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Last month, we discussed some of the intriguing ways in which Boomers are Rethinking Retirement Housing, such as choosing to live in themed communities, multigenerational dwellings, or even foreign countries — ideas that would have seemed anathema to previous generations of retirees. One housing concept that appeals to many older adults precisely because of its age diversity — cohousing — is now coming full circle, with cohousing communities being created especially for seniors.
In a recent teleconference, architect and builder Kathryn McCamant, coauthor of Cohousing: A Contemporary Approach to Housing Ourselves, who helped bring the cohousing concept to America from Denmark in the 1980s, explained that as the new demographic (graying Boomers) emerges, they’re changing the retirement community paradigm. “Boomers are saying, ‘I’ve just gone through the aging process with my parents…and I don’t want the same options!'” says McCamant.
Cohousing is a form of collaborative housing that offers residents an old-fashioned sense of neighborhood. Cohousing communities consist of single-family dwellings augmented by common areas that serve as gathering places, including a common house where community members enjoy shared meals, and recreation areas. Potential residents typically become involved in the early planning stages, so the final development reflects their vision for the kind of environment they’re excited to call home.
In tandem with the recognition of the importance of social networks to successful aging, McCamant emphasizes that the time to think about senior cohousing is in one’s fifties and sixties. “In the U.S., we tend to think a ‘senior’ is always someone ten years older than we are, so we don’t plan for our own aging,” she says. “Isolation creeps up on you — you stop driving at night, or you have a fall, and suddenly find yourself alone. That’s when having a community right outside your door becomes an advantage.”
While most cohousing communities are built for middle-income adults, there is a growing need for senior housing for those with limited resources, so “we really need to advocate for affordable housing,” maintains McCamant. Reverse mortgage might be one solution for a senior who has built up equity in their existing home: a HECM for purchase could enable them to relocate to a desirable senior cohousing community. Many such communities are now forming across the U.S.; McCamant has just designed and built half a dozen.
“So often our fears hold us back,” she emphasizes, even when the idea is something that appeals to us. She advises Boomers and those already well into their golden years, “Go visit a cohousing community. Imagine what it would be like to live there. Take the risk, make the leap.”
Consider this as a topic to explore with your reverse mortgage prospects — as well as subject matter for a talk at a senior center, Rotary Club or similar venue. You can gather a great deal more information at Cohousing.org and Cohousing Partners.