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Multigenerational Housing: What We Can Learn From the Old Country

Parents are helping their adult children buy homes now more than any other time in history. It makes sense: housing is unaffordable, so why wouldn’t baby boomer parents help lighten the load? There’s a similar trend picking up steam however that’s a little more surprising: parents and children buying multi-unit homes together.

It makes a ton of sense if you think about it. Two or three unit homes could solve a lot of problems for multigenerational families. Interestingly enough, as novel as it sounds, there’s nothing new about this idea. In fact, it’s been happening in Europe for centuries.

My Big Fat Greek Home

My parents came to Canada from Greece in the 1960s with nothing but a suitcase and a solid work ethic. It’s something that’s built into my DNA. Work hard, be honest, enjoy life, and everything will work out as it should. My family ethos then is a big part of who I am today. Apparently even bigger than I realize – every time my better half and I watch the movie “My Big Fat Greek Wedding,” she always laughs at the similarities between the Portokalos Family and mine. Is she right? I wonder…

One thing that I do always notice in the movie is that Toula, the protagonist, is not allowed to move out of the house until she is married. Seems a little old fashioned, no? Let me tell you – that tradition is still alive and well today! Even when you do move out, it’s customary to live near your parents. As old fashioned or European as it may seem, multigenerational living might just be something that Canadians should embrace given our housing market.

Houses In the Old Country

Back in the old country, homes are built differently. The floors, walls, and roofs are built with concrete and steel rebar so you can keep building upwards: mom and dad on the first floor, son and wife on the second, daughter and husband on the third and so forth. 

In Canada, we have very few of these types of dwellings. But I think we should be more open minded. We have a major housing shortage crisis and something has to change. In some ways it’s already changing: governments have started amending zoning bylaws to allow for higher density buildings. This should make building additions and garage retrofits cost less so more people can live on existing lots without bulldozing existing homes. But I think we need to do even more.

What We Ought To Do

Duplexes, triplexes, fourplexes – these all used to be a big part of the Canadian housing landscape. But we haven’t seen new builds for these types of dwellings in decades. Maybe there was no demand for them. Who knows. 

What I do know is that housing prices have skyrocketed in the last ten years and something needs to change. If the government clued in, they might offer incentives for both builders and buyers of these kinds of dwellings – including families. Maybe then life in Canada would be as simple as life in the Old Country.

Your best interest is my only interest. I reply to all questions and I welcome your comments. Like this article? Share with a friend.

Steve Garganis: 416-224-0114;

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