Increasingly, housing is best when it's shared
In this era of high living costs and shrunken nest eggs, retirement might mean a forced move in with the kids - or even with strangers.
A recent AARP poll suggests that multigenerational households may become more prevalent in the coming years, given the impact of the economic crisis and the slumping housing market.
The poll, conducted in January, found that one in 10 people age 50 or older lived with grandchildren or parents, and that one in 10 people age 35 to 44 report living with parents or in-laws.
Fifteen percent of all respondents said it was to some degree likely that they might need to move in with a family member or friend this year. Roughly a third of those said that it would be due to a loss of income.
The Washington Crossing home of Robert "Mike" and Judy McKain, both in their 50s, has been multigenerational for more than a decade.
In the late 1990s, Robert McKain's mother, Beth McKain, moved in after selling her home in Olney. And in 1999, Judy McKain's mother, Barbara Moser, moved in, leaving her Southwest Philadelphia home while she recovered from cancer, shortly after her husband died.
Beth McKain developed dementia and moved into a nursing home. But Barbara Moser, now 76, remains a part of a household that includes the McKains, their three younger sons (ages 12, 12, and 20), a 7-year-old daughter, plus their 23-year-old son and his 20-year-old pregnant wife. (The young couple recently moved in to save money for the baby and because his construction job was tenuous.)
Moser had intended to move after recovering from cancer, but stayed once she realized she could not afford her own apartment. "I never wanted this. It's just one of those things that happened that I couldn't avoid."
While she says her husband and mother "get along amazingly well," Judy McKain estimates that it took a year for her and her mother to agree how to handle cooking, cleaning, and discipline of the children, and become comfortable living together.
Both daughter and mother claim their own time - Moser by periodically visiting her four other children and brother-in-law; Judy McKain by spending quality time with her husband. "We always make time for ourselves," Judy McKain said. "We have to, or our marriage would fall apart."
"I have the value of having my mom here," Judy McKain said. "My kids do, too. Going through photos, sharing old family stories, you can gain a lot of knowledge from that."
Asked about her own retirement plans, Judy McKain laughed: "Not a week goes by that I'm not saying to the kids, 'Pay good attention to this because your turn is coming.' "
More than just generations are sharing households in retirement. Postings on the Philadelphia section of Craigslist.com include numerous retirement house-share queries: a California-based daughter searching for someone with "A+ references" to share her mother's Doylestown home, a South Jersey landlord looking for a reliable person to share rent with his 92-year-old deaf tenant who has no remaining family, a Northeast Philadelphia senior seeking another senior man to share his house ("Must love cats!!!"), and a retired educator "looking for a safe and affordable house share" on the Main Line.
In southern New Jersey, the nonprofit Alternative Living for Later Years, or ALLY, operates three residences - two in Cinnaminson, one in Medford - that house 15 seniors, who pay rents ranging between $480 and $550 a month and live communally.
Joan Dwyer, 75, has lived in ALLY's Medford residence, with a private bedroom and bath, since 1999. She moved to Medford from northern New Jersey in 1997 to live near her sister after retiring from a 42-year nursing career. At first, Dwyer rented a townhouse, but the rent - nearly double what she now pays ALLY - squeezed her finances.
"I'm able to live comfortably here," Dwyer said. "I could not live comfortably where I was."
New Jersey officials contend the homes are boardinghouses and are requiring improvements to meet boardinghouse standards. The nonprofit group is disputing the boardinghouse classification.
Currently, Dwyer shares the Medford residence with three women and two men. "We're very, very compatible, which is a wonderful thing," she said.
"It's not a utopia," she said. "But there's always problems wherever you live. You just have to take care of them and get over it."