Apartaminiums? Condoments?

I’m intrigued by a new housing concept being constructed in southern California by Lennar. They call it the “Next Gen” house, and it is basically a modestly sized single-family detached residence that incorporates a studio or small one bedroom apartment that is completely autonomous except for one door that connects the two dwellings. While the “big” house will accommodate the nuclear family, the “little” house may provide shelter for an aging parent (or parents), a boomerang kid, or some other cohort of an extended family. These two households are not really living together, but they’re certainly not very far apart.

The germ of this idea is not unique. I recall something out of Andreas Duany’s office that might have been called the “Life Stage House.” (I googled it and couldn’t dredge it up. If anyone knows what I’m talking about, please send me a link.) Anyway, the idea of fluid households cycling through what is, in the final analysis, a multi-family dwelling is not groundbreaking. What I do find novel is that is being proposed for a suburban house. Duany’s, if I recall, featured a shop or commercial space on the ground floor with the two households stacked above it—more of a small town main street mixed-use kind of affair.

Interestingly, in the presentations I’ve heard about this concept, the builder has been very careful to always describe the attached apartment as devoted to a member of the extended family of the principal owner. OK; but when I saw it, I couldn’t help but think of Income Property, a program on HGTV wherein designer/contractor Scott McGillivray helps a typically young couple remodel a basement space to create a rental apartment for a complete stranger, thereby collecting income and offsetting the cost of their mortgage. This seemed like a very obvious opportunity for the “Next Gen” house.

The problem, of course, is with the agencies having authority. A great deal of SFR zoning will not allow rental units. Maybe it’s time to re-evaluate this policy. The “Next Gen” house includes a covered parking space for the “mini me” unit, which would seem to satisfy the biggest concern of the city/county planners. I believe this concept could help a great number of people. Dwellings of this design might allow many more families to become homeowners if in fact they had income property as part of their complex right from the get-go to reduce their net mortgage payment. Since the rental unit is typically cozy, and would not bear the overhead costs of a large apartment complex with lavish amenities, its rent would likely be at or below market, thus making it pretty reasonable. Put them both together and they create affordable housing for both an ownership and a rental property. Maybe it could be conditioned that only an owner occupant would be allowed to rent the unit to a non-related tenant in order to control the quality of all involved, if that’s a concern for some.

Maybe this technique could also apply to currently vacant houses sadly left behind by their previous owners in the foreclosure crisis. It doesn’t take a very big house to be able to carve out an apartment—just ask Scott McGillivray. Maybe a developer could buy up a big chunk of these properties in the same community, convert them to “Next Gen”-like accommodations, and get lots of people back into these places.

All we need is a branding idea. (See suggestions in the title above.)