Wisconsin families are remodeling homes to make room for baby boomers

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Joan Cooney decided to move to Omro to be closer to family. Her children are spread across the country, with one daughter in Alaska, another in Shawano County, and a newly married daughter living in Omro with her husband.

For about a year, Connie has been living alone on Green Bay’s east side in an apartment. I felt isolated. She was divorced, her children were scattered all over the place, and she was 65 years old. She did most things herself, and there wasn’t much for her to do.

“As you get older, you don’t want to be alone anymore,” Cooney said. “It’s nice to be close to family.”

She was retiring soon, so she talked her kids out and moved closer to her daughter and son-in-law in Winnebago County. The timing was perfect – Connie’s daughter, Amanda, was about to become a new mother.

She still wanted to maintain her and her daughter’s independence.

Connie discovered Linked Living Homes, and she and her daughter decided to build an attached space for Connie’s home. The space is its own unit to allow for personal space – not just an extra bedroom.

Connie now has more to do during the day and can spend more time with her children. She was able to spend the summer with them after moving in June. She helps plant flowers, care for the lawn, and takes her dog for walks. She can still go to the Y and try all new foods because her daughter and son-in-law love to cook.

When her daughter goes to school to teach, Connie prepares dinner and starts doing the laundry. With a new baby in the house, she will be happy to be there to help and babysit her grandson. Since the move, Connie has become enthusiastically more active and has more things to do with her family.

“I don’t spend my time at home just watching TV,” Cooney said. “My daughter keeps me moving.”

When they finish eating dinner together, they can return to their homes, which are just a few feet away.

“It’s nice – I can still have my own space and have my friends over. We’re not in their way,” Cooney said.

Joan Cooney passes her grandson, Archer, to his mother, Amanda, as they sit on the sofa.
Joan Cooney delivers her grandson, Archer Phillips, to his mother, Amanda Phillips, on Oct. 18, 2023, in Omro, Wisconsin. (Wm. Glasheen/USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin)

Since opening in 2018, Linked Living has built additions for more families each year. But the owners believe they are not even close to the demand they will see in the future.

Multigenerational living is on the rise in the country. According to a 2021 Pew Research Center study, the number of people living in homes with at least two other generations in their household has quadrupled since 1971.

In Brown County, about 13% of homes are multigenerational, according to an analysis by the Center for Public Integrity. The same is true for Outagamie County. Although this has historically been common in many cultures outside the United States, more Americans are also choosing to live with older relatives for a variety of reasons such as finances, caregiving, or a close-knit family.

Linked Living Homes expects the need for its services in the Fox Valley to grow in the coming years as the baby boom generation ages. The state Department of Administration projects that Wisconsin’s population over 65 will grow by about 500,000 by 2040 and make up nearly a quarter of the total population, up from 14% in 2010. By 2030, one in four is expected to retire A resident of Wisconsin. age.

“I don’t think it’s quite that strong yet,” said Greg Copps, director of Linked Living Homes. “We know that the baby boom generation is huge and that we don’t have the capacity or infrastructure in our current senior care to care for them.”

The Appleton-based company builds specific home additions to keep families together. The company has “mother-in-law” suites for older parents who want to be closer to their family as they age and is also building additions that can accommodate people with special needs.

The idea came about when Tom Cobbs, Greg’s father and company founder, wanted to find a way to bring families together while also maintaining some independence in having their own space.

“These tiny homes for seniors can be a backyard and their own place connected to the family home where both families can enjoy their independence and privacy,” Greg Cobbs said. “But they can be connected so they can help each other.”

Joan Cooney sits on the sofa and smiles as she holds her grandson.  Her daughter Amanda is seen on the left.
Joan Cooney, right, holds her grandson Archer Phillips as they plan their day with his mother, Amanda Phillips, on Oct. 18, 2023, in Omro, Wisconsin. (Wm. Glasheen/USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin)

Clients come to Linked Living Homes for different reasons. Sometimes, seniors want to find something more affordable than assisted living that still gives them their own freedom. Others want to find a way to stay more connected to family and involved, Greg Cobbs said.

The wings give them a unique way to help each other from just their backyard.

“It’s more difficult when you’re going through a snow storm, you know, if you have a little inlet to get through,” he said.

The company is scheduled to complete 16 additions this year, and has made more every year since its opening.

“This is the way humanity has done it for a long time, and (people) are still doing it in other countries,” Greg Cobbs said. “The United States — we’ve kind of moved away from that, but it’s still relevant for some people.”

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