to 49 live with parents or in-laws. The findings also showed that 11 percent of those ages 50 or older who were surveyed live with their grandchildren or their parents.

About 15 percent said that it was likely that they may need to move in with family members or friends or have family members or friends move in with them. Among those who thought it would be likely, the largest percentage - about one-third - said it would be due to a loss of income; 19 percent said a change in job status; and 8 percent cited home foreclosure as the reason.

Baltimore developer and builder David Meltzer says the trick to successful multigenerational cohabitation involves giving everyone his or her own space.

"Sometimes an in-law suite is needed in the basement to give a sense of privacy, or you may need a bath and bedroom on the first floor, to help people age in place," says Meltzer, president of Laurence Communities and developer of Ashman's Hope, a small community near Leakin Park in Baltimore City with single-family homes priced from $349,000 to $500,000.

Meltzer says the clients at Ashman's Hope include a mother and adult daughter who purchased the home jointly and requested a second owner-suite in the basement, along with a second laundry room.

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