Seniors Cohousing: Living Together, Supporting Each Other

Seniors Cohousing: Living Together, Supporting Each Other

Apr 30 2014

Communal living isn't just for recent college graduates. A cadre of retirees looking to downsize and age at home while retaining a vibrant community lifestyle have turned to cohousing developments.

Cohousing blends communal living with private spaces, often near a walkable municipal area. Community members typically purchase a house, townhouse or apartment within the cohousing development and then pay an association fee. They also commit to serving on community committees.

In return, community members eat a communal meal at least once a week, while sharing access to a community center or house with activities and places to relax and socialize. There might be a garden. The community often handles trash pickup, instead of individual homeowners having to deal it.

Cohousing residents share a philosophy, too, about the importance of knowing your neighbors and the people in the community. This means they are more likely to knock on a door should they not see a neighbor for a few days, help each other out as chores become more difficult, and, in some cases, help care for an aging resident in her last days.

In other words, it's independent living in your own space, but a smaller space, and with friendly faces around to lend a hand and keep you company without paying for the services of an assisted living facility (or moving somewhere more institutionalized).

Some cohousing communities have specialized features--one might utilize cutting-edge, environmentally friendly building practices, for example. Or it might link to a university alumni association, offering access to cultural programs. Locations near transit and towns, such as Silver Sage Village of North Boulder, CO, or Phoenix Commons in Oakland, CA, offer easy connections to cafes and events.

And senior cohousing might offer one of the only housing options that's not single-family homes in an area.

Our realtor.com listings for Grass Valley, CA, show only single-family-home listings, such as a two-bedroom, two-bathroom home on five acres for $459,000. Apartment listings? You'll have to look at Wolf Creek Lodge, billed as senior cohousing for active older adults, where a new two-bedroom, two-bathroom unit went on the market in March for $480,000. It's an apartment, but offers a craft room, coffee bar, bonus rooms for visiting guests, and space for an overnight caregiver (assuming that person shares duties for other residents).

Of course, communal living isn't for everyone. The idea of knocking elbows with nosy neighbors over dinner every week might sound like less than a dream come true. And while cheaper than a full-service nursing home, the options aren't exactly inexpensive, nor might they be a good choice for someone who would move in needing intensive care from the start.

More than anything else, developments are limited. While increasing in number, so far cohousing options are more prevalent in the West or near the Washington, D.C., area. Texans and New Yorkers, for example, are mostly out of luck.

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