While Karen Hokanson says she enjoyed the five years she spent living in an Eagan senior cooperative, something told her this year it was time to get closer to her family.
At the co-op, she was part of a community of friends and professionals who were there to help her in the aftermath of the 2008 death of her husband, Chet. But when she read about a new kind of multigenerational housing being developed by Lennar Homes, her interest in moving was piqued, spurred by a desire to live in closer proximity to her son, Troy Hokanson, then of Farmington, his wife, Melissa, and their three young children.
Lennar introduced its Next Gen product in the Twin Cities two years ago, with the first model at its Boanire community in Maple Grove. The suburban housing concept features a private suite connected to the main house that includes a separate entrance, living room, kitchenette, one-car garage, laundry and private outdoor living space.
The Next Gen homes are meant to answer what the builder says will be an "overwhelming trend" of multiple generations living under the same roof by 2020, motivated not only by family bonding but by the economics of sharing housing expenses.
When the Hokansons found out a Next Gen model would be available at Lakeville's Tullamore community, they jumped at the chance to live there. Karen decided to sell her senior co-op unit and go in together with her family on Lennar's 3,200-square-foot "Independence" model Next Gen home, which starts at $419,000.
"We looked into it, and all of this took place in just three weeks' time," said Karen, 73. "It all happened very quickly."
Her "granny suite" is a cozy 600 square feet, which initially gave her pause after living in much larger apartments and homes. But trade-off of downsizing is instant access to her family, including grandchildren Michael, 11, Katie, 8, and Matthew, 4, while also maintaining significant degree of privacy.
"It's nice to have your own little area," she said. "I love my grandchildren, but sometimes, you need a break. Well, I have a private place to go to when that happens."
She said she also enjoys the privileges of home owning again after living in a seniors' community, which she said can be rife with sometimes irksome rules and regulations.
Meanwhile, son Troy Hokanson said the chance to have his mother under the same — but separate — roof is a perfect solution for a busy family that wants to stay connected.
"When I was in fifth grade and we lived in Plymouth, my grandfather lived with us, so multiple generations living together wasn't a foreign idea to us," he said. "My mom had a little bit of a health issue around Christmas of 2012, so I was thinking, 'It sure would be nice if we were close and able to help her if she had a medical problem.'
"It's also nice for her to have the grandkids closer."
It's not just families with aging parents who are interested in the multigenerational homes, said Tim Fohr, Lennar's Minnesota marketing manager.
"We're seeing a mix of uses for them in the Twin Cities market," he said. "The Hokansons' situation is a common one, but we're also seeing families with disabled adult children using the units, as well as people who use the suites as home-offices to receive clients and customers."
Another common use for the suites are for young college grads who are having trouble finding jobs in an economy where youth unemployment remains stubbornly high, Fohr said.
"Nice, six-figure incomes coming out of college just aren't happening, and this way, kids and parents can feel better about them coming back home with their own private space," he said.
These trends are accelerating quickly, according to the National Association of Home Builders, which says more than one in six households are now multigenerational. With Twin Cities housing inventory levels tight and the cost of renting on the rise, multigenerational living is gaining more appeal, the group says.
Don Jacobson is a Twin Cities-based freelance writer and editor.