Friday, June 21, 2024
HomeFinanceIntergenerational living is changing the face of aging, and the housing industry...

Intergenerational living is changing the face of aging, and the housing industry is paying attention

If baby boomers have made one desire patently clear it’s that they do not expect to age the way their grandparents and parents did. Those aged 59 and older are working longer, expect to live more active lives, and show a greater interest than previous generations in choosing how and where they live as they grow older, according to a report by the Population Reference Bureau.

Businesses across the country, especially in the housing industry, are paying attention. Where assisted-living and 55-plus communities once were the main focus, today an increasing number of entrepreneurs look to intergenerational housing as the wave of the housing future. The result is a list of growing options for older adults interested in housing options as they age.

Two problems, one solution

The interest in offering different housing options is inspired by both financial and social needs. Affordable housing is in short supply in cities across America. At the same time, many older adults are challenged to pay the bills in the house they currently inhabit and worry they will not be able to age in place.

Alternative housing options that unite generations rather than separate them offer additional pluses, proponents say. Interaction between generations can help address or prevent many of the problems associated with aging, such as social isolation and general feelings of uselessness.

A 2023 Surgeon’s General report, for instance, estimates that social isolation among older adults accounts for about $6.7 billion in additional Medicare spending annually. Providing generations more exposure to each other can also help combat ageism.

First, a clarification of terms. Multigenerational and intergenerational housing are both often mentioned when discussing housing options. While they sound similar and do share some traits, ultimately they are different.

Read: So long, senior centers and nursing homes. Older adults don’t want to spend their time in places where they are seen as victims in decline.

Defining the terms

Multigenerational housing: In both forms of housing, multiple generations live in proximity to each other. Multigenerational housing, which quadrupled between 1971 and 2021 according to the Pew Research Center, is what many think of as an extended family: grandparents, parents and children who are related, live in one house and often eat together.

Intergenerational housing involves people of different ages who are not necessarily related but live together — perhaps in a building complex, such as those often found in assisted living situations, or in a community designed for people of different ages. In this latter concept, the residents may share daily tasks and meals or participate in organized events, depending on the community.

Regardless of the nuances of each version, this much is clear for both: Different generations living in proximity to each other can help everyone involved to have a better understanding for groups with which they might not otherwise interact much. And that, say proponents, is a win-win for everyone.

Three models

To illustrate how intergenerational housing is developing, here is a look at three models across America.

Judson Manor, a retirement community in Cleveland, takes a more traditional senior independent living opportunity and adds a twist — a music residency in collaboration with the Cleveland Institute of Music.

Since 2010, two CIM graduate students have joined the retirement community for a year as artists-in-residence. In exchange for performing throughout the year, the students, who live at Judson for two years while they earn graduate degrees, receive free room and board.

They are obligated to play three concerts annually, two of them as individual musicians and one in collaboration with each other. Students are chosen after being interviewed and writing an essay explaining why they are interested in this intergenerational living experience.

Participants say the program has been life-changing for Judson Manor residents and CIM students alike. Eugene Brand, 91 and a retired minister, has served on the entrance committee for several years and loves both the music and the chance the program offers to interact with the students.

“To have this kind of music, which is always high quality, makes you feel good to be a part of this,” he says. “In addition, there are the one-to-one relationships that develop. Some of them last beyond the time of their residency here.”

Students are encouraged to join social events, such as nonalcoholic happy hours and floor parties. “They do get to know people and get involved in the community,” Brand says.

The program’s positive influences are echoed by recent CIM residents. Luke Ratcliffe, 26, just finished a doctorate at CIM and a residency at Judson. The program, says the pianist, helped him personally and professionally.

Check out: More people are turning to this housing idea for aging parents, but obstacles still exist in much of the country

A real love of music

“I could talk shop with people,” he says, noting Judson Manor’s residents include several current and former professional musicians. “There was a real love and support for music and what I was trying to do. I was able to sharpen my skills and share what I can,” he says, noting he wants to be a performer and have his own studio.

“You can understand each other,” echoes John Fawcett, a 22-year-old violinist from Oregon who just finished his first year at CIM and Judson and who has enjoyed making friends with musician residents. “Sometimes with someone with more life experiences, you can gain a lot and learn a lot from them just by talking with them, especially people who did what you’re doing.”

But it was the social aspects of intergenerational living that really inspired the students. Ratcliffe went to dinner with residents, participated in some events and loved making new friends.

Plus: This is how the super-rich retire: Museums, ballet and concierge medicine

The profundity of performing

All of it, Ratcliffe says, helped him to regard the aging process differently. “My grandmother played a big role in my musical development, so this was not a big stretch for me,” he says.

