When the economy goes south, property values plummet, the unemployment rate skyrockets and foreclosures soar, what does the average American do? Based on new evidence, it seems they turn to their family.

“(The economy) was a catalyst for the multigenerational home takeoff,” Gilbert Mayor John Lewis said. “We are finding many families where either grandpa or grandma have come to live with the family, or their daughter just got married and they are living with the family.”

The housing market is changing to fit this demand. Last month, Lennar, a large home-building company, unveiled a new type of home to fit this niche.

“We looked at it and said, you know what, we, as homebuilders, need to build a home that allows multiple families, multiple family groups — whatever you want to call it — that allows them to live in a good environment,” said Alan Jones, Lennar’s Arizona division president.

Jones used the Census’ definition to describe a multigenerational home: It has one person that is 18 or older who isn’t enrolled in school and isn’t the homeowner and isn’t the spouse or co-habiting partner.

The home, labeled the NextGen home, is located in the Gilbert community of Layton Lakes near McQueen Road and Layton Lakes Boulevard. The asking price of the initial home was $289,000.

What separates a NextGen home from a traditional home is the living arrangement. In a normal house, all members of the family share a kitchen, laundry room and living area, while in a NextGen home, there is a separate living area for more family.

The floor plan shows a kitchenette, private living area, bedroom, bathroom and one-car garage all separate from the rest of the house.

Elaine Crippen, a woman interested in buying a NextGen home, understands the need for homes with separate living areas. She and her husband have six children. As if this household didn’t have enough bodies, Crippen’s mother lives with her from time to time.

For two years, the children’s grandmother lived with the family before she moved out. Her husband’s work then took him to California, at which point the Crippen family stayed with the grandmother both before and after their California move.

“I (think) it is a great concept. We were talking about in a year or two looking at floor plans for casitas, so eventually when she couldn’t live on her own anymore she could move into the casita,” Crippen said.

With nine bodies in a single home, space was an issue. But a separate living area reduces this concern. “Because cooking is such a big part of her life, to something where she had her own little kitchenette and her own space where ... if it got too crazy in our house, she could leave and go home and shut the door — but she is right there,” Crippen said.

She described it as having the best of both worlds.

The latest Census data showed that more than 69 million Americans, or 30 percent of the nation’s population, are currently living in a household with more than one generation.

Indeed, a large jump has occurred over the past three decades. Statistics from the Pew Research Center show that only 28 million Americans lived in multigenerational homes in 1980.

Boomerang children — kids that graduate high school or college and can’t find a job or afford a home of their own — and live-in grandparents are a large part of the multigenerational homes.

These children, now fully grown adults, account for a sizeable portion of that number. There are 30 million of them across the country, Jones said.

Many households also have grandparents present. According to statistics from Generation United, an organization that works to improve the lives of intergenerational homes, more than 6.7 million children have grandparents living with them. Of these children, 2.5 million have no parents present.

In Arizona alone, 198,814 children live in a home where the grandparents or other relatives are the householders. This amounts to 12.2 percent of the state’s under-18 population. More than 69,000 children reside in a house where their grandparents are householders and also care for them. Of these, 21,306 do not have parents living with them.

With such staggering numbers, this is only the beginning for Lennar and their NextGen home concept. “Lennar’s in the process of designing and approval of several other plans that will be appropriately priced for the neighborhoods they are building them in, and we are building in 14 different neighborhoods,” Jones said.

Lewis, Jones and Crippen all agreed that the economy caused this seismic shift in living situations. “Pre-recession, a newly married couple was able to afford a home,” Lewis said. “They had a job, a good salary coming in — so that changed drastically.”

The Gilbert mayor also offered a robust case for developing this idea in Gilbert. “Three or four years ago Gilbert was giving out 300-400 single-family (building permits) a month. Of course, that drastically changed. Yet we continue to lead all the Valley in the number of single-family permits that have been issued,” he said.

Of the 5,871 single-family home building permits given out in 2011 through the end of September, 1,189 of them are in Gilbert.

“It’s a vision that I think is timely, and so I anticipate that it will be a very favorable product that will cause other homebuilders to follow suit,” Lewis said.

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