With two bathrooms between three adults and three teenagers, the morning peak hour can be especially busy inside Maria Nguyen’s home in Ashfield.
Ms Nguyen shares her three-bedroom home with son Peter Yi, his wife Petra and their children Auron, 16, Amira, 14, and 13-year-old Aliza.
“Family is very important and I like to be close to my family,” Ms Nguyen said. “It’s important for me that I can help my son and my grandchildren to have a good home and I don’t like to be alone. In Vietnamese culture families live together and families help each to buy their own home.”
Ms Nguyen’s son and daughter-in-law have lived with her for more than 30 years.
Mr Yi said financial reasons were the main reason his family lived with his mother: “It was always hard to get a deposit to buy a place of your own but now it’s impossible.”
Auron said he appreciated spending time with his grandmother even if the house sometimes felt crowded.
“Space is sometimes an issue when we’re all in the kitchen,” Auron said. “It just gets difficult when we’re all trying to do things, not physically cramped, but all the people just don’t fit in the same room. Also privacy because we only have two bathrooms and it’s real crowded in the mornings.”
About 4 per cent of Australian households had three generations living together in 2016 – a figure that has been increasing since 2000, according to the Australian Institute of Family Studies.
AIFS director Anne Hollonds said multi-generational households were more common among immigrant and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families.
But Dan Woodman, an associate professor of sociology at the University of Melbourne, said cultural changes had made it more acceptable for adult children to remain in the family homecompared to previous generations.
“The Baby Boomers left home because you had to, to be treated like an adult,” he said.
In an era of shrinking welfare payments, insecure work and expensive housing, Professor Woodman said there had also been a revival of the idea that families, not government, should be the main source of support.
Edgar Liu, a senior research fellow at the University of NSW’s City Futures Research Centre, said financial reasons such as saving on housing costs, sharing bills or enabling people to return to study or switch careers motivated people to live with their relatives.
“What they find most satisfying however is the companionship, with financial savings only third down the list,” he said.
Alana Hicks, her husband Raphael Stephens and their sons Dashiell, five, and two-year-old Moale have lived with her parents Ana and Alan for the past two years.
Alana said her family’s decision to move from an apartment in Croydon Park to her parents’ three-bedroom home in Beecroft was driven by financial necessity.
“We couldn’t afford rent and childcare,” she said. “My mother basically saved us and looked after the baby so I can go to work.”
However, the benefits of living together are not solely economic – Mrs Hicks has shared her cultural traditions and language from Papua New Guinea with her grandsons.
Mrs Hicks also said it was typical in PNG for extended families to live under one roof: “Back home this is how we we live.”
South-western Sydney, Blacktown and Parramatta have the most multi-generational households, while the eastern suburbs and city and inner south had the fewest, according to figures from the 2016 census compiled by The Sun-Herald.
Dr Liu said more Australians lived in multi-generational households than alone, yet were often forced to live in far-flung suburbs because of the lack of affordable options closer to job centres.
“If the only properties [they] can afford are in the outer suburbs then there needs to be a variety of services being made available rather than just assume they’ll all be nuclear families,” he said. “There needs to be services and social outlets that older people can access locally as well.”
Dr Liu said the push to increase urban density, particularly in areas close to public transport, was not producing sufficient housing options.
“These developments continue to be driven by a profit-first mentality based on skewed market research, so we end up with heaps of one-and-two bedroom apartments that are only suitable for a very, very narrow range of household types,” he said.
However, the NSW government has made it easier to build granny flats in some areas, according to a spokesman for the Department of Planning, Industry and Environment.
“Councils are also responsible, through their local housing strategies, for promoting housing diversity to meet the needs of future forecast populations,” he said. “They are also responsible for making sure adequate local infrastructure and services are provided for through funding generated by development contribution plans.”
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