“Some people did die while I was there,” he adds. “It was a big deal for me to know that some of my concerts were the last live music they ever heard. You feel the profundity of that.”

Fawcett says the experience changed his perspective on aging. “It seems like how I grew up and most people my age look at senior citizens and groups as the ‘other,’” he says. “It gave me more perspective that they’re not the other. We’re the same in many ways. You can have friends my age or their ages. You can learn from so many different people.”

Another approach to intergenerational living is The Treehouse Community in Easthampton, Massachusetts. It was designed to expand affordable housing for older adults and young people in foster homes and the adoption system. The Treehouse Foundation partners with Beacon Communities LLC to unite foster and adoptive families with older adults in a planned neighborhood.

The Easthampton community — a second Treehouse development is in the works in Boston — includes 12 family homes, each with three, four or five bedrooms, as well as 48 one-bedroom cottages for older adults.

Related: Where can I afford to live in retirement? Senior housing and the ‘forgotten middle’

Training older residents

The older residents are vetted and receive training before moving in, and are expected to participate in the community, sharing their life experiences and expertise. They must meet affordable housing requirements.

“They understand our vision,” Judy Cockerton, founding executive director of The Treehouse Foundation, says. “They understand there are expectations that they will support their neighbors, the expectation that this is a community, that this is an intergenerational community, that it’s an intentional neighborhood.”

The foster or adoptive families receive social services support as long as needed while being in a stable, multigenerational environment. Over 100 people typically live at Treehouse, which was formed in 2006 and usually has a waiting list for both families and older singles. Staff members bring people together in organized programs.

“The outcomes for the kids are tremendous,” Cockerton says, ticking off higher rates for finishing school as just one example. “And they continue to be rooted in their family and a community that fully supports them. People are investing in their hopes and dreams and their lives, and it really matters.”

Cockerton sums up the benefits she’s seen with the story of an 85-year-old who has lived at Treehouse since it opened.

Neighborhood connections

“She said to me, ‘I never thought when I would turn 85 that I would be seen and valued and cherished and needed and loved,” Cockerton recalls. “That’s what I feel in this community because I’m so connected to my neighbors.’”

Holly Handfield has benefited from both sides of the Treehouse community. When she moved in 16 years ago, she was 57 years old, single and had seen firsthand how social isolation affected older adults while an outreach worker at a senior center. “I couldn’t see myself doing that,” she says, noting she has always been surrounded by children.

About a year after moving in, though, her daughter dropped her two grandsons at the door with an 80-pound dog and cat. “I found myself in a spot where a lot of other grandparents find themselves — raising a new family,” Handfield says.

Fortunately, as a Treehouse resident already, she had options, and eventually moved from a cottage to a house. “When I raised my own children, I didn’t have any of this,” she says of the support she received dealing with children with special needs. “It was beyond me.”

With her grandchildren grown, she now spends a lot of her time mentoring children in the community kitchen and volunteering in art classes.

Read: These new retirement communities sound ideal, so why do so many towns resist them?

Older adults feel useful

“I’m surrounded by this extra family that I have, this support system,” says Handfield. “It’s not that it makes me feel younger. It makes me feel useful.

“When you’re older, being useful is a big thing,” she adds. “It’s a great feeling to be part of all of it.”

Sue Brow, now 61, is a foster parent who also has an adopted son with special needs. She has been a Treehouse resident for five years.

“From the beginning, having support while raising kids who have had trauma was the appeal,” she remembers. “It was like moving into a really welcoming neighborhood. It’s not like living in an apartment complex at all. It’s people who really care for you.”

A different approach

Nesterly, a company based in Boston and expanding into Columbus, Ohio, Louisville, Kentucky, and other cities, is taking a wholly different approach to building communities and providing affordable housing.

Rather than a closed community, like Judson Manor or Treehouse, Nesterly matches older adults who want to age in place with younger people interested in renting a room at a below-market rate in exchange for help with certain chores.

While Nesterly spokesmen declined to be interviewed for this article, their website outlines some of the details for participation. Homeowners can list their homes free. Nesterly staff screen potential renters, check references, do background checks and confirm employment. They also handle leases, collect the monthly rent and facilitate any disputes that may arise.

Janet Reynolds is an award-winning journalist, editor and content strategist based in Connecticut with deep roots in alternative journalism and magazines. Janet’s work has appeared in print and online in local, regional and national publications. Her website is

This article is reprinted by permission from, ©2023 Twin Cities Public Television, Inc. All rights reserved.

More from Next Avenue:

This story originally appeared on Marketwatch

- Advertisment -

Most Popular

Recent Comments