Multigenerational living: The future impact on design and demand for housing

Multigenerational living: The future impact on design and demand for housing
Multigenerational living: The future impact on design and demand for housing

The idea of multigenerational living (MGL) is not new and in some societies it’s a very old idea, however not so for Australia, although this may be changing.

Looking at the central role design plays in the planning and marketing of new residential developments, I think that we need to consider the more widespread impact of MGL, and its impact is already being felt, even if the changes are still only subtle, at the margins.

In some European and Asian countries MGL is a normal part of the social and housing fabric; in the USA the trend is on the increase mainly in response to economic conditions. In the US social conditions are also changing, shared living sits with shared economic resources and many of the trends are now being mirrored in the Australian housing landscape.

Economic conditions are linked at one end of the market to falling housing affordability and at the other end of the market tied to the insecurity of retirement income. In some parts of the US it is now more common to see parents living with the kids, along with grandparents and younger siblings living with their more financially stable older brothers and sisters. There are varied housing needs in play here across these different generations and this is impacting the size and design of housing stock. In Australia we see the same demographic pressures now starting to come into focus and the recent federal budget has further magnified the trends.

Multigenerational living responds to many economic and social needs and is a trend that is going to continue to impact the design and demand for housing.

Here we see pressure on the middle-class, Baby Boomers want to stay living in their homes for as long as they can, while their kids are also staying longer in the family home as they face the hurdles of housing affordability.

Also if baby boomers have to work longer towards their 70’s, then staying in the family home near employment will have an immediate impact. People close to retirement will stay local and the idea of a tree or sea change will be less appealing because of very limited employment options. Working longer and staying connected longer will make it more attractive to share accommodation.

The Security of Proximity

MGL delivers one clear benefit and that is the security of proximity. Grandparents under the same roof as their younger family members is an obvious example, but young couples with kids can also benefit if they have the support of parents and grandparents to help with either ongoing or occasional childcare. This pooling of resources both financial and because of the help of an extended family, even if only for a few years, will also help those saving for a home, and it is hard to argue that MGL will be on the increase driven by the desire to make housing more affordable.

The benefits apply as much to shared rental accommodation as they do to owned property, with the idea of shared rental accommodation taking us back to the past days of young people in a shared house or apartment.

Design Is Already Responding

In Australia MGL is already having an impact, and this will continue to gain pace as the market adjusts to our shifting demographics and economic circumstances. For example go to almost any new housing display village and you will find any number of homes with ‘parent’s or teenage retreats’ and with multiple living zones, and two-way kitchens. The granny flat is now a hotel-like self-contained unit on the ground level of a designer four or five-bedroom home. While more generally house designs are delivering designs that provide different shared spaces that also function to provide the privacy we all crave.

Or consider the options that a three-bedroom dual key apartment might offer a MGL family unit. A two bedroom home for mum and dad and a one bedroom flat for a young adult child, that could one day be homes in the reverse, or a multi-unit investment for the family. Another example I now see is one family buying a number of apartments in the same development to meet the different overlapping needs of different generations.

Multigenerational living responds to many economic and social needs, some long-term other short-term and others that relate to financial security and limitations, however this is a trend that is going to continue to impact the design and demand for housing.

Peter Chittenden

Peter Chittenden

Peter Chittenden is managing director for residential of Colliers International.

Demographics Peter Chittenden

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