Intentional communities (or cohousing) have been nicknamed “communes for adults”.
But where they differ from those that were popular in the 60s is in their careful balance of privacy and community.
As Baby Boomers age, they are shunning the kinds of aging institutions they put their own parents in. Their preference is to bring back a time when neighbors were an integral part of one another’s lives, sharing chores, resources and a helping hand. They're looking for a way to combine their autonomy with access – in this isolating day and age – to a supportive community.
Birds of a Feather
Housing experts say more niche communities like these are likely to make their way to market, especially given the limited interest baby boomers are showing in traditional age-restricted retirement housing areas — the places their parents have found attractive.
Boomers and their children have moved frequently and are often scattered across the country. As a result, said Maria Dwight, chief executive of Gerontological Services, a Santa Monica, Calif., group that studies housing for the over-55 set, many in the next wave of retirees will look for places among peers who share their interests.
“This old idea of being born in a town that you grow up in and know everybody is quite absent now,” Ms. Dwight said. “The whole concept of community has changed dramatically in the last few decades, and now people are looking for ways to socialize. Instead of sitting around growing old and moaning, they want to talk about plays, where they traveled, and be with people who like the same thing. If traditional housing providers don’t create these options, you’re going to see people doing it on their own.”
While reliable figures are difficult to find, John Parsons, publisher of Cohousing.org, an online magazine that tracks communities formed by like-minded individuals, estimates that there are roughly 6,000 people of all ages in the United States and Canada living in communities where residents often share specific, common interests, like vegetarianism, ecological concern or even a desire to continue with higher education. (At University Place in West Lafayette, Ind., for example, residents can take classes through Purdue University.)
It’s logical that baby boomers, accustomed to approaching the world on their own terms and now facing decades of retirement, would embrace this trend. “When you get people together, you’re not only creating genuine social situations, but you’re also creating a support network,” Mr. Parsons said.
In a nutshell, in intentional communities -- or cohousing -- small individual houses are typically clustered to create broad, open spaces – and share a “common house” that has interesting facilities and workshops.
If the idea of living in a community appeals to you, where your neighbors are more like extended family – whether intergenerational or over 50 – read through the information that's been gathered for you here.
These are the advantages that residents of cohousing find:
In greater detail, these are the 6 common characteristics of cohousing:
And, in the specific case of ‘over 50’ elder cohousing, these are the additional four principals that tend to prevail:
shared vision and values
designed for aging in place
'spiritual eldering,’ or a self-managed and empowering environment
environmental consciousness, in a sustainable model of living
The Price Tag for Cohousing ?
So how much does a cohousing home cost? While this varies widely, the cost is usually similar to homes in the surrounding but, because of internal or external subsidies, is often made truly affordable.
Homes sold for $90,000 to $114,000 at Elder Spirit, in Abingdon, VA, and monthly dues are about $150. And Jim Sargeant, a custom homebuilder in Waxahachee, TX, is targeting a selling price at under $150,000 for the project he is developing.
If this housing option is of interest to you, figuring out what it would cost you would depend upon geography and availability. The resources that follow are a great place to start researching your options!
Two very valuable resources, both of which are spearheading the concept of cohousing, are ‘The Cohousing Association of the United States’ at www.Cohousing.org and 'The Elder Cohousing Network’ at www.ElderCohousing.org . Be sure to click on both links to access their extensive information.
The Cohousing Association's site also includes a wealth of articles.
Valuable Downloadable PDF Documents
Some More Reading
Kiplinger’s RETIREMENT REPORT
Your Guide to Richer Retirement
NOTE: Kiplinger's puts out an excellent retirement report each year; be sure to pick it up. GREAT resource!
When Neighbors Are Like Extended Family
Residents of cohousing developments grow old together in a new style of commune.
By Leah Dobkin
Sue and Art Lloyd don't seem like revolutionaries, but since 1999 they've been on the cutting edge of retirement-housing trends. Sue, 70, and Art, 78, are among 35 residents who live in a cohousing community located on half a city block near the University of Wisconsin in Madison.
On Sunday nights, the Lloyds leave their three-bedroom townhome to meet their Village Cohousing neighbors at the "common house" for a potluck dinner. Over a glass of wine, the residents of this newfangled commune-like development sit by the fireplace talking, folding laundry and watching TV.
