All in the family in the same house?

Together Again

Multigenerational Households on the Upswing

Constance Rosenblum | New York Times | December 13, 2013 | link

Danny Ghitis for The New York Times

Tupper Thomas shares a house in Brooklyn with her daughter Phaedra Thomas and her grandchildren Khadija and Teddy Benmakhlouf.

Khadija Benmakhlouf, wearing pink corduroys and a crimson shirt, is perched on a stool poring over her kindergarten math homework. Her grandmother, Tupper Thomas, who is curled up in a nearby armchair, offers encouraging shout-outs from the sidelines.

Around 5 o’clock, Khadija’s mother, Phaedra Thomas, bustles in from her job as a community development consultant in Red Hook with her son, Teddy, 3, whom she has picked up from day care. Within minutes the kitchen is flooded with an intoxicating aroma as lamb chops from the halal butcher down the street sizzle in the oven.

The two women moved into the two-family house in February, dodging workers as their contractor, the M & H Art General Construction Corporation, transformed the century-old home into a dwelling suitable for a 21st-century family.

“I’m a big believer in this sort of arrangement, maybe because it never happened for me when I was a parent,” said Tupper Thomas, a longtime resident of Park Slope who retired three years ago from a three-decade career as the president of the Prospect Park Alliance. “I didn’t have that mom person around.”

With several generations in residence, the Thomas household represents a housing model that social scientists are paying a lot of attention to these days, one that grows out of a phenomenon that economists call “shrinking households” or “missing households.” The terms refer to an arrangement not uncommon today among some ethnic groups and viewed as an encouraging throwback to the way many families lived decades ago.

The challenges of multigenerational families are considerable — witness the flood of recent books on how to navigate the situation — but the financial, practical and emotional benefits can be great.

The impetus for the growing number of such households is the recession that started in late 2007, whose lingering effects persist. During tough economic times, economists say, fewer new households are created than would be expected, because people are more likely to double up than strike out on their own. Statistically, they go missing.

Recent college graduates moving back home — so-called boomerang kids — are only part of the story. Whether prompted by a lost job, a house foreclosed or a sinking pension, grown children and their elderly parents are increasingly coming together under a single roof. Census figures show an uptick in the number of multigenerational families in New York.

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