Co-housing is a relatively new concept in the US, although it has been increasingly popular in Denmark and other European countries since the mid-1960s.
Think of it as expanding upon the simple shared housing concept of New York City “cooperative” apartment buildings. There, residents own shares of the whole complex and the right to live in one of them. It’s an attempt to more closely link mere residency with fellowship and community.
Shared and Private Spaces
Co-housing complexes generally include private residences (usually owner occupied, but some rentals are available) plus shared facilities like community dining rooms with large kitchen facilities. Individual communities may opt for dedicated recreational rooms, libraries, TV rooms, shared outdoor spaces, flower and vegetable gardens, workshops, gyms, and more.
There are already more than 120 such communities in the US, with another 100 now being planned. These communities consist of as few as eight or as many as 67 private homes. They are located in rural, suburban, and urban settings. Most are “multi-generational,” including newlyweds, families with toddlers, young children, and teenagers, older adults whose children have left the nest, and retired seniors.
However, there is a new trend in co-housing focused on senior communities, appealing to those people who no longer wish to experience the high-energy activities and decibel levels of young children.
A Lifestyle Spiced with Cooperation
For seniors, what really sets this kind of housing apart from ordinary US housing is that co-housing residents tend to know and like each other. In addition, they have agreed to operate their micro-communities by means of shared labor and decision making.
For example, seniors in co-housing can enjoy community meals between 5 and 15 times a week — far easier than cooking for themselves at home. Because people take turns volunteering to shop, cook, and clean up, seniors need to do far less work each week while still enjoying nutritious, delicious home-cooked meals.
Seniors can also volunteer for sweeping, gardening, and other routine tasks they might enjoy. These complexes offer a way for seniors to live independently while sharing many of the household responsibilities with a community.
Complexities like managing the community’s finances, negotiating mortgages and other contracts, or caring for its buildings and grounds are normally handled by paid staff, easing the potential burden on seniors.
Origins of Co-housing Communities
Most co-housing communities begin when a group of friends come together and start planning to build brand-new housing in close proximity to each other. Along the way, they realize they need to attract other families in order to reach a viable threshold of financial and numerical strength. But successful co-housing projects for seniors have also evolved organically, sometimes out of neighborhoods, sometimes launched by community organizations that rehabilitate iconic urban structures threatened by decay and neglect.
An Emerging Alternative
Clearly, co-housing offers an emerging alternative to the isolation and need for paid services that most seniors experience in our current approaches to housing. Still somewhat experimental, co-housing rewards a senior’s willingness to take a few chances with the promise of a far more satisfying, and perhaps somewhat less expensive, lifestyle.
Seniors interested in co-housing can sign up to be connected to others with similar interests and can also take tours of existing co-housing communities.
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