William Gati, a 50-year-old Queens, N.Y. architect, started thinking about living with his 79-year-old mother and younger disabled brother, Paul, after designing two additions to accommodate multiple generations. A middle-age couple with two young boys built a rear addition for the husband's parents. Another couple, nearing their own retirement, added a second story so their divorced son and his kids could move in.
Gati's mom, Edith, is a retired Bergdorf Goodman fitter with $20,000 a year in income, $30,000 in savings and a paid-up home worth $600,000. Gati owns a $700,000 home with a $135,000 mortgage. He figures that if he can sell both houses and buy a two-family home for under $1 million, it will free up a little extra cash for Mom (he's been helping support her) and allow him to enter retirement mortgage-free. "You consolidate all your resources in one house," he reasons.
One of the side effects of the economic contraction is that Americans are about to rediscover the virtues of three-generation households. This is how families used to take care of their oldest members before that newfangled invention, the retirement home, arrived on the scene.
Facing longer life spans and shrunken assets, a growing number of the elderly are living with their children. Bernard Krooks, a New York City elder lawyer, reports that some clients who had planned to move into pricey continuing-care communities--houses and apartments with aides on call and nursing-home beds should you need them--are moving in with their kids instead. "They don't have the five grand a month," he says.
The moving vans are going in the other direction too, as adult children with their own kids get into financial jams--or simply conclude that if the family is going to live together, Mom has the nicer digs.
The number of multigenerational households usually rises in a recession and then declines. But what's going on now is more than a recessionary blip. The fraction of the U.S. population 75 or older has increased from 5.2% in 1990 to 6.4% today. At the same time, the percentage of those 75 and up living in their adult children's homes has been climbing too, from 4.1% in 1990 to 6.5% today, reports Kelly Balistreri, associate director of the National Center for Marriage Research at Bowling Green State University.
No, 75 isn't that old. But 95 is a pretty advanced age to be living alone and, if you need any sort of paid personal assistance, pretty expensive, too. A 65-year-old woman has a 1-in-7 chance of making it to 95. A 65-year-old man has a 1-in-14 chance. Not surprisingly, women are twice as likely as men to live with their children.
Architect Cinda Lester just finished a renovation for a 64-year-old woman who already shared her suburban Chicago home with her aging father. Now her daughter, son-in-law and grandson are moving in, too. The attached garage was turned into a wheelchair-accessible master bedroom suite with a separate entrance for the woman, who expects one day her daughter might need to care for her, the way she cares for her dad. One issue the architect didn't resolve: how Mom's dog and her daughter's will share turf.
When Lester renovated her own splitlevel house recently, she put an accessible bath on the lower level, in case her own 62- year-old mom, who lives happily on her own in Wisconsin, ever needs to move in. "It's just smart to plan," she says.