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Multi-generational living is up amid rising housing costs, pandemic

Posted at 4:52 PM, Aug 04, 2022
and last updated 2022-08-05 07:14:57-04

HOWELL, Mich. (WXYZ) — From student loan debt to rising grocery costs and high energy bills, there's plenty of reasons to cut costs where you can.

Increasingly in recent years, one of those areas appears to be living situations.

The number of Americans living in multi-generational households, where three or more generations are under the same roof, has nearly quadrupled in the past decade according to a 2021 study from the non-profit Generations United.

The Pew Research Center found a major driver to this trend is economic stress from debt. This trend is growing fastest according to Pew's research, in young adults with less education.

We asked 7 Action News viewers to share their multi-generational living stories on Facebook. We received dozens of responses, not only from young adults who were moving back home but also from people welcoming elderly parents into their house, or combining families.

Prior to 2019, Holly Michaels and her husband, who are both in their mid-50s, were empty-nesters in Howell.

Now, one of their adults sons, 29, and Holly's elderly father-in-law are under their roof. And, the roof has changed too. Holly and her husband sold their house and moved into her father-in-law's.

“It made more sense to combine our households," she told 7 Action News. She no longer has to drive back and forth to care for her father-in-law.

As for her 29-year-old son, he was living in Chicago and needed a re-set.

Holly Michaels and her husband, now living in a multi-generational home in Howell

“My husband and I have always had the philosophy that if you need to come home, come home," she said.

That was pre-COVID, and the arrangement was always meant to be temporary.

"Housing in Livingston County is extremely expensive and so it was taking a while, then COVID happened," Holly said."

It's been a really helpful arrangement for the Michaels. And it's one that's making sense for a growing number of American families.

As of March 2022, nearly 4 in 10 men ages 25 to 29 were living with older relatives. Pew Research also found that young people in multi-generational homes tended to be more financially stable.

Alexis Zuccaro is a wealth adviser at SageView Advisory in Bloomfield Hills.

She's seen this trend play out among her clients as well.

“Maybe five years ago it was a little uncommon whereas in the last couple of years, it’s quite common," she said.

Her advice for families considering it, is to have a clear plan and put it in writing.

And if you're a parent welcoming a child back home, the plan should be re-visited on a quarterly basis.

If there's debt, there should be clear expectations on how to pay it down and when.

Zuccaro also suggests meeting with a financial planner and including your adult child in that conversation.

“I think that this can be a really beneficial situation," Zuccaro said. "But there also should be some caution. Of course you want to help your children, but we need to make sure that you’re set up first.”  

Thankfully for Holly, her son works full-time and covers his own expenses. She and her husband don't feel the need to charge for rent or utilities.

As for the challenges of multi-generational living? Re-establishing roles, Holly said.

For her husband and his father, that meant getting comfortable being under the same roof again but with a different dynamic.

“Making sure we were communicating was really important," she said.

Having a tech savvy millennial down the hall again has it perks, and Holly also notices that she and her husband can help his father avoid common scams often targeted at seniors.

"We end up being the people that stand in the way of scammers. He gets a lot of scam phone calls. And, he gets very concerned about things and we’re able to say dad, it’s okay this is not something you need to worry about."

Holly never thought she'd be living in a multi-generational home at this stage, but she said it's been a great experience for her and her family.

"We're learning from each other," she said.