For millions of baby boomers, adult communities and 55+ communities are a great retirement option. For these retirees, having everything pre-packaged; from recreation to housing and even to even friends; has a lot of appeal. But for many other boomers, the active adult community is anathema.
But before you give up on the idea of communal living, know that there are many different ways to have it your way. The cooperative senior housing movement has different names and concepts, including: co-housing, Naturally Occurring Retirement Communities (NORCs), and aging in place. They all share the same common ideal –finding a way to keep people living in their own homes longer – but in a way that promotes health, safety, and a rich social life. Let’s look at each movement.
Co-housing (cohousing) takes many forms but usually combines independent living with the sharing of some communal facilities. The movement started in the 1960’s in Denmark. Most are located in rural areas. One of the most famous, Silver Sage in Boulder Colorado, features single family homes with a large common area where residents gather to eat, recreate, do yoga, and just plain hang together. Trails and other recreation are available. The community is located adjacent to a mixed generation community so residents do not feel separated from people of other ages. The residents are committed to supporting one another in their retirements and as they age. They also support sustainability and great architecture. In Brooklyn New York another group, Brooklyn Cohousing LLC, has been formed to find an urban solution to co-housing. As yet the group has not found a site, but it does have several possibilities and a number of active members committed to the project.
Naturally occurring retirement communities (NORCs) occur in some parts of the country where many of the residents, for one reason or another, happen to be of retirement age. In some of them, most notably Beacon Hill Village in Boston, a formal organization has been created to promote a cooperative approach to aging in place. Members pay an annual fee to be part of Beacon Hill Village and get many services in exchange. They can also barter for services (shopping, driving, eldercare, cooking, home repairs, etc.). The idea is to let people keep living where they have for years and years by giving them the tools to live well and happily. Similar ventures are in place or planned in a number of other communities. NORCs are a great example of aging in place strategies in action.
Another good example of a cooperative approach to retirement living was profiled in the February 1 NY Times, “My Sister’s Keeper“. The article explores the world of about 20 women who have built a lesbian only community in rural Alabama called Alapine. The women enjoy a communal lifestyle in their gated community and get together frequently for pot-luck dinners, poetry reading, etc. There are other lesbian communities like Alapine elsewhere in the country. The idea could be and is applied to other groups of like-minded people who choose to live among their own kind in a world of their own creation.
Start your own co-op community
Beacon Hill Village and the co-housing movement are eager for other communities to take up their approaches to retirement. You can buy workbooks and talk with their members for advice. Let’s say you have a core of friends or acquaintances in your area. It would take a lot of organization, skill, and energy, but you could buy a distressed property and develop it with your friends. If you plan well and choose your members carefully, you could end up with your own active adult community – one that fits your lifestyle on your terms – and that gives you all the perks and benefits you need for the rest of your life. For example as you age you could hire eldercare and medical assistance and use these services cooperatively. To us the cooperative approach has a lot of appeal. The major advantage is that you get to live with friends or relatives you like, instead of being stuck with strangers. You also get to live where you want to for the rest of your life. Plus, you win that extra special baby boomer benefit – you get to have it your way!