Downsizing can be especially hard on seniors who have lived in the same house for decades and who have developed long-term relationships with their neighbors. When an older adult you love doesn’t need assisted living and wants to live in a home rather than an apartment or condominium, there’s a lesser-known option that could present the perfect solution. As a caregiver, you hate to see your loved one move to unfamiliar surroundings, but moving to a cohousing community of like-minded residents can ease both the transition and the emotional toll this process might take. Follow along as we explore the characteristics of cohousing.
Neighbors Helping Neighbors
Definitions vary, but the common thread among these communities is “neighbors helping neighbors.” Think back to the 1950s and 60s, when everyone knew everyone in the neighborhood. Neighbors threw Fourth of July block parties, and when the first snow of the season came, the adults shared cups of hot buttered rum while the kids (and dogs) went sledding down the steepest hills in the neighborhood.
Brings back memories, doesn’t it? That’s some of what a cohousing community recaptures — age-appropriate shared activities and more. Cohousing communities are planned communities, and some cater exclusively to seniors.
According to the Cohousing Association of the United States, “Cohousing is a type of intentional, collaborative housing in which residents actively participate in the design and operation of their neighborhoods. Such housing provides the privacy we are accustomed to within the community we seek.” Characteristics include:
- Small communities of houses or attached housing, typically 20–40 homes per community
- A common house that serves as the social hub for planned activities, including regularly scheduled meals
- Daily opportunities for casual, chance meetings
- Neighbors who commit to a relationship with one another
- Decision-making that’s based on consensus, rather than majority
The Cohousing Association refers to such residences as communities of members working together “to care for the common property building a sense of cooperation, trust, and support.”
Cohousing life differs from condo life in two primary ways: its method of governance, and its community center.
Governance: In most condos, an elected board of directors governs homeowners associations (HOAs). Depending on the bylaws of the HOA, decisions are made either by a majority vote of the homeowners or by executive actions by the board.
In most cohousing communities, however, all business and rules are handled by consensus. Residents work together until everyone agrees on a course of action. While it’s rare that everyone is completely happy, good compromises made among group members enable the community to function in a way that can satisfy residents’ most important needs.
Community Center: The clubhouse of a condo serves as its community center. Some developments allow free access to clubhouses and encourage activities, while others restrict its use with rules, regulations, and rental fees.
The common house in cohousing communities serves as a social center. In some communities, it’s where residents eat most of their meals and share cooking and cleaning duties. In others, it’s the place residents take three or four potluck meals a week to share with one another.
If your senior is looking for a balance between privacy in her own home and the opportunity to become an active member of a thriving community, cohousing might be perfect. For more information, start by viewing a Cohousing Association slide show, and then check the directory for communities near you.