Rebecca Huntley Columnist

Rebecca is a director of The Mind & Mood Report, an author and social commentator with a background in publishing, academia and politics. She holds degrees in law and film studies and a PhD in Gender Studies.

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The rise and rise of the granny flat

Published 08 April 2013 09:32, Updated 09 April 2013 11:11

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The rise and rise of the granny flat

More Australians are getting comfortable with the idea of the multi-generational home, where a granny flat creates flexible living options. Photo: Fairfax Media

Coming from an Italian family, I know all about the usefulness of granny flats. Countless uncles and aunts had their parents snugly tucked in a granny flat at the back of their family home. It was often a structure built by a relative who was also a builder (professional or otherwise).

My great-grandfather lived for many years in a lean-to structure my grandfather built so he could be near the family but sufficiently removed to indulge his passions in opera, model house-making and cooking, passions his wife never shared.

The granny flat may sound old-fashioned, but according to the New South Wales Department of Planning, it’s enjoying renewed support from all kinds of residents – retirees, renovators and even younger consumers looking for a way into the housing market.

As reported in SMH last week, the previous state government introduced a law four years ago to create 10-day approvals for secondary dwellings, with the aim of creating affordable housing. The Department of Planning’s Local Development Performance Monitoring report shows the number of granny flats approved across the state under this new law rose from 487 in 2010-11 to 858 last year, following a doubling of the number approved in the previous year.

There is no mystery to the “sudden” appeal of the granny flat.

In a report we did a few years ago on young couples starting out in life, one of the best and most obvious paths to first-home ownership was living (often board-free) with parents until a deposit was accumulated. To be able to do this in a self-contained part of the house was ideal.

More than this, I encountered young couples who bought property (cashing in on government grants), eventually renting them out, and either renting somewhere more desirable or moving back with parents. As one young man explained to me: “We bought a house which we rent out. Then we live in a bungalow behind my parents’ house. Cheap rent.”

For older Australians looking to downsize but stay near family, those averse to or not ready for retirement living, the granny flat means, as it always has, independence and security. For the children of these older Australians it can mean a live-in baby-sitter and pet-sitter, as well as piece of mind.

For renovators, a granny flat can be a haven while builders tear things apart, especially given the cost of renting and scarce stock available in Sydney.

And for everyone else, today’s granny flat is tomorrow’s home office, hobby hut, guest room, rental accommodation for local students or parental retreat.

In the face of continued high prices for both buying and renting accommodation, and despite the move towards medium-density living, Australians are looking at how they can maximise the use they already get from their block of land. We are slowly but surely embracing the idea of the multi-generational home, something many of us would have rejected as a “migrant thing” 10 years ago.

Granny flat seems too dowdy a term for such a popular idea. Glammy flat, maybe?

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