Different cultures and periods have dictated cultural norms that vary widely in terms of who lives with each other, when and for how long. For the sake of this discussion I am going to consider conventional housing being one or two adults that are married or otherwise together living with the minor (or close to minor) children of that couple. The other norm is adults that are friends or acquaintances (or just random's) living together to share expenses.
There have always been some exceptions to this relative cultural norm of contemporary post WWII America. In particular many immigrant groups and Hispanics have tended to stay together much longer and adult children living with parents. Three generation households are common if not the norm for these groups. Also among Americans young 'adult' children maybe living with their parents for awhile and older adults who need some assistance living with family have been consistent themes. The latter for economic subsidization and the former for help with everyday stuff. Toss in random fairly short term life circumstances like job losses, breakups/divorce, relocation, leaving the military, etc and you have captured most of the reasons people have traditionally chosen to reside with family. Sort of like there have always been a certain percentage of home foreclosures there have always been some unconventional family housing. Also like home foreclosures unconventional family housing is (I don't have statistics but I sure think) on the rise.
The Great Recession is proving to be particularly hard on young adults. Even the best laid plans for getting meaningful skills on the non college path takes time and generally starts with low wages. These days kids just starting out are often the first to get fired AND they are far less likely than in the past to get the kinds of jobs that allow for upward movement. You would have to be blind to not see a lot of young adults graduating from college and moving home because they can't find a professional job; or even a job that will pay rent and let them live independently.
These coupled with an increase in the overall rate of unemployment have put unconventional family housing on the rise, at least in my circle of friends and family. Some observations from successful and rocky situations are why I am writing this today.
Here are some considerations for unconventional family housing. It is important to remember that much more than a generic roommate situation there are social factors in play and it is a different dynamic. I think the biggest and most important thing is coming up with a detailed and specific written agreement prior to beginning living together or immediately after moving in. I just don't think this can be overstated as it will, if well thought out, prevent so many issues. Obviously in a case where one person is subsidizing the other (free or reduced rent, etc) the one doing the paying has a lot more say. I will refer to the two parties as supporting and benefiting for convenience. There are many different variables and factors in play and it matters less what is agreed upon than that there is an agreement. Here are some considerations.
-Do you even want to live with family? I've known family who have instead helped someone out financially. Also I know folks who have couch surfed or been the 5th guy in a 3 bedroom paying $50 a month to sleep on the floor (guy 4 had the couch). My advice is that if it is going to really be an uncomfortable situation to avoid it if at all possible.
- For approximately how long do you plan for it to last? Somebody staying for a couple weeks or a month until whatever happens is very different than a plan that could last months or years. This is important because how long it is anticipated to last really affects the amount of planning that should be done. On the short end a two minute conversation can work and on the long end some forethought and a series of detailed discussions could be wise. (More on this later.)
-Under what scenario are you willing to enter into this sort of arrangement? Are you willing to help the supporting party while they are in school or doing an apprenticeship or internship? Are you willing to support them until they earn enough to support their self? What about if they make an OK living but choose to spend their money on other things? What if they are between jobs? What if they are are in a low paying dead end job? What if they are waffling, sleeping late and partying a lot. I would strongly suggest thinking about this and talking about it with your partner BEFORE it comes up because odds are it will come up. My only advice on this is don't be afraid to lay down ground rules. If you are OK with someone living with you while they are in school, trying to find a job, saving for a down payment on a home or whatever then say so.
-Social arrangements are the next big sticking point. This is probably the most noticeable difference between living with family and a generic roomie arrangement. Broadly speaking it would benefit the supporting party to realize that everyone involved is an adult and it would be good for the benefiting party to remember they don't just have a roomie. This is particularly important if someone is single and actively dating. While a random person in a bathrobe drinking coffee in the kitchen when a family member is over makes for a great scene in a sitcom it would not be so funny in real life. Well it might be funny in someone elses life but not your life. If house guests are cool or not is a very personal discussion but you should have it early instead of late.
Also family generally want to have a lot more vision on each others whereabouts than roommates do. When I used to have roommates I worried about what it would seem like if something happened to them. They could be gone for a week or two and unless bills were due or something I wouldn't call them. I had a vision of a cop asking where they were and me being like "I think I saw him last Tuesday" and it not going well. At the various times I have been home as an adult; what we have done is that if we are going to be gone overnight we let the other person know where we will be. Just a phone call saying "I'm staying at Bob/Tom/Sally's place" was sufficient though I did try to call before 9pm. If the folks went somewhere they told me where also. Coming up with a workable plan for social arrangements isn't hard provided that you show some forethought and have an honest if slightly unpleasant conversation before things start coming up.
