A Guide to Senior Or Elder Cohousing: Features, Costs, & Benefits

Active Retirement Housing in a Cohousing Community - A Welcome Choice for America's Retiring and Aging Population.

What Kind of Housing Do Seniors Want?

Jane Adler, writing for the Chicago Tribune opines:

“We’ve finally realized what should have been obvious all along: Elders want the same kind of home as everyone else, or at least something a bit more like a house than a hospital. New buildings reflect the attitude adjustment.”

A baby boomer nearing retirement age in Dallas, TX, writes:

“I grew up in a medium-sized town in the south. Every night that I can remember, I played outside with my friends, even huddling under trees and porches in the rain. Many nights our parents sat outside, too, watching us, but primarily visiting with each other.

I see elder or senior cohousing as somewhat of a return to the neighborhoods of my childhood. Certainly I don’t want to spend my retirement years in a typical urban/suburban apartment, condo, or retirement home.”

Janet Kornblum of USA TODAY says about seniors:

“The idea is to move into a place where they will spend the rest of their lives, though illnesses such as advanced-stage Alzheimer’s could still force them out if a time comes when they can no longer live independently with the help of a caregiver.”

Is Senior Cohousing Right for You?

The same type of senior housing (or senior cohousing community) that is right for one retired person may not be right for the next one.

Think about cohousing for a few minutes. How do you determine if cohousing is a good place for you to spend the rest of your life?

You are old enough to know that no situations or relationships are perfect. But everyone has concerns about those matters and some of those concerns are very important issues.

Yet we often get bogged down by inconsequential issues that are really of no great importance to us.

The first step in determining if cohousing is right for you, then, is to prepare questions about the really important issues in your life while preparing to let less important items slide.

Now that you have narrowed your list down to your major issues, the second step is to go to meetings and ask questions about them.

Listen to the answers, of course, but just as important, watch the body language of people who are not responding. This will help you to avoid disparities between your wishes and those of the others who will share your life.

The following are some examples of questions you might ask yourself.

  1. What attracts you about living in cohousing? Social times, shared meals, vegetable gardening, cooking, working in the shop, more free time, less free time…
  2. How will you feel about people who ask for your support or favors? The support system of cohousing communities is a wonderful benefit but it is a two-way street. In a small community, people might ask you for everything from a rides to watering plants or caring for pets while they are travelling.
  3. How good are you at establishing your own boundaries and respecting the privacy and boundaries of others? Living in cohousing is often described as up-close and personal.
    Can you both learn to say “no” to others and take “no” when others say it to you.
  4. Will you enjoy your monthly work time that keeps the community operational, keeps costs down, and builds friendships? Although you will probably have some choice of tasks, it often takes 10-15 hours of your time each month.
  5. How do you handle controlling people and conflict situations? Do you seethe inside, explode in a temper, argue, walk away, move on to something else?
  6. How will you handle other residents’ pets, grandchildren, or other guests?
  7. Do you have unusual diet or food preferences?
  8. Would you prefer living with all ages or your own age?

If cohousing is right for you, do you want to live with all ages, including children, as in intergenerational cohousing, or would you prefer to live with those who are closer to your own age and probably quieter in senior cohousing.

Why Elder or Senior Cohousing?

OK, you are sold. You want to move into cohousing.

You are a baby-boomer, over 55 but not yet 60. Your children are grown and you lead an active, healthy lifestyle.

Or maybe you are over 65 and retired. You are still active and enjoy being around people who are younger than you are.

Why should either of you move into elder housing with a bunch of people who are “old” when you do not feel or act old yourself? There are two good reasons:

  1. The vast majority of people who move into elder cohousing are active physically and mentally. They don’t fit anyone’s idea of “old”.
  2. Intergenerational cohousing communities hope to have an abundance of families with children in residence.

What does that mean to you?

Children are naturally noisy and giggly. Some people have at least partial hearing losses as they age. A noisy dining area might not be conducive to conversation for someone who has partial hearing loss.

Children also leave their skateboards, bicycles, sleds, and balls lying around on the community paths. It’s no fun to fall down as an adult and having a broken bone is even less fun.

Well, you say, but don’t people have their grandchildren come to stay?

Well, yes they do. But the grandchildren don’t stay long or have many other kids for playing ball or giggling. They tend to leave their bikes and skateboards at home–or at the very least they take them home after their visit.

Some cohousing communities with children forego a media room because children could watch unsupervised video and television there. Elder housing does not have that constraint.

Children are not known for their gourmet diet preferences, making the menus in the common house somewhat limited.

Parents of children do not have an abundance of extra time. Many retired or empty-nester cohousers find that they are doing more than their share of keeping up the community because they have the free time to do so.

Last, but not least, not everyone is going to discipline their children in ways that are effective or in a manner that you approve.

If you are the kind of person to stress out about matters such as that, you will be adding a burden to your senior years.

Where to Live for Senior or Elder Housing

Before you decide on an area for spending the rest of your life, check crime statistics, tax rates, housing affordability, health care quality and the general economy of the area.

You can compare cities on several websites or just google the name of the town and look at information available about it.

Then think about seeing your own children. It is easy to say you will travel to see them often, but it is harder in practice than in thought.

If you do decide to move, don’t forget details about choosing a specific house that will be livable as you grow older.

Look for wide doors, few-to-no steps or stairs, and a bathroom that can be entered in a wheelchair.

People often decide on a two-story townhouse when they want to downsize but that is usually a mistake. You may be quite healthy now but imagine what would happens if a twinge of arthritis gets worse or you actually end up in a wheelchair for some reason.

At least make certain the townhouse you buy has a bedroom and full bath on the first floor. If you must restrict stair use in the future, then you could live on that one level, even if you had to remodel.

That said, if you are looking for cohousing, there are not that many senior or elder cohousing places to live now.

So, you might consider intergenerational cohousing.

There are about 100 or so intergenerational cohousing communities. Maybe you will be lucky and there will be one near you.

And, don’t forget – you can always start one yourself.

Where Do Pre-Retirees Want to Live?

Probably all seniors and non-seniors alike have a horror of spending their retirement living with adult children.

Even worse, though, is the thought of ending life in a nursing home.

So where does an Americans close to retirement want to live?

In 2004 a national study of pre-retirees (ages 50-65) was conducted by the Mature Market Institute (MetLife) and AARP’s Healthcare Options. Eighty-six percent of those surveyed said aging in their own homes would be their first choice.

However, that is not always possible and not all pre-retirees expect to be able to remain in their homes.

“As the boomers reach age 65, their retirement will not resemble that of their parents or grandparents,” said Sandra Timmermann, Ed.D., director of the MetLife Mature Market Institute.

“We are beginning to see trends that could signal major changes for the aging baby boomers and their retirement living plans. The women in this group, particularly, are open to new ideas for living in retirement. They are more likely than men to live a long life and find themselves alone.

Therefore, living with friends and having access to an important support group during retirement is an idea that could resonate with women. ”

Of those who expect to leave their homes eventually, being in a community of family and friends is the factor pre-retirees consider most important in deciding where to live during retirement (51% identify it as one of the three most important factors), followed by not having to follow anyone else’s rules (42%), and the weather/climate (38%) as the third most important factor.

Of those surveyed, 34% were interested or very interested in a clustered living community, in a campus-like setting, that included private space and communal areas such as a dining room, kitchen, library, entertainment center and laundry facility– a situation that sounds very much like cohousing.

Some retirement communities might meet that requirement but most will be considerably more expensive than living in a senior cohousing community.

According to US News, an assisted-living residence charges a national average monthly fee of $2,968 for room, board, and services such as laundry, transportation, housekeeping, and medication management. The fee goes up for higher levels of service.

Senior cohousing residents provide those services for themselves and their cohousing friends at a fraction of the cost, with more community, and probably much more enjoyment of living.

Finding a Senior Cohousing Community

The idea of senior cohousing is to recreate a time when neighbors shared their happy and sad times, meals, and leisure activities.

A time when Americans looked to their neighborhoods for companions and helping hands.

If you agree, you probably want to buy a retirement home in a senior cohousing community?

Unfortunately, that is easier said than done.

One reason is there are not many actual senior cohousing projects to join at this time.

They are new to America, although there are many in Europe, particularly in Denmark where cohousing originated.

There are multiple start-up groups who hope to build senior cohousing “some day.”

Unfortunately, it seems to be rare for a cohousing group to reach the building stage. One wonders if the journey becomes more important than the destination for some groups.

Ten Common Features of Senior Cohousing

  1. Each family has at least one person who is age 55 or over in order to reside in the senior community.
  2. Senior cohousing is designed not only for community, but also for individual privacy.
  3. Each senior family has a private home which is normally modest in size with “green” construction saving energy, materials, and money.
  4. Each private home is built using universal design and can fit the lifestyle of an active senior or one who needs accessibility for a walker or wheelchair–now or in the future.
  5. Private homes in senior cohousing are augmented by common facilities which are shared by all residents and include such amenities as a common house, a community garden, common open areas and walking paths, community hobby areas, and other features that are important to the cohousing residents.
  6. Common facilities are planned and built using universal design to assure use by residents with all levels of physical ability.
  7. Residents manage their project after they move-in and in a few projects, residents manage from the beginning.
  8. Leadership is shared by residents. No one person from the community leads the project, although consultants are often hired during the planning and building stage.
  9. The community itself is not normally a source of income for the seniors. There is no shared income in the community–each senior family has its own outside sources of income.
  10. Structures are one story unless an elevator is provided, although second story units are sometimes included for the living quarters to home health aides.

The Costs of Elder or Senior Cohousing

Most intergenerational cohousing builds-out at market rate. When that is true in elder cohousing, it leaves quite a large portion of the senior population unable to afford to live in cohousing.

However, costs can be kept down by building on lower-priced land. This is accomplished by moving further away from the center of the urban area (possibly into the rural area surrounding a city) or by moving into an area that is less desirable for most of that city’s inhabitants.

Since this usually means an area of high crime, the preferable solution for most seniors is to move further out from town.

There is another alternative that might work in the future: modular homes. Modular homes are probably tighter construction than the majority of builders can accomplish and they are also constructed in a dry atmosphere. Unfortunately, energy-efficiency stops there for most modular manufacturers.

It makes no financial sense to save on construction costs, then pay increasingly higher utility bills so passive solar design and energy-efficiency is a must for elder cohousing.

Modular housing has one other advantage. The entire community builds quickly, this allowing savings on interim financing costs.

The availability of grants and subsidies for elder housing is increasing. We will report on that in the future.

Rentals for Senior or Elder Cohousing

Do rentals make sense for senior or elder cohousing?

Rentals can certainly be a source of income and possibly even pay the expenses of the common areas and property.

Yet, ask any landlord and you will find out that they can also be a large burden–and rentals are not always profitable.

In addition, some of the profit landlords enjoy is property or rent appreciation over a period of time.

Is property appreciation a goal of seniors?

If it is a goal, is there enough life expectancy for seniors to realistically expect appreciation to be part of their profit? What happens in the meantime?

Most senior cohousing is one-story. Yet it is cheaper (per square foot) to build a two-story building (one roof, one foundation) and certainly it is better use of land.

In senior cohousing, the top story could be rented or used in later years to house a care giver.

There is a trend in construction now to build retail or office rentals into the housing community–possibly facing the street in front of the houses or on the bottom floor of a multi-story building.

The common house of a senior cohousing community should be one-story unless elevators are included. However, the second story of the common house could be used for rentals now and housing for care givers, a cook, or a chauffeur in coming years.

What happens if rental property is included and management becomes a burden?

A common solution is to hire a property manager. Good property management is pretty much available anywhere.

The Many Benefits of Senior or Elder Cohousing

There are so many benefits to senior cohousing that it is hard to make a comprehensive list. Some of the benefits are:

Friendships Stop Social Loneliness

Social loneliness is caused by the lack of friends and acquaintances and is worsened by the isolation of retirement and/or by living in apartments or suburban neighborhoods.

Cohousing immediately ends the isolation of apartment and/or suburban living and helps replace workday friends.

And, although social opportunities exist in all retirement housing, cohousing makes it much easier and quicker to make social friends, particularly for those who are somewhat shy.

Ends Emotional Loneliness

Retirement can be lonely for many, particularly those who are far from or have no close family.

It is also a problem for seniors who are single.

Emotional loneliness comes from having no one to share your intimate thoughts. Even one “best friend” can end emotional loneliness.

In fact, seniors who have at least one person to share their emotional lives generally live longer than those who do not have that privilege.

Cohousing provides the first step in making an intimate friend by providing close and repetitive situations with people who are like-minded.

Better Physical Health

Cohousing makes it possible to share exercise with others who are similar to you in physical fitness and age. The common areas of a cohousing community usually have walking trails with planned exercise areas in the common house.

Meals that are nutritionally balanced, home-cooked, non-processed, and organic are generally available without the daily cooking hassle. Meal time is shared with friends.

Friends generally make seniors more healthy, even physically.

Better Mental Health

Social and intimate support, shared hobby areas, planned meditation and quiet areas plus the mental stimulation of activities, make cohousing a better place for your mental health to flourish.

Physical Safety

In a cohousing community, all residents know each other well. When a stranger is spotted, he/she can either be questioned immediately or law enforcement officers can be called to do this. Gated communities are possible in many situations.

Shared Resources, Saved Time, and Lowered Living Costs

Cohousing allows residents access to more facilities than they would have on their own such as community gardens, greenhouse, game/card areas, workshops, art/craft areas, and shared dining and kitchen facilities in the community areas.

Local food and other buying co-ops can be formed with optional membership from residents and even membership among the outlying community if desired.

Shared meals, car pooling, less yard work, more on-site activities, smaller homes, clustered housing, trading goods, and shared guest rooms all help lower living costs.

Shared chores and less duplication of effort save an abundance of time for cohousing seniors.

Private, Quiet Times

Cohousing provides private living, dining and kitchen facilities within a private home with some home styles providing small private outdoor living areas as well.

Senior cohousing also adds a measure of quietness that will not be available in intergenerational cohousing.

Earth Friendly

There are more opportunities to reduce, reuse, and recycle when working as a group. Rather than use space for houses, streets, and parking, clustered housing allows cohousing communities to preserve much of the green space of the site.

Passive solar housing can be designed. Some alternative energy sources can be included in the community and even within the homes.

You will be leaving a greener earth to your children and grandchildren. Many seniors and their heirs consider this much more important than leaving money.

Active Lifestyle of Elder Cohousing Communities

The current lifestyle of elders seems to be a progression of escalating isolation as friends die or move away and increasing frailties constrict movement outside of the home.

A downward spiral begins and eventually pushes many of our elders to the dreaded fate of the nursing home.

Elder or senior cohousing can stop that spiral.

The lifestyle of elder cohousing is built around the premises that:

  1. Your neighborhood is your community thus allowing you to live in a more intimate manner within cohousing. You don’t suffer the isolation that leads to social and emotional loneliness.
  2. The more hardy and healthy of the elder cohousing residents will assist in the care of their more frail neighbors.

People may imagine elder cohousing as a bunch of retirees napping on the porch in their respective rocking chairs. The opposite is true.

Actually, living with friends gives seniors other people to join them in the creation of a more active lifestyle than most of them would lead on their own.

For example, living with other seniors not only gives residents travelling companions but it also gives them the freedom to travel knowing their home is being carefully watched for them.

You can also add the bonus of sharing the cost of travelling which helps all parties financially and allows even more travel on the same budget.

Seniors are more apt to exercise with other seniors of like physical abilities. Even walking is more fun and more apt to happen with a walking companion who shares your speed and fitness level.

Although retirement is not a prerequisite of residency, most residents of elder cohousing are retired and have time to pursue an active lifestyle that is not possible while still working.

Cars – Do Seniors Needs Them?

There comes a time in the life of every senior when driving is no longer possible. With car sharing, ride sharing, public transportation, and having services located in the elder cohousing community, the importance of cars in the lives of seniors begins to recede.

In fact, by living in senior cohousing, seniors may find they are able to live without a car long before they need to give up driving.

Most cohousing communities plan for cars to be left at the perimeter of the property. Seniors then use pedestrian walkways to travel around the community.

The advantages:

  • Travelling around the community on pedestrian walkways allows neighbors to meet and communicate on a daily basis.
  • Frail or disabled seniors are safer, not only from cars but because neighbors see them and watch out for their safety.
  • Benches and shaded areas along the walkways encourage a more relaxed and friendly lifestyle for seniors.
  • Attached garages are a health hazard which cars to emit heat and toxic gases into the home.
  • The space normally used for streets and driveways is used for community resources.

This works well because:

  • Cohousing communities are small (compared to subdivisions) so there is not a great distance to cars from any one home.
  • Seniors who feel they need to be near their car for some reason can choose a location near the parking facilities.
  • Senior cohousing communities should have a storage area in the parking area for wagons or other rolling equipment to transport groceries/other items to the individual home or common house.
  • Vehicles can access the wide pedestrian walkways in an emergency or for extra-large items to be delivered.

Public transportation availability is growing and is already available in most areas for those who are disabled.

If night driving is a problem for entertainment reasons, and if residents desire, the homeowners association can purchase a van and hire a driver for a set number of entertainment hours/times per week.

Meanwhile, Back at the Common House

The common house is the heart of the senior cohousing community and is designed to promote activity within the village. In many, many ways it keeps the community viable and active.

Each group decides what roles their common house will fill.

However, almost all cohousing common housing includes many of the following basic functions:

  1. A large dining area and and community gathering space. This room is used for parties, dances, community videos, and more.
  2. A common kitchen designed for at least two cooks at a time. Although its primary use is for preparing community meals, the kitchen might also be used at other times for juicing, canning, and cleaning/sorting of community-grown vegetables and foods/other goods purchased by a community buying co-operative.
  3. Mail pick-up locations, with bulletin boards and other arrangements for internal communication.
  4. Restroom areas.

There are other functions of the common house which can be included such as:

  • Guest rooms for visiting friends or relatives. This helps cut down on size of individual homes. Guest rooms are often some of the most utilized space in a common house.
  • Laundry area for those who do not wish to include a washer/dryer in their individual homes.
  • Office area with fax machine, copy machine, computer, desk area.
  • Hobby and craft spaces.
  • Exercise room with work-out equipment.
  • An acoustically isolated room for music, both for listening to music and practising an instrument.

The larger the community, the more varied functions the common house might provide.

The community house will probably be smaller if the residents are caring for and maintaining the common house.

Make Good Use of Your Common House

If you are living in cohousing or an ecovillage, you almost certainly have a common house controlled by the residents. If you live in other senior housing, you probably have community space, although resident control is almost certainly limited.

Most management firms will be sensitive to residents’ desires, however, so ask for what you want.

  • Start book or movie discussion groups.
  • Organize movie or music nights.
  • Offer Flu Shots and Pneumonia Vaccines in the common house. Contact a home health agency that will send nurses on-site to give shots.
  • Plan exercise classes such as yoga or low-impact aerobics.
  • Start a lending library for books and videos.
  • Organize health speakers to come periodically to discuss topics such as diet and health, long-term care insurance, exercise, or interactions between prescription medicine and over the counter items.
  • Organize other speakers to come periodically to discuss non-health matters such as organic gardening, financial issues, or travel.
  • Organize socials other than shared meals are important to many members.
  • Organize a Health Fair-A home health agency can help set up a health fair in the common house that could provide blood pressure screening plus diet information and health education to seniors in your community.
  • Organize/Produce a talent show or theatrical production. Some in your group will almost surely enjoy participating while others will enjoy watching.
  • Start a common house committee that gets things done.

Common Areas in Senior Cohousing

The common house is not the only common area in a senior or elder cohousing community.

Other common areas enjoyed by seniors are:

  1. Community gardens for both flowering plants and fruits and vegetables are welcome in senior cohousing.
  2. Swimming pool. Swimming is good aerobic exercise for seniors but older seniors do not share a pool well with children.
  3. Workshop area.
  4. Pond or creek. Any body of water, even a reflection pool, is an asset to senior cohousing.
  5. Small play area for visiting grandkids
  6. Outdoor living areas such as decks, patios, and porches. A meeting porch with rockers is a natural senior cohousing feature.
  7. Walking and open areas. This is enhanced by natural beauty and wooded areas.
  8. Parking for community vehicles such as wagons or carts for seniors who are transporting items from automobiles, motorized wheelchairs, or a community truck or van.
  9. Individual storage areas are useful for seniors, particularly those who are downsizing their home size to cohousing. These might be available on a rental basis or be added as an extra purchase.
  10. A meditation area.
  11. Screened porch, particularly in areas where bugs and/or mosquitoes are a nuisance. A good place to add those rockers for senior cohousing.
  12. Parking area which could include an area for minor automobile repairs.

Loneliness and Cohousing or Intentional Communities

Regardless of the fullness of our life as a young or middle-aged adult, there seems to be more loneliness involved as we age.

Many people have their social network tied up in work. At retirement, that network starts to dry up.

Also, as we age, so does our family. Siblings die or become disabled. Children, then even grandchildren, grow up, move away, or become involved in their own lives and children.

We long to see them, but don’t want to feel like we are a burden to them, so often don’t even call them.

Our friends age, too. They retire and leave for other places, become disabled or frail, and even die. It is hard to replace a social network of friends and even harder to replace a “best friend.”

Often the most lonely happening in our lives is to lose our spouse. Many have their spouse as their only close confidant.

All of these don’t happen at one time–it is a gradual process. The net effect, though, is increasing isolation for seniors.

Any intentional community or cohousing community can halt isolation and, thus, a lot of the loneliness for seniors.

People generally suffer from two forms of loneliness:

  • Social Loneliness
  • Emotional Loneliness

People who describe social loneliness refer to feelings of boredom, restlessness, and feeling left out.

Social loneliness stems from an absence of a social network. Cohousing will probably solve social loneliness for almost everyone.

People who describe emotional loneliness speak of feelings of anxiety and emptiness.

Even a very socially active person can suffer from this type of loneliness when his/her social network is comprised of superficial acquaintances. Even a marriage which is not embedded in a close relationship is often described as lonely.

One close confidant can cure emotional loneliness for many people. However, that close relationship is much harder to build than a social network.

Cohousing gives you an opportunity to make a few really close friends.

Planning Outdoor Common Areas for Senior Cohousing

Outdoor common areas must be planned around the following factors:

Future Needs

Outdoor common areas for seniors need careful planning so that they will be useful today and in the future.

For example, the wooden plank path to the right might be suitable for all residents today.

In the future, though, as some residents become more frail and some begin to use walkers and wheelchairs, this particular path would not be suitable.


How much and what kind of moisture falls from the sky, where that moisture goes, and how long is stays will be great determining factors in what outdoor areas are planned for senior cohousing.

Areas that have large and persistent snowfalls will have much different outdoor areas from the sunbelt. Ditto for rainfall, flooding, and wetlands.


Hot periods need ceiling fans and cold periods need fires. Is your area mostly cold or mostly hot? Spend your money where it counts.

Sunshine and Shade

Hot areas of the country need shade–maybe even all year long. Colder areas need sunshine to make the outdoors habitable over more of the winter.


Mosquitoes and other bugs are problematic in many areas of the country. That makes a screened enclosure valuable for outdoor living.


To pave or not to pave, that is the question.

  • Paving is permanent and makes it easy to push a stroller/wheelchair or ride a bicycle/rollerblade.
  • Paving is not kind to the environment or to the joints of people. It might be wise to consider another form of surfacing.


Water is very nice for an outdoor area. Even a small reflective pond is welcomed. A swimming pool is not necessary but it is also nice.

Meditation and Quiet Time

A quiet and shaded outdoor meditation area will serve hot areas well whereas senior cohousing residents in a cooler part of the country might prefer a sunny area.

Therapeutic Community Gardens for Seniors in Cohousing

A community garden is often part of a senior cohousing project. Although flower gardens are therapeutic and add beauty to senior or elder cohousing, a vegetable garden is a welcome addition for several reasons.

Gardens also require bending and stooping, a feat that is hard for some seniors. In this case we recommend raised beds, even raised tables.

The therapeutic nature of hands in the soil and watching something of beauty or usefulness grow is too precious to give up to arthritis.

Cohousing community gardens have several features in common:

  • They are almost universally organic.
  • They often provide food for all in the cohousing dining room.
  • They expose cohousing residents to nature and to sources of food.
  • They are therapeutic for most who work in the gardens.
  • They help create important biodiversity in the community. Community gardens create habitat support for insects and birds.
  • They buffer urban noises and sounds.

In summary, they are another source of community building for a cohousing project.
Community gardens do not have to be big.

The smallest garden still offers beauty and therapy, even a fair amount of food, for seniors who are fortunate enough to live in cohousing.

Ecohousing: Why Build Green?

Ecohouses are those houses which are constructed in accordance with sustainable development principles. Using renewable resources and techniques, ecohousing is building green.

Why build green?

Over and above a desire to leave a better planet to your children and grandchildren, there is a very good financial reason to build ecohousing.

