Have you thought about where you want to live in retirement? Many people gravitate to warmer climates, cities with a lower cost of living or easier access to culture, or to be near other family members. Others are happy to stay put, close to familiar surroundings and friends. But there is another option that is becoming more popular among the aging set…creating your own community.
For seniors who do not want to age alone and are widowed, divorced or a couple, the idea of a type of communal living with friends or others with similar interests has been around for a few decades. Often known as “cohousing” communities, there are many such groups of people around the country and in Europe. Basically, cohousing is collaboration among residents who participate in the running of their own neighborhood. People can be alone as much as they like or can join the myriad activities and social interaction of clubs, celebrations and of course, the board meetings. Most groups operate by consensus, but each one creates its own sense of trust and support among the members.(The concept of cohousing is not just for the elderly. Young families have created the same kind of community, sharing day care and laundry duties; others are formed around a commitment to save the environment or stress diversity.)
Members of the group often buy property together, pay the mortgage and maintain common areas. Most cohousing groups have private quarters for members, ranging from a bedroom and bath to full apartments or separate houses. Others share kitchens and provide communal space for those who need an office, and add space for hobbies, music practice and other activities. Group decisions are necessary, whether it is about replacing a roof or hosting noisy grandchildren, and each commune sets its own rules. Communities designed specifically for seniors have rules about what happens when individual members can no longer care for themselves. Sometimes local support services become involved as members age in place.
According to the Cohousing Association of the US, there are a few things that distinguish this from other types of collaborative communities:
1. Participatory process. Residents participate in the design of the community.
2. Neighborhood design. The physical layout and orientation of the buildings encourage a sense of community.
3. Common facilities. Specific areas are designed for daily use, are an integral part of the community, and are supplemental to the private residences. The common house typically includes a common kitchen, dining area, sitting area, laundry, and also may contain a workshop, library, exercise room, crafts room and/or one or two guest rooms.
4. Resident management. Residents manage their own cohousing communities, and also perform much of the work required to maintain the property. They meet regularly to solve problems and develop policies for the community.
5. Non-hierarchical structure and decision-making. Leadership roles naturally exist in cohousing communities; however no one person (or persons) has authority over others. Most cohousing groups make all of their decisions by consensus. .
6. No shared community economy. The community is not a source of income for its members. Occasionally, a cohousing community will pay one of its residents to do a specific task, but usually the work will be considered that member's contribution to the shared responsibilities