-Financial and household arrangements are next on the list. Just figure out who is going to pay for what. For the supporting party be advised that there will inevitably be some cost, if just utilities and a bit of food and not to get into this anything you can't afford comfortably. My observation is that in this area it isn't so much big picture stuff but little things that create problems. We aren't talking about hundreds of dollars in rent so much as who ate the last pepperidge farm chocolate chunk cookie and didn't buy more. The supporting party generally knows that the benefiting party needs help and they are willing to provide it. Also I think that if you have figured things out to the point where everyone knows who is supposed to replace the chocolate chunk cookies the big things like rent and utilities have long been covered.
I have two more thoughts on finances. First is if the supporting party has any sort of financial expectations for the supporting party they should make then clear. It might be paying off debt or saving to be independent, etc just lay it out in advance. The second thought is that (I'm not a lawyer so this is not legal advice and consider yourself disclaimed.) in a lot of places paying rent entitles a person legally to certain rights a house guest does not have. If things get bad that could turn out to be a real pain. Maybe there is a way they could help out with groceries or something and still be a house guest. If that is a concern (or you are looking at a real long term situation) then it might be worth talking to a lawyer.
In terms of household arrangements. Figure out space and if possible clear up some storage for stuff that exceeds said space. Spell out very clearly (not just 'help around the house') what you would like the benefiting party to do towards the total household workload.
- Lastly I think it is worth being clear on what circumstances and or time frame is going to bring an end to the cohabitation. This sort of ties in with the scenario under which the supporting party is willing to enter into this sort of thing. For example you might be cool with a full time student but aren't so cool with a student taking a class or two at a time with no real direction. At some point (and many articles have been written by people experiencing this) helping can definitely become enabling. Case in point I recently saw a guy I know who graduated with a BA two years ago and has been at home unemployed since. We all know a kid who graduated high school and just sort of hung out partying, sleeping a lot and playing video games until eventually the rents lay down the law. To risk being redundant it doesn't matter so much what the conditions here are but they should be well thought out, specific enough to be meaningful and understood by all parties involved.
Beyond the Great Recession I see this sort of unconventional family housing becoming more and more common. The numbers and demographics make it an easy call. Kids today on the non college option have serious problems. They used to get a low paying job then as they learn and gain some skills wages improve over time. To be blunt this model is not working so effectively any more. It takes longer for most to move to a wage where they can live independently and some aren't moving there at all. When GM paid anybody the equivalent of $17.50 an hour and grocery stores paid living wages it was easy to get a job then an apartment and pretty quickly be middle class. Now the kinds of jobs many of these kids get make $9 with no benefits and little room for upward movement. Those who get into union, trade and tech jobs will likely fare the best.
Don't worry the college option (this reminds me of the game Life) isn't much better. When many folks take a bump down the ladder and there is high unemployment then hiring a person with a few years experience, or someone you had to let go when things were rough, over a kid just out of college is a no brainer. This plus student debt hitting record levels (somewhere over 20k on averagea terrible time to be young.
Don't worry the baby boomers some issues also. Many of the boomers are in serious trouble when it comes to retirement because they haven't saved a darn thing or in any case nowhere near enough. They saved like they have a cushy defined benefits retirement plan and social security is totally secure. As you may note they generally do not have a defined benefits retirement plan and getting social security (with decent purchasing power) is a long bet. To make matters worse instead of buying a modest home, paying it off and staying there like the Greatest Generation did they traded (while moving some distance or in the same area) their homes up several times and often tapped any equity which had been somehow accidentally created. The amount of people who are looking at retirement who do not have their primary residence paid off surprises me. On a whole lot of these retirements the math just doesn't work. In the economy we have now with older workers being expensive to employ, expensive to insure and absent from work more often they are likely to get laid off sooner instead of later. In any case it would be optimistic to assume they will be able to have full employment for as long as they want. Also along the surprising theme some boomers seem to be in la la land in terms of how long their money will last. They must be figuring on 20% annual growth in their money or something. These folks think they will be able to at least maintain their lifestyle forever when in reality they might be able to live a very basic subsistence existence.
Of course not all 20 and 30 somethings are boomeranging back home and plenty of 55-65 year olds did plan adequately for retirement. My point is that between those two groups the amount of people in a situation where unconventional family housing is necessary or desirable is going to dramatically rise. Best of all this scenario is if the economy keeps going more or less without significant changes. If the great recession gets worse and turns into the late 70's- early 80's or America's lost decade or even worse then all bets are off.
Along those same lines a TEOTWAWKI or significant security change could lead to a non economic motivation for this sort of thing. Even if you make a fine living or saved well for retirement it is pretty darn hard for a couple or a normal family with a couple teenagers to have decent 24/7 security; let alone have decent security and get anything done. Extended families and or friends would be well advised to gather at the best location they have available. I think it is worth putting some planning and forethought into this unconventional housing situation also. This however is a whole other series of posts for another day.
Anyway I have been writing this off and on all day and it is way longer than my average post so I am not going to bother to carefully read it twice for small grammar and convention issues. Anyway I hope you enjoy it and maybe even get something out of it.
Goodnight and good luck