Jessica Healy plans to break ground soon on two houses near Independence, Minn.
One, a modern two-story, is for her family. The other, across a shared courtyard, will be a small accessory dwelling unit (ADU) built with the grandparents 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 the mother of her partner, Dr. Thomas Kaminsky, 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 accelerated the trend, bringing relatives at both ends of the age spectrum together.
Many young adults never left home or moved back because of economic necessity. A recent Pew Research Center study found that 52% of young adults ages 18 to 29 were living with one or both parents, up from 47% in February 2020. That number surpasses the peak during the Great Depression.
"The job market is not great for those folks," said Lisa Cini, an Ohio-based expert on senior living design.
And, as lockdowns and quarantines isolated older relatives in assisted-living or care facilities, some families decided to live together.
"Most definitely, people are moving out of congregate care and senior living," said Cini. Being unable to visit 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. "The multifamily housing folks are listening hard. They're revamping — adding mother-in-law suites, more bathrooms, mini kitchens," said Cini.
Practical concerns may prompt multiple generations to move in together, but they're sustained by something less tangible, said Donna Butts, executive director of Generations United of Washington, D.C.
She points out that multigenerational living increased during the Great Recession.
"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."
The pandemic has made Annette Greely appreciate living in close proximity to her family even more. Three years ago, she and her husband, Ted, built a new home in Otsego that includes an apartment for Ted's mother, Val Greely.
The Greelys' Next Gen home by builder Lennar includes Val's 500-square-foot apartment with its own kitchen, entrance, single-stall garage and laundry facilities.
"She can come and go as she pleases and can easily join us," said Annette. Her husband has coffee with his mother every morning, and they all have dinner together two or three times a week, sharing the cooking. The Greelys' two young-adult daughters, one who lives at home and the other at college, also enjoy time with grandma.
The Greelys built the first Next Gen home in their neighborhood, but it's not the last. "This summer another one was built, and a third one is going up," Annette said.
Twin Cities architects say interest in ADUs is taking off. Homeowners are looking for extra space to house a young adult, aging parent or a home office, said Chris Strom of Christopher Strom Architects and Second Suite.
"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."
The pandemic "cemented" Healy's desire for multigenerational living. She grew up 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.
ADUs don't come cheap, but for those who can afford them, they provide autonomy and privacy without sacrificing proximity.
Healy 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.
But it's not just about the money. Healy is opposed to "outsourcing them [elderly parents] to for-profit companies."
Gail Runge of Minneapolis is looking forward to spending her later years in her daughter and son-in-law's backyard. After she sells her Minneapolis house, she plans to build a small house on top of a garage behind her daughter's home in Tangletown.
"I'm very excited about starting a new life at 80," said Runge. "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."
Runge's 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.
"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."
Multigenerational living is not without challenges.
"You have to be able to separate, to have defined space," said Cini.
Separate entries help, and adequate Wi-Fi is essential. In addition to work and school needs, many seniors have medical devices that are monitored online, and 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.
Before families combine households, they need to discuss the details. "Is it temporary or long term? Who's going to buy food? Who's going to clean the house? Things need to be hashed out together," said Butts.
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."
Kim Palmer • 612-673-4784