COVID-19 and the Boom in Multigenerational Housing
Among the most heartbreaking stories of 2020 are those coming out of assisted-living and independent-care facilities: stories of the virus spreading like a brush fire among vulnerable elders; stories of isolated seniors unable to receive loved ones as visitors for months at a time; or the recent story about the Minnesota National Guard being called in to serve at nursing homes because so many of the staff were sick. The pandemic should cause us to take a cold, hard look in the mirror at the way we have segmented our society — reminiscent of Euclidean zoning — by age, socioeconomic class, and other criteria. As our friend Gracy Olmstead wrote back in June:
Yet we often like to see the various parts of our world as separate entities: churches, nuclear families, schools, grocery stores, office buildings, hospitals, assisted living centers and nursing homes, apartments and townhouses all subsist in detached zones...We approach our world like a machine: divorcing ourselves from every other part, pulling apart the various strands in the tapestry.
Earlier this month, The Wall Street Journal ran an article about how the pandemic is giving the “multigenerational home business” a boost. While occupancy rates in assisted-living and independent-care facilities have seen their biggest drop ever, homebuilders say interest in accessory dwelling units has exploded. “Reluctant to send their elderly parents to senior-living facilities,” says the article, “some homeowners are building properties equipped to house extended family.”
This article, and the rise of multigenerational housing, are the topics on this week’s episode of Upzoned. Host Abby Kinney, an urban planner in Kansas City, and regular cohost Strong Towns president Chuck Marohn talk about how nursing homes and other senior living facilities have been hit hard by the pandemic. They discuss why it’s critical that cities give homeowners and builders the freedom to be flexible with housing, including the flexibility to add or include accessory dwelling units. (In fact, the longterm survival of the suburbs may hinge on this flexibility.) They also discuss why it’s not helpful that the Journal article seemed to frame multigenerational housing as novel and upscale.
Then in the Downzone, Chuck describes a work trip he took recently to Disney World and recommends a book by Strong Towns content manager John Pattison. And Abby talks about decorating for the holidays, including building a to-scale gingerbread replica of her house that we can’t wait to see pictures of.
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