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Creating Affordable Homes for Multigenerational Living

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Don’t look now, but today’s “traditional” American household has a decidedly different look. The 1950s Beaver Cleaver family model of a married couple, two kids, and a white picket fence has been eclipsed by varying depictions of Modern Family.

And within that mosaic is an arrangement that is quite familiar, even old-school: multiple generations living under one roof, creating super-sized families.

In recent years, there’s been an increase in the number of such households, driven by rent-burdened millennials moving in with their parents, more older Americans living with their adult children rather than alone, and growing numbers of immigrant families for whom such a living arrangement is part of cultural tradition.

However, in many parts of the country, housing options have not kept pace with demand for affordable urban housing for this size and type of household—or any other household type for that matter.

“If you’re a large family, most of the new market-rate offers don’t fit your family,” says Scott K. Choppin, founder and CEO of Urban Pacific Group in Long Beach, California. “Many of those new units are studios and one-bedroom units, predominately built to serve younger populations, primarily millennials,” he says.

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Choppin said most new housing in Southern California is either straight market-rate housing, out of reach for moderate-income families, or subsidized housing, which may also exclude those large families because they earn too much money to qualify.

It’s a phenomenon called the missing middle. “If you’re a family … of five or six and maybe grandma lives with you, you can’t fit into a studio or a one-bedroom unit,” Choppin says. “The right affordable choice of housing type is missing for you.”

He is among few builders and developers concentrating on that segment of the market, looking for ways to fill the gap. In Orange County, his company over the past two years created what he calls the “urban town house.” It’s housing aimed specifically at moderate-income, multigenerational households with multiple breadwinners who together earn about $100,000 a year. The homes are mostly in working-class neighborhoods, where there hasn’t been any new housing built for years, and where many of the families he’s serving already live.

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