Full House: A History of American Multigenerational Living

Muiltigenerational Housing since 1950

While multigenerational living is often discussed as a new trend driven by recent economic factors, its roots actually extend much farther back. In fact, for most of American history, multigenerational living has been the norm, not the exception.

Throughout the 19th century, most Americans lived in a multigenerational household, with a majority of elderly Americans living with an adult child. The main driver of this living arrangement was the country’s agrarian economy. For farmers, there was an incentive to have many children, as this meant more help around the farm. It was common for one child to remain at the farm after reaching adulthood to continue working with the anticipation of eventually inheriting it. If more than one child stayed, the land was sometimes divided between children, forming smaller farms. This formed a natural aging plan for the parents who, if they lived long enough, stayed on the farm when they retired and were cared for by their children. Overall, the multigenerational phase was a normal stage of the pre-industrial family lifecycle.

Yet, as the country developed and the population grew, land became much more expensive in the eastern United States and there were only so many times a plot of land could be subdivided. This forced subsequent generations and newly arriving immigrants to look for opportunities elsewhere. Some decided to move west, in search of cheaper land, but had to embark on journeys that were often treacherous, forcing them to leave elders at home. Others began moving to cities, where new jobs were being created in factories and other industrial settings. But urban living was expensive, so it was not always feasible to bring along elders who could not work and contribute financially. By the end of the 19th century, multi-generational households began to decline in popularity.

It was at the turn of the 20th century that the first institutional buildings were built to house the elderly that were living alone. This was mostly the poor, elderly, and mentally ill who did not have children who could take care of them. These new institutions were mostly state-run “poorhouses” that were notorious for their poor living conditions for residents housed in big, factory-like buildings.

Three-deckers offered attainable multigenerational housing for
newly arriving immigrants.

Locally, the post Civil War economy boom attracted an influx of immigrants to New England, causing the population to triple between the middle of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th century. This naturally caused a strain on housing, producing problems for municipalities throughout the region. Boston responded with an estimated 15,000 three-deckers being constructed between 1880 and 1930, and many other cities and towns in the region followed suit. This type of housing was popular with immigrants as it offered an affordable path to homeownership, as a nuclear family could live in one unit and rent out the other two, often renting these units to relatives. Thus, these buildings became a popular and economically viable example of multigenerational housing throughout the region.

But as this type of housing became associated with immigrants, three-deckers became a target of nativist and anti-immigrant sentiment. In Boston, zoning prevented the building of three-deckers in the affluent Downtown and Back Bay neighborhoods. And between 1910-1930, as anti-immigrant policies were enacted throughout the country, cities and towns in New England passed laws and zoning that limited the building of three-deckers, effectively freezing the area’s stock. Over the years, three-deckers have been demolished and replaced with smaller dwellings, such as single-family houses.

Nationally, the trend of separate living for elderly parents accelerated in 1935 with the introduction of the Social Security Act, which began to provide monthly payments to the elderly, allowing them to secure their own housing. This created a new market in which for-profit businesses offered elderly housing and in some cases, basic medical care. The first nursing homes were converted rooms in people’s homes, often nurses, that were rented out. But soon, buildings were specifically built and renovated for this purpose. Additionally, some elders decided to use these payments to remain in their homes, paying for nursing services when necessary.

After WWII, the popularity of multi-generational living reached its lowest historical levels and resulted in the creation of some of today’s norms. The causes for this decrease include the increasing popularity of the automobile, cheaper airfare, and introduction of Medicare, which provided seniors with health care, increased the percentage of the elderly living on their own, either at home or at an institution. Medicare made it more financially viable to live alone and better transportation made it easier for families to visit each other. Cultural trends pushed the average age of young adults leaving home consistently down throughout the middle of the 20th century. These trends continued through 1980 when only 12% of the US population lived in a multigenerational household, the lowest in history.

But since 1980, multigenerational living has become consistently more popular, with one-in-five Americans living in a multigenerational household in 2016. After decades of Americans living more apart, new factors are shifting housing back towards the historic trend.

In the fall, we will examine these factors and how they affect us as designers and developers.

Multigenerational Housing 101

Mulitgenerational Housing

Shifting demographics are changing the types of housing that are in demand. One category of housing that has become increasingly popular are types that can accommodate multiple generations.

