House extension pictured above. Could annexes and extensions be the solution to multigenerational households?
In her 2012 book The Accordion Family, Katherine Newman charts the rise of multigenerational living after the 2008 financial crisis in Europe, the US and Japan. To sum up the book very briefly, there has been a rise in multigeneration households over the past few decades before, and especially after, 2008. This phenomenon, it is argued, emerged out of the harsh austerity measures and financial insecurity which prompted young people to return to the family home in order to save money for a housing deposit.
Newman warns of a looming crisis, especially in countries with ageing populations such as Italy or Japan, where a rising portion of young adults have a low income, are unemployed and are living with their parents into their 30s. This population is expected to place a critical strain on those nations with weaker welfare states both by leeching from their parent’s pensions and by making the problem of an ageing nation worse (young people living at home are likely to have children later and have less of them).
The book makes frequent comparisons to the Scandinavian states who have avoided the problem by shifting the economic burden of this group from private households to the public sector. by providing only generous housing subsidies and other social policies such as free higher education.
Newman doesn’t give much attention to the UK although, 8 years later, this country is seeing a similar problem which is emerging from extended austerity measures and rising house prices. Home ownership is expected to become impossible for many millennials and it is estimated that one in three young adults will be unable to purchase a house in their lifetime.
Government figures indicate that the number of young adults aged 25-34 living with parents has increased from 11% in 1996 to 15% in 2019. Those who do move away are very likely to rent, a report from the Resolution Foundation shows, and roughly a third of young families find themselves in private rented accommodation (up from 3% in the late 1980s).
Some homeowners have responded to the problem by renovating their homes with extensions or, in some cases annexes. Annexes (also known commonly as granny flats or granny annexes) are auxiliary buildings linked to the main property that give inhabitants a degree of independent living. As the name ‘granny flat’ implies, these extensions have traditionally been built for elderly parents or relatives although the target market has shifted with the changing nature of homeownership.