How Will Senior Housing Development Adapt to Multigenerational Trends?

Multigenerational households are nothing new, but thanks to poor economic conditions they are on the rise, according to several Pew Research Center studies, and some senior living architects contend it’s important to consider this trend when designing housing developments.

Senior housing developers aren’t the only ones who should be paying attention. NPR (National Public Radio) recently kicked off a series titled “Family Matters: The Money Squeeze” that takes a look into the millions of families who are living multigenerationally for a variety of reasons—most of which are related to the economy.

“In many cases, as people live longer, they are piling up higher medical and personal care costs, while draining the savings that might otherwise have served as an inheritance for younger generations,” says NPR in its “One Roof, Three Generations, Many Decisions” series. “The price of getting help, such as that provided by long-term-care insurance, has gotten much steeper in recent years.”


Pew Research data tracks the number of Americans living in multigenerational households shooting up more than 10% between 2007 and 2009, from 46.5 million to 51.4 million, and census data indicates more than 16% of American households are multigenerational in nature. 

“Standard” accommodations need adjustment

With more generations living under one roof, there needs to be some sort of adjustment to standard accommodations.


“The push is making development interactive and intergenerational,” says Greg Irwin, President and Principal of Irwin Partners Architects. “At some point, a building is a building. It’s more about theory, and how you can help people and how they live.”

Factors accelerating the trend include the high cost of living in retirement communities and the “break-down” of the pension system, according to marketing professor and author John L. Graham, says Barrett Esary, who’s in charge of Business Development at Next Door Garage Apartments (NDGA).

His company manufactures units to convert garages into living spaces for seniors (among other qualifying demographics), and Esary cites Graham’s 2007 book “Together Again—A Creative Guide to Successful Multi-generational Living” as identifying single-generational living and age-specific communities as a “relatively new standard.” 

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And speaking of age-specific senior housing, Irwin says the number of people living in senior/retirement communities hasn’t seen a dramatic shift in recent years. According to him, while the product has had some “facelifts,” it hasn’t fundamentally undergone a radical change from where it originated with the nursing home model.

“The baby boomers are going to push that into happening,” says the architect. “Everyone knows it’s coming, but they don’t know what it looks like.”

One property, multiple generations?

Overwhelmingly, people want to stay in the houses and communities, but this could be done “millions of ways,” Irwin points out. He thinks there will be a resurgence of the so-called “Granny Flat”—additions or renovations to standard dwellings meant specifically for in-laws, including Next Door Garage Apartments’ product, or stand-alone structures like the MEDCottage.

Granny Flats “offer so many great things—independence, but family is there if needed,” says Irwin.

So-called “backyard living” was explored in a recent New York Times: The New Old Age blog post that looked into housing elderly parents in small units on a family property.

Practical Assisted Living Solutions, LLC (PALS) offers another product to help people either remain in their home of the home of their adult child: prefabricated, modular additions that are custom-designed to accommodate the needs of older adults or disabled individuals. The company is currently expanding its focus and product line to provide multiple solutions for those looking to stay in their homes and communities. 

“There needs to be a wide variety of different services and business models to accommodate the needs and wants of the baby boomer generation,” says Eric Francis, Director of Marketing and Social Media at PALS. “Since the baby boomers will not just march right into a nursing home or assisted living facility, there needs to be services that are brought to the person’s home and integrated into their community.” 

Written by Alyssa Gerace

Coming soon: Building/construction outlook on multigenerational housing trends.

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