Sharing is key at Village Cohousing, as it is at similar communities nationwide. Several households have designated their cars for use by other residents. If Sue needs a plumber, she'll alert her neighbors so they can coordinate the visit. Some older residents provide child care for younger families. Not long ago, when a young neighbor went into labor in the middle of the night, an older resident stayed with the sibling until the parents and new baby came home.
Like all of the residents at Village Cohousing, Art, a retired Episcopal chaplain, and Sue, a treasurer for her church and several nonprofits, each spend at least 12 hours a month helping to manage the place. They serve on committees that oversee maintenance, bookkeeping and the organic garden that provides some of the food for the twice-a-week communal meals. "Our dream was to live in a close-knit, supportive, intergenerational community," says Sue.
If you like the idea of living in a community where neighbors are like an extended family, perhaps you should consider cohousing. Since the first cohousing projects in the U.S. opened in the late 1980s, the number of such developments has grown to about 95 in nearly two dozen states, according to the Cohousing Association of the United States. The developments range from the quarter-acre, eight-unit Ujima Place in Chicago to 67-unit East Lake Commons on 20 acres in Decatur, Ga. Another 100 communities are in various stages of development.
Most cooperative developments are intergenerational, such as Village Cohousing, where residents range in age from six months to 86. About one-third of residents in intergenerational housing are age 50 and older. A growing trend is the creation of seniors-only cohousing. Three elder communities exist now, and about 15 others are in the planning stages.
Developers and gerontologists expect that both types of cohousing will grow in popularity as the aging Woodstock generation seeks a way to recreate the community-like experiences of their youth. Many experts also consider cohousing a way for seniors to avoid isolation and to find the help they need without turning to assisted-living or nursing-home care.
Dallas News (online)
Cohousing catching on in U.S.
Move revisits commune idea in a more grown-up format
09:44 AM CST on Tuesday, January 30, 2007
By BOB MOOS / The Dallas Morning News
Baby boomers Connie and Rex Fountain belong to the generation that made communes popular in the 1960s. Now, as retirement approaches, they and others their age are considering another kind of collective living.
The fiftysomething Arlington couple have joined about 60 area residents interested in building their own "cohousing" community, where neighbors treat one another like members of an extended family.
"I don't want to grow old in a neighborhood where people hide behind fences and act afraid of each other," Mrs. Fountain said. "I want to live in a community where people sit on their front porches and visit."
Cohousing residents own their homes but share a common building that includes a kitchen, dining area and living room.
Community members enjoy meals together two or three times a week and divide up chores.
"Cohousing combines the privacy of one's own home with the security of belonging to a close-knit community where people look after each other," said Neshama Abraham, a Boulder, Colo., consultant who works with cohousing groups.
Cohousing communities aren't cookie-cutter projects. Each is unique. Prospective residents are intimately involved in the planning, though they may rely on an architect and developer to handle the technical aspects of design and construction. Projects usually consist of 20 to 30 households.
The idea originated in Europe and is taking root in this country. About 5,000 people live in 93 communities, according to the Cohousing Association of the United States. An additional 107 communities are in some stage of planning or development.
An old twist
The latest twist to the nascent trend is cohousing exclusively for people 55 and older. The first two communities opened in Davis, Calif., and Abingdon, Va., in the past year, and a third is under construction in Boulder.
About 25 others are under discussion, including ones in the Dallas area, East Texas and the Texas Hill Country.
Experts say cohousing is suited to baby boomers, who will be looking to remain in control of their lives when they retire. Communities reach decisions by group consensus, not by a top-down hierarchy.
A poll by the MetLife Mature Market Institute and AARP found that 22 percent of respondents 50 to 65 would be interested in building a home to share with friends that included private space and communal living areas.
Members of several Dallas-area Unitarian Universalist churches formed the North Texas cohousing group last year because they want to re-create the strong sense of community they remember from their childhood neighborhoods.
"We're trying to build an old-fashioned neighborhood in a new way," said Janet Martinique, a retired customs broker who volunteered to be the group's facilitator.
The group has met several times since fall to learn about cohousing. Once enough people have made commitments to the project, Ms. Martinique said, they will discuss possible sites and consider developers.
The 60 people who have expressed an interest in the community range in age from 50 to 75. Half are retired. Many are Unitarians, though that's not a requirement to join. Almost all have been community activists.
