Recession drives adult children back home

Signs of the housing crisis are everywhere, with vacant foreclosed homes and for sale signs in almost every neighborhood, but another sign of the recession is less visible-adult children moving into their parents homes to save money.

For some, not paying rent for a few months or a year is the chance they need to get back on their feet. Some say it's even been good for their relationships.

Coffee is brewing at the Mikkelson house in Stillwater. Having coffee together a few times a week has become a ritual now that filmmaker Dawn Mikkelson has moved back in with her parents, Audrey and Mike.

Dawn Mikkelson owns her own small video production business. During the recession, her clients cut back sharply and she lost 60 percent of her income. She closed her office to cut overhead but even that wasn't enough. That's when she knew she had to do something drastic. So she decided to leave her house and rent it out.

"Renting the entire house out," she recalled. "It was just clear that I wasn't going to be able to keep up on payments and I love that house and I want to keep it."

About six months ago, the 33-year old moved out of her house in Minneapolis and moved back in to her childhood bedroom.

"They repainted [it], but they left the carpet. The carpet is pink, which is a really poor choice I made when I was about ten and went through a brief pink stage," she laughs, "and it's still pink and that is - weird."

Nearly one-quarter of households in Minnesota had a friend or family member staying with them because of lack of funds.

Decades after leaving home and running a successful business, the pink carpet is a reminder to her that she's landed in a place she never thought she'd end up: living with her parents.

The recession has pushed more people to the same decision.

In a survey this summer by the Northwest Area Foundation, nearly one-quarter of all households in the state had a friend or family member staying with them because of lack of funds. The survey had a margin of error of plus or minus five points. Housing vacancy rates are also up this year in the Twin Cities metro area, another sign that people are choosing to double up as a way to save money.

St. Paul graphic designer Ann Dorrain is one of them. Dorrain's business has been hit hard by the recession. As her most steady clients cut back over the last year, she lost 70 percent of her income. After months of struggling, Dorrain took the same step as Dawn Mikkelson. She decided to leave her downtown condo and rent it out.

"I was every month taking out of the savings account to pay things. I was very keenly aware where this was headed and it really kind of just hit me one night. I was like I don't even know how I'm going to pay next month," she said.

Dorrain moved in with her sister's family in the suburbs. When work didn't pick up she used the downtime to take courses and expand her skills. Dorrain said the decision to give up some of her privacy and move in with her sister wasn't easy to swallow at first but now she's really enjoying it.

I think its really helped me keep my head on straight.

"I am cherishing the time with the kids and having a blast with my sister and brother-in-law. They are cheering every time I say I'm staying another month so it's really been nice," she said. "And I think its really helped me keep my head on straight and not just feel sorry for myself."

Work has recently started picking up again and Dorrain plans to move back to her place.

In Stillwater, Dawn Mikkelson said moving in together definitely took some adjustment for everyone.

"It has flashback moments. There was one time I went out with friends and decided to stay at a friend's house and didn't call," she said.

What happened next could have been a scene from her teenage years.

"When I got home dad looked awful and I was like 'what happened' and it turns out that he was worried and didn't sleep well that night," she said.

She said she's debated whether or not to call home in similar situations, but said that essentially, she will out of respect for her 'roommates'. Despite episodes like that, Dawn's parents say the economic downturn has been great for their relationship.

"This kind of sounds like this is a set up doesn't it?" Mike said, "how happy we are...but we really are happy." "When Dawn has to move we are going to miss it, we really are," Audrey agreed.

As much as she misses living in her own house, Dawn said she's planning on staying with her parents for a while longer.

"So when I come out of this situation, I will be debt free and still a homeowner."

Your support matters.

You make MPR News possible. Individual donations are behind the clarity in coverage from our reporters across the state, stories that connect us, and conversations that provide perspectives. Help ensure MPR remains a resource that brings Minnesotans together.