When Hal and Debbie Stokes bought their three-story house in Ridgefield, they imagined the large daylight basement could be a playroom or a man cave.
In 2015, it became grandma’s castle. Vivian Church, 89, moved into the spacious basement about a year after her daughter died. After a scary episode where her blood sugar got too low, she told Hal Stokes, her grandson, she didn’t want to live alone.
“I’ve seen her more in three years than my whole life,” said Hal Stokes, 46, who grew up in a military family that was constantly on the move.
The Stokes’ two kids, Gabe, 15, and Savannah, 13, get to grow up with their great-grandma. It’s different to go from visiting a person occasionally to seeing them every day, Gabe said.
“They’re family, so they grow on you,” he said, adding that there are times when family is annoying.
When Church first moved in, the Stokes were concerned about her going up and down the stairs. But Church said she’s found it to be good exercise. The family at one point looked into getting a stair lift and were told it would cost $12,000. They did install a spa tub in the bottom-floor bathroom.
Gabe, who’s in band at school, practices drums in the basement. Church said if it gets too loud she takes her hearing aids out.
“I’ve got closed caption on the TV,” she added.
Besides having dinner together a few nights each week, the family will watch football, play dominoes and talk politics together. Grandma goes to her great-grandchildren’s sporting events. She took Gabe to his first job interview when his parents were busy. In summary, it’s a “nice, wonderful life,” Church said.
The Stokes’ setup isn’t all that unusual.
According to the Pew Research Center’s analysis of Census data, nearly one in five Americans live in a multigenerational household with two or more adult generations or one that includes grandparents and grandchildren.
Multigenerational households can overlap with shared living situations — i.e. adults living with other adult roommates who are not romantic partners — which is also on the rise, according to the think tank.
Last year, Pew said more adults were doubling up post-recession. While the immediate increase was attributed to millennials moving back in with their parents, longer term Pew said the trend is driven by parents moving in with their adult children.
That’s shown not only in who occupies our homes but in the types of homes that are being built.
Earlier this year, Pacific Lifestyle Homes debuted a floor plan for multigenerational living. Lennar claims to be the first homebuilder to offer homes specifically designed for multigenerational living — what it calls a “home within a home.”
Since the recession, John Colgate and his partner at Affinity Homes have seen increased demand for homes designed to house multiple generations under one roof. The custom homebuilder designs floor plans to allow for privacy and a mix of shared and separate space.
Colgate built a 2,845-square-foot house in east Vancouver that’s part of the New Homes Tour. The accessory dwelling unit within the home is intentionally on the opposite side of the house from other bedrooms. It has its own entrance, kitchenette and living space. While the reasons for families wanting to live together vary, Colgate said, “the function of what they need is generally always the same.” The space could also be used as a home office or to accommodate guests.
“I think that more and more of this product is going to be needed in this area,” he said.
He added that it’s more cost efficient to build a new home that includes the extra living space rather than add it on after the house is already built.
Still, the single-level house he’s built on a half-acre lot includes high-end finishes and costs about $750,000. Families sometimes pool resources to purchase a home together. As housing costs rise, it makes homeownership more feasible.
That isn’t quite the route Rebecca Royce went, but her father’s income helped her family achieve their homeownership dreams.
Royce spent most of her life living in poverty and now works in Clark County Community Services, the department that serves the area’s more vulnerable residents. From her personal and professional experience, she knows homeownership is the key to getting out of poverty.
“Having a house and having that stability is kind of the foundation to move everything forward in a positive way,” she said.
In 2013, she and her husband bought a house and invited Royce’s dad to live with them in exchange for him contributing to expenses.
At the time, they tried to find a house with a mother-in-law suite but couldn’t find anything in their price range. They ended up with a 2,300-square-foot house in the Sherwood neighborhood. The way the house is laid out, Royce’s dad has his own living room and a large bedroom. He’s retired and the setup allows him to save more money than he did before living on his own.
“Overall, it’s been a really positive experience for us,” Royce said, adding that they’ve had to learn the nuances of combining households. That includes disagreeing about parenting styles.
Without her dad’s additional income, she said they would’ve been “house poor” with less financial leeway for those additional luxuries and expenses in life.
“We were able to get into a better neighborhood,” Royce said. “Our kids go to good schools. We’re in a quiet area.”
The way Sue Vanlaanen and her family live, it’s beginning to feel like a compound.
Vanlaanen, retired from Fort Vancouver Regional Libraries as communications and marketing director, has one of her daughters living in an accessory dwelling unit at home and the other living in the house next door.
Everyone is close by yet has privacy. The ongoing support is nice whether it means picking up packages for each other or pet sitting or borrowing a cup of sugar.
Vanlaanen’s husband was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, so having family around and getting quality time with grandchildren is becoming more and more important.
“I didn’t grow up thinking it would ever be cool to have multiple generations living together,” she said. “It’s not something I anticipated, but it’s really been a wonderful thing.”