Health & Medicine

Kentuckians make tough housing decisions in rough economy

The rules in Charlotte Wong's home in Lexington just aren't as strict as they used to be. She no longer questions her youngest son about his evening plans with friends, and she doesn't interrogate him about when he'll return.

Nowadays, Wong tries to keep her Saturday morning coffee gatherings with friends quiet while her son sleeps.

She no longer treats her son like the teenager who left home years ago to attend Auburn University because Tommy is now 22.

"It's been a learning experience," Wong said.

Tommy Wong's recent return home is a story similar to those of many Central Kentuckians who have made sacrifices in their living arrangements in order to save money or maintain a job. A Richmond woman rarely sees her husband after moving in with parents in Western Kentucky to commute to a job in Nashville. Another woman who has never relied on anyone is now living under her cousin's roof.

A study released in November by the Pew Research Center found that 13 percent of parents surveyed said one of their sons or daughters had moved back home in the past year. The independent, non-partisan public-opinion research organization in Washington, D.C., found that 10 percent of adults ages 18 to 34 said the poor economy forced them to move back in with parents. The survey also found that 12 percent of young adults said they acquired a roommate.

Tommy Wong says moving back in with his parents made the most sense.

Kentucky Employers' Mutual Insurance in Lexington offered him a job about a month after graduation. Tommy Wong said he had considered going to law school but was not prepared to make the financial and time commitments.

"I'm happy I have a job," Wong said. "I have a place to live. I have a great family and friends who support me."

Wong said he thought about the high cost of gas and job security, and he decided to stay at home to save money. Plus, he did not want to live from paycheck to paycheck.

The goal is for Wong to have his own place by the summer. Not because he doesn't like his family, but because he wants a home where he can host friends and make dinner for a date.

Paula Squires had been an administrative assistant for eight years but took night classes to get her bachelor's degree. Squires, 39, of Lexington had been a software programmer for two years in June when she lost her job.

Squires landed another job as an administrative assistant at Kentucky American Water. The new job paid less, and she wanted to reduce her debt, so she decided to move in with her cousin and his partner.

It was a decision made with tears and apprehension, in large part because Squires has thrived on her independence.

"I've just never been somebody to sit idle, and I've always taken care of myself," she said.

Squires grew up in a household where there was no such thing as "girl chores." She learned to change her car's oil and tires.

Squires, who has been divorced for six years, said she maintained her independence when she was married.

"I'm not one of those girls that lets a man do everything," she said.

Now, she says, the biggest problem in her new home is the noise from the television when she's trying to sleep at night.

But she also has strengthened the bond with her cousin. And living together made Squires realize that the two of them have a lot of similar traits, such as immediately tossing the milk when it reaches the expiration date.

"There's no sniff test," she said, chuckling. "The date says it's bad, so it's bad."

Squires is looking into getting a home this year using an $8,000 federal tax credit, and she's hopeful that her time in her cousin's home will end soon.

Wendy O'Connor, 33, tries to find a gleam in an unusual living arrangement. She's happy that she has a lot of cell phone minutes and audio books.

O'Connor accepted a job in Nashville last fall and decided to stay with her parents in Princeton, near Land Between the Lakes, leaving her husband behind in Richmond.

The arrangement was supposed to be brief — just until her husband could transfer within his company to a position closer to Nashville. But shortly after starting in her new position as a librarian, O'Connor was demoted to library associate and took a pay cut.

O'Connor drives 97 miles to work and almost four hours to see her husband.

O'Connor's mother, Linda Overfield, who has to buy extra food and do more laundry, said she feels sorry for her daughter.

"It's hard on everybody," Overfield said. "It's hard on me, hard on her husband."

O'Connor wants to become a librarian again. The couple's plan to sell their home in Richmond is on hold as they wait to see what happens in the next few months.

O'Connor said she sees her husband about two to three weekends each month. But she said they have a stronger relationship now, and they have started going on more dates.

"I wouldn't recommend it," O'Connor said of her situation. "But we're doing it because that's what we have to do."