“Multiple Families, One Roof
Owners Challenge Zoning to Make Room for Adult Children, Elderly Parents
By S. MITRA KALITA, July 18 2012
Junior’s living in the basement. Mom and Dad put a tenant in the garage. And now Grandma’s moving in. But packing them in like that isn’t always legal.
The suburban single-family home is becoming a misnomer as economic reality collides with shifting demographics.
Many suburban communities have long made it difficult, or impossible, for homeowners to convert underused space—barns, garages and basements—into rental apartments. But across the U.S., homeowners are pressing for changes in zoning laws to allow rentals while home builders report a rise in demand for houses with in-law suites or quarters with separate entry.
“There’s a change at both ends,” said Dean Palos, the director of planning in Johnson County, Kansas, near Kansas City, which is exploring allowing multiple dwellings in one house. “College graduates are going home to live, parents who are aging want to downsize. People see this as an economical way to take advantage of the property they have.”
For decades, many suburban communities have discouraged renting out space in single-family homes, citing concerns including traffic, parking and stress on utilities.
Six years ago, Johnson County considered but ultimately didn’t pass a measure to allow so-called accessory units. But with both the job and housing markets struggling to recover, “now they are far more sympathetic,” Mr. Palos said of the county planning commissioners. At least half a dozen recent meetings have been devoted to the issue.
One of five college graduates, ages 25 to 34, is living with his or her parents, according to the Pew Research Center. Meanwhile, the number of shared households—meaning an adult not enrolled in school living with another adult who isn’t a spouse—rose 11.4% between 2007 and 2010, from 19.7 million households to 22 million, the Census reported last month. Yet the number of households grew by 1.3% during the period.
That number has stagnated as families double up and college graduates accept lower-wage jobs, unable to rent a place of their own. Economists in part blame the slow recovery of the housing sector on young people who aren’t setting up house on their own.
The brunt of America’s detached single-family homes— 41.9 million, or more than half—are in the suburbs, according to Harvard’s Joint Center for Housing Studies; cities and rural areas comprise the rest.
The rise in shared households challenges the ideals upon which American suburbs were built, including ample space for families, their homes and their cars. But as baby boomers who raised families in the suburbs now age there, many don’t want to sell their homes—or can’t.
“People are occupying housing that is three to four times what they need,” said Patrick Hare, a longtime advocate for and author of books about accessory housing. “If you take all that surplus space, it can be utilized for accessory apartments.”
Via: The Wall Street Journal
Photo: Jesse Neider for The Wall Street Journal