CAP Reports on Emerging Housing Needs of Extended Families

A report from the Center for American Progress (CAP) titled Housing the Extended Family examines the implications of changing trends in family composition for housing policy. The report finds that the changing composition of families, particularly the growth of “extended families,” will require policies that expand the supply of housing units intended for larger families. 

Extended families are households that include family members such as grandparents, grandchildren, cousins, siblings or other relatives, as well as adult children residing with their parents. Extended families are often multigenerational, having household members from three or more generations. Compared to nuclear families which consist solely of parents and children under 18, extended families are also more racially and ethnically diverse, have lower incomes, and are more likely to live in poverty. Many extended families also have a foreign-born head of household, or come from a cultural background where home-sharing with extended family members is common.

The U.S. population living in extended families increased from 58 million to 85 million between 2001 and 2014, while the population living in nuclear families decreased from 95 million to 87 million. The authors attribute much of the growth in extended families to increased immigration, the Great Recession, and increasing numbers of families of color who are more likely to live in extended families.

According to CAP’s analysis, the housing stock has not sufficiently adapted to these changing family dynamics, particularly in metropolitan areas where extended families are more likely to reside. Many extended families in metropolitan areas appear to be “underhoused,” meaning they occupy homes where there are more than two people per bedroom. Among the 10 metropolitan areas with the largest proportion of extended families, 7 have a higher percentage of underhoused extended families than the national average of 7%. At least one-third of underhoused extended families of five or more people in each of these 10 metropolitan areas would be unable afford to rent or own a larger unit. This suggests that many extended families might be underhoused out of economic necessity rather than as a matter of cultural preference. 

The report concludes with several policy recommendations to address the emerging housing needs of extended families:

  • Local jurisdictions should support the development and legalization of accessory dwelling units.
  • The development and preservation of larger affordable units should be incentivized through Low Income Housing Tax Credit qualified allocation plans (QAPs).
  • Pilot programs should be funded to explore the creation of “flexible” affordable housing that allows for the cost-effective modification of homes to meet changing family needs (e.g. adding bedrooms).
  • Efforts should be made to preserve small rental properties that often provide more room and greater flexibility for housing extended families than do single family homes or large apartment buildings.
  • Greater access to homeownership should be encouraged through mortgage products that account for income from extended family members in calculating debt-to-income ratios during the underwriting process.

Housing the Extended Family is available at: