Seniors Live Independently, But Stay Connected To Others

Co-Housing Communities:  Seniors Live Independently, But Stay Connected To Others

February 18, 2020

Have you thought about where you’ll live after you retire? Previous generations dreamed of retiring to Florida, Arizona, or maybe living abroad. But now, many seniors and those nearing retirement want to age-in-place in their current communities. Co-housing can be an attractive way to downsize while maintaining strong social and community ties.

Cityscape with residential buildings in late autumn

Co-Co-housing: Creating Intentional Neighborhoods and Communities

housing is a relatively new idea in the United States, but the first co-housing community (CC) dates back to 1972 in Denmark. Muir Commons in California opened in 1991 and was the first new-construction co-housing community in the US. The first three senior-only co-housing communities (SCC) opened between 2005 and 2007 in California, Virginia, and Colorado. The Co-Housing Association of the US maintains a list of communities across the country.

A CC contains private residences, shared green spaces, and common spaces that encourage community gatherings and emphasize “walkability.” They’re located in rural, suburban, and urban areas. Housing options vary according to the space. In cities, for example, CCs may be in high-rise, multi-family buildings while suburban or rural communities may offer single-family houses or a mix of single-family and multi-family.

Most CC communities are multi-generational, but there has recently been a surge of interest among retirees for senior-only options.  Housing analysts predict strong growth in this area as retiring Baby Boomers look for ways to remain in their communities as they age.

CC residents make decisions together, but co-housing communities are not communes. Residents don’t share income, and aren’t expected to adhere to a particular religion, political opinion, or any common set of beliefs – other than the desire to be part of a community.

Benefits of Senior Co-Housing

Diverse community group active together

Almost a third of seniors live alone, and a 2018 AARP report found that 35% of adults over age 45 say they’re lonely. Over 60% of people who say they have never spoken to a neighbor reported being lonely.

Loneliness and depression have real physical and mental health consequences. A 2019 National Institute on Aging report described the health risks of social isolation:

“Research has linked social isolation and loneliness to higher risks for a variety of physical and mental conditions: high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity, a weakened immune system, anxiety, depression, cognitive decline, Alzheimer’s disease, and even death.

People who find themselves unexpectedly alone due to the death of a spouse or partner, separation from friends or family, retirement, loss of mobility, and lack of transportation are at particular risk.”

Co-housing, by design, encourages people to live as members of a tight-knit community where members look out for each other and provide support in times of crisis.

Is Co-Housing Right for You?

Friends washing vegetables in the kitchen preparing a meal together

If you feel comfortable living in a close-knit community governed by communal decision-making, and have the financial resources to purchase/rent a home there and pay the monthly fees (if any), then a co-housing community may be a perfect landing spot for you in retirement.

Intensely private people who aren’t outgoing may feel like they’re constantly on display and hemmed in by nosy neighbors – all of whom are afflicted with “Gladys Kravitz Syndrome.” Another concern may be financial. Homes in co-housing communities sell at market rates, and sometimes at a premium because of the perceived value of the community.

This AARP article describes life at Takoma Village Co-Housing in Washington DC. Residents discuss why they chose co-housing as well as the pros and cons. Of course, the best way to decide is to take your time, visit several communities, and talk with the people who will be your friends and neighbors.


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