It is quite simply to keep your heating and cooling utility bills from devouring a larger and larger percentage of your retirement income.

No one doubts that utility bills will continue to go up, up and up–out of proportion to rising wages and certainly out of proportion to a relatively set retirement income..

So what happens when your utilities go up. You have four choices:

  1. Keep paying higher bills. You allow utilities to consume a larger and larger portion of your income.
  2. Remodel this home you recently built. It is not only very expensive to remodel a home, though, it is very rarely as effective as using sustainable building principles from the beginning.
  3. Sell this home and buy another one. That defeats the purpose of buying into a senior cohousing community for the friendships and emotional support found there.
  4. Grin and bear it. Be cold in winter and/or hot in summer because you just can’t afford to do anything else.

How much does ecohousing cost?

It really costs very little, if any, more money to build green.

It is very important for seniors to keep searching until they find a builder who understands the concept of ecohousing and has the experience to build a green home without overcharging for it.

Individual Privacy in Senior Cohousing

The best thing about cohousing is the community. That community alarms some seniors who ask, “What about privacy?”

The second best thing about cohousing is the privacy. When seniors want their privacy, they simply walk in their home, shut the door, and it is private.

In a senior cohousing community, each unit is individually owned. It is a complete home so shutting the door shuts out the world.

These individual homes often have some private outdoor space, too. Thus owners can be private both indoors and outdoors when that privacy is desired.

What is not private?

  • The common space is shared.
  • A general meeting is held on a timely basis (often once a month) to govern the community. At least one member of each household is expected to attend these meetings in most cohousing communities.
  • Meals are shared on some regular basis. However, residents can attend these meals or not, as they desire.

Hot Spots in Community Decisions for Senior Cohousing

Hot Spots are those areas where people often disagree and disagree emotionally. It is important to get the following rules and regulations agreed upon early in the cohousing planning process.

This allows newcomers to decide whether to join the group or not based upon prior decisions.

  • Pets. We love our pets as if they were our children and in some cases they are the children of seniors. Many pets can do no wrong. Unfortunately, some of those have been taught no manners. Their owners rarely see their faults. It is very important to have rules and regulations for pets in advance because it is hard to deal with a few pet owners after the fact.
  • Alcohol. Alcohol is rarely a problem for seniors unless it is being abused or unless people are opposed to alcohol in general.
  • Tobacco. Another sore spot for smokers and non-smokers alike is when and where tobacco is allowed.
  • Guns. Some see guns as necessary to protection. Others see guns as inherently malevolent. Still others see guns as dangerous, particularly in a population where some do not see, hear, or think as clearly as they once did.
  • Clutter. Although some people are neater than others, clutter can be a problem, particularly if it is in the path of a wheel chair. And it can actually be dangerous to a senior who is using a walker or to one who has precarious balance.
  • Diet/Food. Diet problems can center around allergies, food likes and dislikes, or general diet preferences such as a vegetarian diet or a diet with no pork. For example: Some who don’t eat animal products only want a vegetarian or vegan diet in the common house. Others prefer that animal products be prepared separately in the common kitchen while a third group wants any meat and/or dairy brought into the the common house to be prepared in private homes.

These decisions may seem petty but they still need to be made early in the cohousing process.

Assemble Good Neighbor Information for Senior Cohousing

Gather information and keep in a binder in the common house, maybe in the office area, so all cohousing residents can use it, if and when necessary.

When you are compiling the list, use the internet, phone book, and city/county information.

Most of all, though, ask others for their recommendations.

  • Create a resource list of senior services available in your area with telephone numbers and web addresses.
  • List home health agencies that conduct home visits for seniors with Medicare insurance and provide nurses, physical therapists, social workers, and dieticians.
  • List physicians who make house calls.
  • List local pharmacies that deliver medicines.
  • Make a list of handy men, construction companies and repair companies. This is a hard list to prepare without personal recommendations.
  • List resources in your area to transport seniors to get groceries or for other reasons.
  • List of other services such as counselling, financial counselling, and help preparing income tax.
  • Be sure to have a list of the local churches, temples, and synagogues available in the area.

Intergenerational and Senior or Elder Housing Together

Many cohousers of all ages are finding that an intergenerational cohousing community and a senior or elder cohousing community are good side-by-side fits.