This is the first installment of a new series on multigenerational living. Here we explore different types of multigeneration arrangements and the history of multigenerational living in the US. In future newsletters, we’ll examine how this trend is affecting the national and regional housing markets. We will seek to understand the trends that are driving its resurgence in popularity, and how it will influence housing demand
moving forward.

What is Multigenerational Housing?

Multigenerational family living is defined as including two or more adult generations in one household, or including grandparents and grandchildren younger than 25.

DREAM Development’s 24 Westminster Street project is an example of specifically designed multigenerational condo units.

What are the popular types of Multigenerational Housing?

Two Houses on One Lot – Even though this setup may be more popular in rural and less populated settings, you can find two houses on a lot in urban settings. This may become more popular as political pressure mounts to change zoning laws.

Infill Developments – Especially with deep lots, there can be an opportunity to build a home over a garage or in an alley. It can be relatively easy to get a permit to build on an infill compared to other options.

2-4 Residential Units – These include duplexes, triplexes, four-plexes, or a single-family home coupled with a duplex on a lot.

Build-To-Suit – National homebuilders have begun to offer specifically designed multigenerational homes that offer two residences under one roof, with two kitchens and separately defined spaces for privacy.

Specifically Designed Condo Units – New and renovated condo buildings can be designed and constructed with multigenerational living in mind. For example, DREAM’s 24 Westminster project will have specifically designed hallways and entryways that give the flexibility for units to be organized for multigenerational living or to be sold separately to different owners.

286-290 Tremont Street

286-290 Tremont Street Front Rendering

Boston, MA –

286-290 Tremont Street, known as Parcel 12C, is located in one of the densest sections of Boston, situated between a parking garage and The Doubletree Hotel, as well as being at the convergence point of several neighborhoods, including Chinatown to the east, Bay Village to the west and the Theater District to the north.

This mixed-use infill project will be comprised of hotel and residential components. The residential component of the project will create approximately 152 new income-restricted housing units. The ground floor will include a pedestrian courtyard and a community space, which may become the location of the Chinatown Branch of the Boston Public Library.

286-290-Tremont-Corridor-Rendering

DREAM Collaborative has been engaged as the Architect for the Residential Program, including the housing units, amenity spaces, and lobby. Stantec is the Architect of Record on the project.

288 Tremont Street Partners is a collaborative entity of the Asian Community Development Corporation, Corcoran Jennison, Inc., MP Boston, and Tufts Shared Services Inc.

Client: 288 Tremont Street Partners, LLC

22-24 Magazine Street

22-24 Magazine St Front Rendering

Cambridge, MA –

DREAM Collaborative is working with MIT Investment Management Company (MITIMCo) to provide design and construction administration services for the rehabilitation of 22-24 Magazine Street in Central Square, Cambridge. The 16,000 sf, 12-unit, four-story walk-up apartment building suffered significant fire damage in December 2017. The goal of the project is to bring the 22-24 Magazine Street building back online with enhanced, modernized units and improved common spaces.

22-24 Magazine Street is currently under construction and is scheduled to be completed in Fall 2019.

The initial design challenges of this project were to explore options for reducing the bedroom count per unit to 3 bedrooms, adding washer/dryers in-unit, upgrading the HVAC system to central air, and reconfiguring the floor plans to better meet today’s demand for open living floor plans. DREAM also studied the feasibility of implementing energy-saving sustainability measures, including solar PVs, enhanced stormwater management, and improved building materials.

Client: MITIMCo

75-81 Dudley Street

75 81 Front Rendering

Roxbury, MA –

75-81 Dudley Street is the sister project of 2451 Washington Street, sharing the same development and design team. The project completes the infill of the site and serves as a portal to the John Eliot Square neighborhood.

The proposed program includes 17 residential units located on the upper three floors, all of which will be affordable. The housing program provides affordable first-time homeownership opportunities and accommodates a range of family income and size.

Similar to 2451 Washington Street, 75 Dudley adopts the same brick or masonry base as its sister project, and also applies the use of fiber cement panels. To add warmth to these materials, copper colored metal panels are applied to the entry points and balconies.

A central 1,500 sf outdoor space flanked by both 75 Dudley and 2451Washington will provide a connected and landscaped open space for residents of both buildings to enjoy. This landscaped outdoor area is intended for residents to use in private or as a group, and is connected directly to the indoor community space.