Help with planning
Mary Leggitt, who's 71 and lives in Red Oak, said she looks forward to spending the rest of her life in a community she'll help plan.
Especially appealing to her are the occasional meals the residents will take turns preparing in the common house's kitchen. "You should know that I make a pretty mean dish of chicken," she pointed out.
Ms. Leggitt said conventional senior communities would have made her feel too much like a patient in an institution. In cohousing, she said, she'll keep her independence and have a say in managing the community.
"I'll also have the comfort of knowing my neighbors are nearby if I need help," she said.
In senior cohousing communities, residents pay for their own home health care when they require it. But their collective living arrangements may enable several to share the cost of a single aide.
Experts say cohousing isn't for everyone. The planning often takes two years or longer. Residents meet regularly to talk about what their community should look like and what everyone's responsibilities should be.
"Give-and-take is the name of the game," Ms. Abraham said. "People who think they always should get their way will find they don't have the right personality for cohousing and will weed themselves out of the group."
As a group moves ahead with hiring an architect, lining up a developer and arranging the financing, members cover those costs. Ms. Abraham said the upfront fees usually amount to 5 percent of a home's cost.
Experts say cohousing isn't necessarily cheaper to buy than conventional homes of comparable size, but the communities' emphasis on energy efficiency and shared living arrangements may produce some long-term savings.
"Thirty households might be able to get by with one lawnmower, for example," Ms. Abraham said.
Residents typically pay homeowners' dues to keep up the common areas. Depending on the community, residents do the gardening and maintenance themselves, or they hire outside help.
Cohousing groups can trim months, if not years, off the planning process if they work with developers who understand this kind of housing, but finding such builders can be challenging, according to Charles Durrett, the California architect who's credited with bringing the cohousing concept to America.
"Groups walk a tightrope here," he said. "They need to find a developer who will guide them through the process without controlling it."
Cohousing projects don't appeal to many developers because they're small and out of the ordinary, Mr. Durrett said. Still, they appeal to some because they offer builders a group of committed homebuyers and, therefore, less risk.
Jim Sargent, a custom homebuilder in Waxahachie, said he's interested in developing senior cohousing on land he owns in Red Oak. He said he considers most suburban housing a failure and wants to right a wrong.
"Nobody knows his neighbor anymore. That's OK as long as you work. But once you retire, you're alone all day in a big house," he said. "Your friends don't have to be across town; they can be across the courtyard."
Mr. Sargent said he'd like to begin construction by the end of the year and price his homes under $150,000.
At the ElderSpirit community that opened in Abingdon, Va., in early 2006, residents say their years of planning have paid off. Thirty-eight people from 10 states have moved in and begun to live like members of an extended family.
Homes sold for $90,000 to $114,000. Monthly dues run $150.
When someone becomes sick, a committee of residents coordinates the care that neighbors will give. It might be driving someone to a doctor's appointment, bringing over hot meals or just stopping by to visit.
Patricia Gaskin, 69, sold her house in northern Michigan to live in ElderSpirit. Still grieving from her husband's death three months earlier, she found her new neighbors especially understanding and supportive.
Ms. Gaskin now fills her days with gardening, poetry readings, film history classes and potluck dinners.
"I don't feel so alone anymore," she said. "I'm part of something much larger than myself. I can't tell you what a sense of security that gives me."
Though each cohousing group designs its own community, there are common characteristics.
• Each private home is a complete house in and of itself, but it's usually about half the size of a traditional home.
• The common house becomes an extension of each home, with guest rooms, laundry facilities and workshops that residents can use when needed.
• The private homes are often built around a courtyard, or they're clustered to create broad, open spaces.
• Cars are parked on the outskirts of the property to encourage residents to use the walkways and mingle.
Organizations involved in senior cohousing include:
Cohousing Association of the United States: www.cohousing.org
Elder Cohousing Network: www.eldercohousing.org or 303-413-8066
ElderSpirit Community, Abingdon, Va.: http://www.elderspirit.net/ or 276-628-8908
Silver Sage Village, Boulder, Colo.: http://silversagevillage.com/ or 303-449-3232
Chuck Durrett, architect and author of Senior Cohousing: A Community Approach to Independent Living: www.mccamant-durrett.com or 530-265-9980
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