Each has its own common house but they could share some common features such as:

  • Community vegetable garden.
  • Greenhouse.
  • Craft area.
  • Workshop.
  • Open spaces (such as walking trials, woods, creeks, or wetlands).

Advantages for Intergenerational Members:

  • Seniors make wonderful adopted grandparents .
  • Senior can help with after-school care for working parents. A place can even be set aside for this in the intergenerational common house.
  • Single moms often find built-in male role models for their children.
  • Seniors often have more time for gardening and the like than those who are still career building.

Advantages for Senior Members

  • Extra income from baby-sitting.
  • A feeling of usefulness.
  • Being the adopted grandparent or role model for a child.
  • Mentoring.
  • Help with matters that require youthful strength or balance in the senior common house or in individual homes.

Younger Faces in Senior or Elder Cohousing

Jane Adler is a freelance writer who specializes in senior topics, particularly senior housing. In writing for the Chicago Tribune, she writes:

“The dirty little secret of seniors-only buildings is that residents don’t want to see only old people. Fresh, young faces make a difference.”

Bob Wilson agrees and writes, “My father lives in a retirement community of 100 plus seniors. The average age there is over 80. I visit often and we usually eat with everyone else in the dining area. When I bring my toddling granddaughter along, she lights up the entire room.”

How can seniors include younger people in their day-to-day life while maintaining separate cohousing communities?

Location, location, location.

Look for cohousing communities that are within a safe walking distance of retail centers, parks or community centers as well as daycares where seniors can volunteer.

You may also want to consider a rental situation, in which the senior lives in a ground floor space while a younger individual rents the upper half.

Also, you can look into cohousing communities that include retail units in the building, such a salon or restaurant.

Ultimately, combining senior cohousing with intergenerational cohousing probably makes sense.

Two separate, but adjacent, cohousing communities, one with seniors, one for all ages, is certainly a possible solution, particularly if the two cohousing communities share some commonalities.

Aging Gracefully in Elder Cohousing

Aging gracefully actually begins in our 40s. However, it is never too late to start and a senior cohousing community is an accepting place to begin.

Quality aging requires that you embark on a new path in order to reap all of the rewards from aging that you can.

We will all get there – how you fare when you arrive is up to you.

  • Develop and maintain a strong social support network of family, friends, and colleagues. Here is where elder cohousing steps in.
  • Develop a personal exercise program combining aerobics and weight work. Hire a personal trainer to come to the common house and get you started.
  • Take charge of your brain. Make an active commitment to learning and growth. According to research on lifespan development: IF you continue to use your brain and develop your intellect and IF you remain socially connected and active, you can actually increase your IQ scores as you age. Form book discussion groups, game nights, and other brain developers with your neighbors in elder cohousing.
  • Take charge of your financial future. Plan, plan, and plan. If you are single, don’t count on getting married to finance your old age. You are on your own! If you are married, learn what is going on with your finances. If you are female, statistics say you will spend seven to fifteen years or more as a widow, depending upon the age difference between you and your husband. You will probably be on your own for a long time. Plan, plan, plan.
  • Eat a low-fat, high-fiber diet. Learn to live on fruits, vegetables, grains, and legumes as much as possible. Plan a few days a week that include no animal products, not even dairy, in the common house. Offer an animal-free option at every meal.
  • Don’t fall for fad diets. When something sounds too good to be true such as The Atkins’ Diet, it usually is. When something sounds too good to be true and it is too complicated for you to comprehend easily, such as Barry Sears’ Zone Diet, be doubly wary.
  • Remember that the pharmaceutical industry makes money from selling drugs. Read, study, and form your own opinions about taking cholesterol, blood pressure, estrogen and other “old-age” medicines. Very few long-term studies are available to show the results of these medicines. It is your responsibility to read, study, and keep up with the truth for yourself. Maybe a committee can do this for your senior cohousing group.
  • Practice light or no drinking. No smoking, no matter what.
  • Remain goal oriented. Regardless of your age, still set one, five, and ten-year goals. Keep on growing! You will be setting goals for your community. Set personal goals also.
  • Don’t become more conservative than ever. Age is an attitude. Conservative is an old, stuffy attitude that allows life to pass you by and makes you sound/act old and boring.

And if you reached retirement without the best retirement income in the world, take heart. There will be more and better work opportunities for older workers in the future.

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