Guest opinion: Multigenerational living could ease housing crisis
June 28, 2023
Charan Sethi, president of Tien Sher Group
Multigenerational living can help reduce financial burdens for all family members, which should be a priority in Canada’s expensive and undersupplied housing markets.
Shared housing expenses, such as mortgage payments, utility bills, and maintenance costs, can be divided among multiple adults, allowing for cost savings and a higher quality of life for everyone.
Living in a multigenerational household also creates opportunities for intergenerational learning. Elderly family members can pass down wisdom, traditions, and cultural knowledge to younger generations, while the young can explain technology and social media to their elders.
This transfer of knowledge helps preserve cultural heritage and values while promoting a sense of identity and continuity in a modern city.
Then there is the emotional aspect. Multigenerational living contributes to improved emotional well-being for all family members. Having a close-knit support network reduces feelings of loneliness and isolation and fosters a sense of belonging and security.
But government policy often works against multigenerational living.
Six years ago, when some Metro Vancouver municipalities banned the construction of what was called ‘monster homes’ on agricultural land, they did not recognize that the large homes were a template for affordable, intergenerational housing.
Lower Mainland farmers, mostly Indo-Canadians, were building houses for their immediate families and others working in the fields. The subsequent ban reduced the maximum house size from 20,000 square feet or more to just 4,300 square feet.
So today, instead of one building housing a score of people, the workers and their families are scattered and competing for more expensive homes during a region-wide housing shortage.
There is a lesson here that, if we dare consider a societal shift by coming together in our living spaces, we could banish the housing crisis.
Soaring immigration levels could help that happen.
Canada has swung open its immigration gates, with more than 500,000 newcomers welcomed annually over the next few years. The top five source countries – India, China, Afghanistan, Nigeria, and Philippines – all share the bond of intergenerational housing and could form a vanguard for shared housing here.
As of 2021, nearly one million households in Canada were composed of multiple generations living together, with or without family members. As well, there has been a shift towards non-related roommates, Statistics Canada reports, which now represent four percent of all households.
Therefore, more than one in 10 Canadians already lives in a shared space, in or outside the traditional family. Bring that up to two or three in 10, and we have sparked a revolution that could solve the housing shortage and reduce the cost of homes.
Coming together right now, we can create the friendly, inclusive, and affordable intergenerational housing that as humans, we crave and, as a society, we need.
- Charan Sethi, founder and president of Tien Sher Group of Companies, is a leading residential developer based in Richmond, B.C., and best known for his affordable condominium and townhouse developments across the Lower Mainland.