The desire to achieve “self-sufficiency” has encouraged us out of the communities we grew up in. When children no longer live with their parents and those parents experience the freedom of an empty nest for the first time in decades, both generations have seemingly met the goals that modern society has set for families.
It does, however, cause other issues. In focusing too much on single-family houses, we forget the benefits of community in favor of our newly found independence. Striving for “self-sufficiency” through a typical single-family house can mean ignoring the blessings that life in a community can bring and can lead to feeling alone or isolated.
Enter multi-family housing. This type of home is built to keep nuclear families separate, with their own entrances from the exterior, so that these families have a sense of privacy. But it also offers connected spaces with access to each other from the interior, helping create the community many of us lack and replace by outsourcing when possible. It can also make it easier for families and grandparents to live near each other, without compromising their own living spaces, to make it truly multi-generational.
Living with multiple families or generations has multiple advantages. You can build a mutually beneficial relationship with your housemates; some families share meal prep or work around the house, though every scenario is different. Responsibilities and chores cover more ground when split among more people and fewer homes. Paying for care for children or elderly or disabled relatives becomes optional, rather than a necessity, because you can share the responsibility for keeping an eye on them across the people you live with.
There are economic benefits, too. Multi-family housing fits more people under one roof—and the more people in a space, the more efficiently it’s used. So you can save money on your heating, air conditioning, and other services by splitting the bill among household members. You can carpool, which means less money spent on gas, or maybe even reduce the number of cars needed. Need to clean a gutter or fix up a messy lawn? It’s more cost-effective to split the work across multiple residents, and many hands make light work.
And many families thrive when they can share their daily lives with relatives or grandparents who live nearby, rather than all the way across the country. The benefits are only limited by what you and your family are willing to bring to the table. The only problem is that, too often, multi-family houses are hard to find, and many new developments ignore them, thanks to regulations.
Politicians shouldn’t assume that every family wants to live in a detached, single-family house with a big yard and a white picket fence. We may think we’re giving up independence by living in close proximity to people again, but really we’re allowing ourselves so much more freedom. Multi-family or multi-generational living brings all the benefits of family and community closer to you.
Of course, it can also bring some of the drawbacks that come with having everyone so close all the time. But if your concern is about privacy, space, time for yourself, or some other issue, then the real solution is what it has always been when living with family or friends: talk to them and see if you can find a solution. And when you resolve that issue, you’ll discover that maybe “self-sufficiency” isn’t all it’s been cracked up to be.
Edgerton Essays feature the perspectives of working-class Americans on the challenges facing their communities and families and the debates central to the nation’s politics. If you or someone you know might be interested in contributing to the series, click here for more information.