Aging in Community ― Cohousing for the 55 and Over Market
Cohousing is gaining in popularity among seniors.
Elder cohousing is collaborative housing specifically targeting those 55 and over and offers a close-knit community lifestyle that many older adults are seeking. In an AARP/Met Life Mature Market study, 22% of respondents indicated they would be interested in “building a new home to share with friends that included private space and communal living areas.”
Cohousing communities are designed to promote opportunities for neighbors to chat and interact. Automobiles typically are parked on the perimeter of the cohousing neighborhood.
Much like multigenerational cohousing, elder cohousing typically includes a common house for optional group meals that community members help prepare several times a week. There also are common vegetable and flower gardens that community members tend, and courtyards and pedestrian pathways that draw residents together.
While private spaces and communal living areas are important elements of many traditional senior living facilities as well, unlike those facilities, the members of an elder cohousing neighborhood own their own home and a piece of the community property. They also keep their estates and bank accounts intact.
Managing Their Own Neighborhoods
With elder cohousing, as with cohousing in general, residents manage their own neighborhood ― a process that also improves community relations and fosters communication and friendship. Lifetime skills are shared and utilized. Friends can live next door to one another and spend time together.
Several major medical studies conducted by Harvard and Yale have shown that people who have strong social connections with others live longer, healthier lives.
Housing options are being introduced to promote social connections — and to allow long-term care. Elder cohousing communities include studio apartments and suites in shared common houses, a multi-use clubhouse, space for an aging-in-place assistant to live onsite and space in a common house for more care.
A Collaborative Lifestyle That Works
Largely because of the efforts of the Elder Cohousing Network (www.ElderCohousing.org), at this year’s White House Conference on Aging in December elder cohousing will be one of the 11 proposed solutions to “respond to the urgent need for increasing housing choices for aging in place by 2010.” I believe elder cohousing holds particular promise for multifamily builders and fills a need for baby boomers seeking housing alternatives that provide both autonomy and the support of neighbors and friends who really care about them.
As a developer, I am aware of the financial aspects of cohousing. Our company, the Wonderland Hill Development Company in Boulder, Colo., has completed 15 multi-generational cohousing projects in Arizona, California, Colorado and Washington. We charge a developer’s fee and receive a substantial percentage of the profit on the project.
Because cohousing projects are typically at least 70% pre-sold before construction begins, finding financing from lenders is relatively easy. I also have set up Wonderland Hill to support and partner with other developers and builders who are interested in becoming part of this growing niche market.
Cohousing is a lifestyle that works. After a decade of building cohousing, my wife, Brownie, and I have decided to live in a cohousing neighborhood, so for the first time I am developing the community I will be moving into ― Silver Sage Village (www.SilverSageVillage.com), a 16-household mixed-income neighborhood in Boulder.
As group members we are enjoying building friendships with our future neighbors and designing how we will be using our common facilities. We discuss how we want to continue to live fully and be engaged in social and civic life. We even talk about how we want to age and die.
Elder Cohousing Resources
To help other builders and developers understand the elder cohousing concept, an Elder Cohousing “Getting Started” workshop will be held in Boulder on Sept. 22-25. For more information, visit the workshop Web site or e-mail the workshop sponsors at email@example.com, or call 303-413-8066.
Jim Leach is president of Wonderland Hill Development Company based in Boulder, Colo., the nation’s largest cohousing developer with 15 communities in Arizona, California, Colorado and Washington. His company has won numerous awards for energy-efficient construction and innovation in community design and he is developing Colorado’s first elder cohousing neighborhood, Silver Sage Village. For more information, visit the company Web site at www.whdc.com, or call him at 303-449-3232.
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