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'Grandfamily' Communities Offer Specialized Housing for Caregiving Older Adults

Community Development

'Grandfamily' Communities Offer Specialized Housing for Caregiving Older Adults

August 19, 2021
grandma with kids

The multigenerational community Bridge Meadows was the answer to 67-year-old Jackie Lynn’s difficult living situation as an adoptive guardian for her niece’s children. The community offers affordable housing for older adults with low incomes, adoptive families, or “grandfamilies,” with a grandparent, adult family member, or friend raising a child. The North Portland community features nine townhomes and 27 apartments, in addition to social services. These communities aim to provide stable housing for older adults balancing caregiving and there are at least 10 across the country, reports the Washington Post. And there are roughly 2.7 million children being raised in these grandfamilies.

Comprehensive national data on the growth of such projects over the past decade is scant, experts say. There are at least 19 grandfamily housing programs with on-site services across the United States, financed by a mix of public and private funding, according to Generations United, a nonprofit focused on intergenerational collaboration. Projects are underway in Washington, D.C., and Redmond, Ore., and lawmakers in the House reintroduced the Grandfamily Housing Act, which would create a national pilot program to expand grandfamily housing.

The pandemic has illuminated the nation’s limited housing options, and households headed by a person 65 and older are rising faster than those in other age groups. “There have been grandparents raising grandchildren for a long period of time,” said Rodney Harrell, vice president for family, home and community at AARP. “It’s relatively recently that housing developers have started to pay attention.”

An estimated 2.3 million grandparents are primary caregivers. Since the Great Recession and during the American opioid epidemic, emergency caregivers stepped in while parents were incarcerated and dealing with addiction, said Donna Butts, executive director of Generations United.

“This is not something that you have months to prepare for,” Ms. Butts said. “You’re lucky if you have hours.”

In Oregon, the foster care system grew inundated during the methamphetamine crisis, said Derenda Schubert, executive director of Bridge Meadows. More children in foster care are being raised by relatives, and grandparents have scrambled to find larger, accessible homes. And if a grandparent isn’t a child’s legal guardian, finding housing becomes trickier; fewer than one in three eligible grandfamilies receives housing assistance, according to Generations United.

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