We can become isolated in retirement, since we no longer spend most of our waking hours with the people we used to work with all day. Scientists say that one key to happiness, good health, and mental sharpness as we get older, is to stay socially connected and active. If your folks have no interest in being around “a bunch of old people,” they are unlikely to consider an assisted living center when they think about downsizing. You wonder, is co-housing a good choice for your aging parents?
What is Co-Housing?
There are over 160 co-housing communities in the United States, and well over 100 additional developments are in the works. If you live in one of these “intentional communities,” you own your home or private living space, which you can sell to whomever you wish. Everyone puts money into a fund that pays for the maintenance of the site. You all decide how to spend the maintenance funds. The developments are:
- Entirely senior occupied
- Predominantly senior occupied
- Multigenerational, with grandparents, parents, and kids living in separate homes but within walking distance of each other
People living in a co-housing community can enjoy activities, including two optional group meals a week, or they can do their own thing. People share things like lawnmowers, so every household need not buy one. They pitch in with whatever their interests are, such as yard work or organizing events. An essential component of co-housing is that everyone must agree on decisions that affect how they will live, such as an acceptable noise level and how to spend money in the co-housing development’s fund.
Where Can You Find a Co-Housing Community?
Those who yearn for the peace and quiet of the countryside, can find rural co-housing developments. Those who prefer the energy and pace of the city, can choose urban communities. Of course, there is co-housing available in the suburbs.
One example of this movement is in Denver, where a group of people bought an old convent and turned it into a co-housing development. They each have their own private living spaces, and they share common areas.
What is the Purpose of a Co-Housing Community?
Co-housing attempts to recreate the feeling of community you might have been lucky enough to experience when you were a kid. Neighbors knew each other and would hold backyard cookouts in the summertime. The kids could play together, and everyone looked out for each other. You and your neighbor probably had keys to each other’s houses.
The co-housing movement in America tries to craft this feeling, based on a European model. There is a central building where people can hang out, play chess, watch the kids play, cook a meal or have a potluck dinner together or whatever they feel like doing. But unlike a commune, in co-housing, people have their individual homes or living areas.
What Are the Downsides of Co-Housing?
Not everyone enjoys all the togetherness that goes with co-housing. Some do not want to be bothered with the self-governing aspect. Some people might not wish to be bound by the decisions of the group. There is also the risk of mismanagement of the development or that property values could fall. It is similar to the risk of buying into a condominium.
If your parents are considering a co-housing development, they should talk with an elder law attorney in their area. The laws are different in every state, and this article is about the general law.
The New York Times. “There’s Community and Consensus. But It’s No Commune.” (accessed March 24, 2018) https://www.nytimes.com/2018/01/20/business/cohousing-communities.html