Client: Madison Park Development Corporation

DREAM Recognized for Leadership in Diversity & Inclusion

July 10, 2019 – The Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce honored DREAM Collaborative with the 2019 Small Business of the Year Diversity & Inclusion Award. We are very grateful for the mission-alignment and strong relationships we experience with our community of partners. Together, we are challenging conventional thinking about urban living and empowering communities to build a stronger, sustainable future.

Dixwell Plaza Redevelopment

Office Dixwell Rendering

New Haven, CT

DREAM Collaborative and Stull + Lee have been engaged to develop and test conceptual programming and planning scenarios for Dixwell Plaza, which has led to the delivery of a master plan. This redevelopment seeks to revitalize a key piece of a historic center of African-American economic, cultural, and religious life in New Haven.

Overall, the project will engage the neighborhood’s pride, history, industry, and talents to transform this historic center. Dixwell Plaza Redevelopment will support local enterprises and community needs by creating a flexible center that will create a wide job mix, from retail to highly skilled positions.

Dixwell Plaza is a 7.5 acre site that can support over 380,000 sf of development for ConnCORP, who plans to use the location as their new corporate headquarters. The Plaza will also be the home to ConnCAT, their umbrella nonprofit, who will further its mission of inspiring creativity and personal development by hosting youth and adult entrepreneurial and culinary arts programs.

Client: RJ Development + Advisors, ConnCORP, LLC

UMass Boston Bayside Development Site

UMASS BOSTON BAYSIDE DEVELOPMENT SITE

Boston, MA –

DREAM Collaborative and Stantec have been engaged to provide site analysis, urban design, masterplanning, and permitting for the former Bayside Expo Center site at Columbia Point. The mixed-use site envisions residential, academic, office/lab, and retail components to create a vibrant 24/7 community. The site’s proximity to downtown Boston, readily available public transit, and nearby waterfront access combine to envision a destination where a diverse community lives, learns, and thrives.

The new planned neighborhood would consist of approximately 3.5 million sf of new mixed-use development over 20 acres. Extensive community benefits will potentially include public parking, a boardwalk with connections to the existing Harborwalk and Dorchester Shores Reservation, and 35,400 sf of hardscape to include a retail pavilion/multi-cultural center.

Client: Accordia Partners

2147 Washington Street

Roxbury, MA –

The DREAM Collaborative and New Atlantic Development team was selected to redevelop 2147 Washington Street in Dudley Square. The new 6-story building will create an active live/work/play environment that encourages community engagement with daytime and evening activity. Project highlights include:

  • Housing without displacement
  • 74 new residential units (95% affordable) with live/work opportunities for creative professionals
  • Elevation of the community through economic development
  • Inclusion of Haley House as a significant formal partner
  • 1,413 square feet of affordable retail/commercial space
  • Supporting local artists and entrepreneurs through 7 individual work-only studios and 1,224 sf shared workspace
  • Robust community participation
DREAM Collaborative and New Atlantic Development bring an unparalleled commitment to the social and economic vitality of Roxbury community.

The design will create affordable home ownership and rental units to support the continuing revitalization of Dudley Square; encourage working artists and entrepreneurship; provide a welcoming building that respects the architectural character of its neighbors; and incorporates the needs and desires of the non-profit Haley House to ensure its future success and growth. The ground floor of the building will include 7 individual work-only studio spaces as well as 1,246 sf of shared workspace, which fosters accessibility and equitable opportunity to people of all socioeconomic backgrounds. 1,400 sf of flexible retail/commercial space also on the ground floor could provide performance space, a gallery or a restaurant/bar.

Active courtyard connecting cafe guests, residents, and working artists.

2147 Washington will contribute to the continued development of a strong and united Roxbury at “the Heart of the City” by creating affordable housing and artist live/work spaces, boosting economic development, and providing job opportunities for residents.

Related article: Why We Love Roxbury

Dudley Commercial Competition

Roxbury, MA

DREAM Collaborative participated in the design competition for a mixed-use development aimed at the revitalization of Dudley Square in Roxbury. The lively 387,300 sf mixed-use development provides 196 new units of mixed-income residential, 20,000 sf of retail space, 63,500 sf of office space, 18,000 sf of public open space for the community to enjoy, 47,000 sf of private open space for building residents and tenants, and 404 parking spaces.

The base of the buildings includes a combination of entertainment, retail and commercial uses to provide both daytime and evening destinations. The upper levels of the buildings is a mix of housing and commercial uses that creates new homes and job opportunities for area residents.