With housing less affordable than ever before, more Australians are opting for the extended family living arrangements of years past. But as Barbara Heggen reports, the trend is not all about saving money.



While more of us are choosing to live in single occupant dwellings, there has been a corresponding increase in multi-generational homes.

In Sydney one in four people lives in such a home, while for the rest of Australia it’s one in five. Compare that number to one in 11 for sole occupant households.

Dr Edgar Liu has been researching the pattern in Brisbane and Sydney and says the trend looks set to continue.

There are many reasons why people opt to live this way, he says, with caring for older or disabled relations and convenient childcare arrangements among them.

‘Quite a few of our participants said, “I can’t afford to send my mum to a nursing home,” or, “I don’t want to pay all that money knowing that I can take care of my mum a lot better.”‘

But housing affordability is also a large factor.

‘Housing is actually quite an expensive commodity, either to buy or to rent, and that drives a lot of people to think about how to have some form of housing without going destitute,’ says Liu.

Doing it for family

For Melbourne resident Chi Lu, the reasons for choosing multi-generational living were varied.

‘I’m of Chinese background, so I grew up with my grandparents,’ she says.

‘I came back home with my husband after a few years overseas, we decided why not, Mum and Dad have a great house.’

After a few years of living with her parents, Lu and her husband decided they wanted to live with his parents as well.

Her father-in-law had developed late stage Parkinson’s disease and they wanted to help out and spend more time with him.

The solution was to build and adapt two homes for multi-generational living.

Lu says that while there are some financial benefits, it was more important to her that her children get to know their grandparents.

‘By looking at my children and my parents and my husband’s parents and the relationship they have formed, I don’t think we can have it any other way,’ she says.

‘We built a house with a ground floor that was made wheelchair friendly, [so] my husband and I and the two kids live upstairs.’

Lu, whose company Positive Footprints Design builds sustainable homes, says more people want to future-proof their houses and points to wheelchair access and bathroom design as key issues.

Privacy and potential problems

According to Lu, the keys to multi-generational living are privacy and negotiation about things like household finances and disciplining children.

‘I think one of the important things you need to agree on is where the boundaries are.

‘Of course, your personalities have to match. They have to gel.’

Edgar Liu, meanwhile, says tax and pension concerns were a common theme among many of the people interviewed for his research.

‘Particularly those who have very small grandchildren, because they choose to have the young grandchildren taken care of within the household, they don’t qualify for childcare benefits,’ he says.

‘They also don’t get any additional assistance in the Family Tax Benefits, because that’s more designed for a nuclear family.’

But for Lu, the tax implications are of little concern. She says she feels very lucky to be able to live in her current situation.

‘It was just so easy for me to get back to work and not to worry about who’s looking after the kids, are they happy. They were definitely very well looked after.’


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