A Cool New Way to Make Living With Family Members Work for You

by Shawanda Greene

Even as a college freshman, I wanted to provide a place for my mother to live when she got older.

For years, I’ve imagined her living in a small cottage, on the same land, directly next to my house. In my vision, there’s an open walkway that connects the two homes so that when we travel the 10 yards or so to visit one another, we don’t expose ourselves to the elements.

My mother would be close enough to maintain my unhealthy emotional dependence on her. But since she wouldn’t live under the same roof, my man and I could still freely walk around the house in our underwear eating roasted almonds without offending anyone.

Given the state of the economy over the last few years, more Americans, young and old, have sought the help of family members.

Forget about what government should’ve done or what your employer didn’t do. Let’s look out for one another.

While listening to Marketplace recently, I heard of a concept that I abso-fricking-lutely LOVE, and that I hope others are as excited about as I am.

Lennar, one of the nation’s home builders, designed a house for multi-generational living.

It’s, literally, a home within a home.

There’s the main home and then an interior suite. You can access the interior suite through the main house or through a private entrance. Complete with a kitchenette, bathroom, living room, bedroom, patio and one car garage, the interior suite is practically a one-bedroom apartment in a single-family home.

I cannot emphasize enough how much I love this!

If a family member or friend stumbles upon hard times, you have an apartment in your daggum house they can live in!

If your child is going through a divorce or experiencing an extended bout of unemployment, you can bring them in without disrupting your life too much.

Or you can share living space and living expenses over the long run. Isn’t that something?

If I’m going to take care of my mother anyway, she might as well water the plants, watch the kids, cook the collard greens, clean the house, and earn her keep. Mama or not, I have no tolerance for freeloaders.

I understand sharing may be a foreign concept to you, but I believe Americans need to revisit the idea of everyone having their own separate space and their own separate car and their own separate – well – everything. 

Of course there’s a possibility, your little home within a home could be a deadbeat magnet. If you live in a major metropolitan area, plan on everyone you know counting on you for a free place to stay when they’re in town.

So, you still have to setup boundaries, but you’d have to do that anyway.

What do you think? Is a home designed for multi-generational living crazy, awesome, or crazy awesome?

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{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

Toy Lady December 23, 2011 at 10:49 AM

I love this idea – growing up, we had a family down the street that lived in a duplex – the family was in one side of the house, and the grandmother lived in a smaller apartment on the other side. They had separate entrances and a connecting door in the basement. Something like that will probably ultimately be our plan with my husband's mother, both for cost reasons and so we can keep an eye on her.


Shawanda December 27, 2011 at 6:29 PM

Ah, the duplex. That works too. Creating a connecting door probably doesn't cost that much money either.


Michelle December 23, 2011 at 12:58 PM

I own/live in a duplex for 19 years now. (duplex completely paid for April 2008). My only child (daughter) and three grandchildren live on the other side and they also have a private/separate entrance. I love it. Now since I am totally disabled, I always have help just a few steps away. In 1993, I paid $60,000 for my duplex. It was build in the 50's, has a very solid structure/strong bones, and beautiful real wood pine floors. I suggest that you buy a duplex built in the 1950's.


Shawanda December 27, 2011 at 6:37 PM

I love that you have your family nearby as well: 1) To help take care of you and 2) To have access to your daughter and grandkids. It's gotta be really cool to have your family's support. A lot of folks don't have it.

And thanks for the great idea. I've never considered buying a duplex. Maybe in the meantime my mom, my brother and his family could split one. You know. Until I obtain my dream home with the adjacent cottage for my mama. :)


Practical Parsimony December 24, 2011 at 3:47 AM

I think sharing living spaces while maintaining privacy is a great idea.


Shawanda December 27, 2011 at 6:38 PM

Isn't it? As much as I enjoy spending time with my family, it's nice to get away from them sometimes.


Andrew December 24, 2011 at 2:40 PM

In the old country (Europe), multiple generations under one roof is the accepted norm. Only here in the US do they generally get shipped off to assisted-living places.


Shawanda December 27, 2011 at 6:42 PM

When you think about it, it's kinda sad. Unless their offspring are super annoying freeloaders who take advantage of them, I imagine most elderly parents would prefer to spend their latter years near their children and grandchildren.


Shannyn@FruBeautiful December 25, 2011 at 9:53 PM

I think this is a smart option for many families- I don't think many of us can anticipate how expensive it can be to care for a loved one full time if they fall ill even in the short term. My Gram's health very quickly deteriorated and for a time she needed near full time care- burning through what we thought were sufficient savings, but since her health insurance didn't cover long term care (and many don't) it quickly became a near crisis for our family- something I never want a loved one to worry about ever again when they need help and are ill.

I think this is a brilliant option to fill a need that is growing in our society and could really be a potential solution for many families.


Shawanda December 27, 2011 at 6:49 PM

I'm glad you brought up long-term care insurance. Many older Americans who need it either don't have it or don't have enough. Plus, insurance is always expensive for those who need it most.

I think it's important to have the discussion now about how we, i.e., people from my generation and the one before me, will help take care of our parents when they're unable to work. It's tough to think about, but it's better to plan for it now than to be blindsided by the costs of it later if you're unprepared.


JP @ Novel Investor December 29, 2011 at 7:12 PM

I think this is just the beginning in alternative housing options. Even if it's just for the additional income potential of having an apartment in the home.


Evan January 5, 2012 at 12:31 PM

Why not just a buy a mother-daughter home together? and avoid the reconstruction project


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