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Retirement Your Way – Co-Housing Might Be Your Answer

Category: Baby Boomer Retirement Issues

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!

Posted by Admin on January 26th, 2009


  1. […] further Reference: See Topretirements news story on cohousing, including info on Alapine, a lesbian community in northeastern […]

    by » As Gays Age, Retirement Communities Become Next Challenge Topretirements — February 3, 2009

  2. Boomers and Cohousing

    Boomers and cohousing are a natural fit for many of us….particularly if the community is well thought out.

    I have lived in one of the first cohousing communities in the US (near Boulder, where Silver Sage is located) for the past 15 years — a number of us decided that it would be fun to have a place built on what has been learned in US cohousing over that time down in Todos Santos, a great small artist colony on the Pacific an hour north of Cabo San Lucas in Baja Sur.

    With the economic downturn — and the increasing value of the US $ against the peso — the amount of time that people are planning to spend in Todos Santos keeps increasing.

    Bob Bruegel

    by Bob B — February 22, 2009

  3. […] about is co-housing, a cooperative approach to living which we have written about before (“Cohousing Might Be Your Answer“). Or, a naturally occurring retirement community, where folks stay where they live now but […]

    by » If You Could Break the Mold, What Would Your Ideal Retirement Community Look Like Topretirements — October 14, 2011

  4. We are John and Jayne Leet. We have explored cohousing over the years and are big fans. We have made a decision to begin development of a cohousing village for all ages that want to participate in the Coronado Beach area, somewhere between Bejueco and San Carlos. This will give us proximity to health care, shopping and the amenities of Coronado, as well as the beach. At this point we are selling our Seattle home to create some seed capital. We see the community as a village of about 25 homes with a large common house and large swimming pool and open areas. I’ll post some more information as plans progress. If you are interested in being part of the initial planning group contact me at

    by John Leet — May 27, 2012

  5. The Coronado Beach, which I mentioned above, area is located about an hour outside of Panama City, Panama, on the Pacific Coast. The weather is ideal. The infrastructure is excellent. There are many expats. The area is not touristy, but has excellent restaurants and grocery stores. In addition to the excellent health care and moderate cost of living, Panama offers good benefits to retirees who establish retirement visas. This includes discounts on food and airline tickets. Again, contact us if you have an interest in helping to form our Panama Cohousing Village. John

    by John leet — May 27, 2012

  6. After 6 years of planning, design and construction members of the Wolf Creek Lodge senior cohousing community in Grass Valley, CA are looking forward to moving in to their homes this September. The site has been carefully chosen having access both trails and shopping without the need to drive. Grass Valley is a vibrant community offering many cultural activities. Members of Wolf Creek Lodge are convinced this is a great environment in which to enjoy a senior life style together. See for more information. We still have a few homes available.

    by Bob Miller — July 26, 2012

  7. Sounds wonderful…but beyond my price range. But I will watch for similar ideas in the east.

    by Lane — July 27, 2012

  8. I do not see the real advantage of senior cohousing at all. It seems the spaces are small, expensive and then there are additional expenses (HOAS) as well. So, why wouldn’t one live in a nice masterplan retirement area rather than senior cohousing? More and more condos and townhouses are being developed to be green, thus saving the environment and pocketbooks. What am I missing?

    by DianaF — July 28, 2012

  9. Does anyone have experience in the State of Maine? Looking in central to northern Maine along the I-95 corridor.

    by Roxanne — July 29, 2012

  10. DianaF, Good question. Cohousing offers some unique elements: shared decision-making regarding the development and operation of the community, and communal open spaces and facilities including group meals. You still have your own home. Resident control and strong social support make it an attractive lifestyle choice for some. I live in a master-planned community, and do feel there is a lot of social support, but the developer of the community instituted the “Master Declaration” – not the residents, and there are no resident-owned facilities. Master-planned communities are much larger as well. Cohousing communities have an average of 20-40 residences while master-planned communities may have thousands.

    Jan Cullinane
    The New Retirement: The Ultimate Guide to the Rest of Your Life
    The Single Woman’s Guide to Retirement

    by Jan Cullinane — July 29, 2012

  11. Hello~~~
    My huband is retired, and I am getting fairly close. I am trying to find an area to live that is reasonaly price to a mid income couple. We can get by ok but we are not one the uppity’s type income. We are not wealthy by any means. We live in Vancouver WA. We are mid income and by retirement time for me probably mid to low income. We love the country, but tornados and hurricaines are out. Am I asking for to much????? Cheryl in Vanvouver WA (across the Columbia River from Portland OR)

    by Cheryl Wolverton — July 29, 2012

  12. Jan Culliane-There are smaller Master plans as well,although not as small as of what you speak of. I guess I just don’t understand why Cohousing is so expensive. I personally, do not like a huge Master Planned community; however, I like something that if I am a bit tired of the same 30 people, I have the option of finding another 30 people to be around by changing activities. It is quite appealing to some, I am sure, but now that I know more about the situation, it just isn’t for me. Thanks for the information.

    by DianaF — July 30, 2012

  13. Cheryl – I think we are straying from the topic of this discussion, but your stated location requires that I ask. Why are you considering leaving Vancouver, WA? From what I’ve learned it could be ideal (for us): no state income tax, no sales tax in Portland, ocean access to west, mountains to east, definitely not the extremes of humidty and heat other areas have been seeing (and not the tornados and hurricanes your mentioned). What are the reasons you and your husband are leaving WA?

    by Mad Monk — August 5, 2012

  14. Cheryl, I had the same question Mad Monk has! What’s not to like about Vancouver, Washington?

    by Linda — August 6, 2012

  15. We live in Salem, Or and are considering moving from Salem area to Vancouver vicinity for the summers. That way we would have no income taxes and the ability to shop in Oregon. But I would guess Cheryl is like we are tired of the rain and gloomy skies the rest of the year, We only get 60-70 sunny days per year. The rest is rainy or gray and overcast and drizzle. We need a change at least for the winter.

    by Mark — August 7, 2012

  16. Mark – As many of us looking at possible retirement relocation, we realize that there just is no “perfect place.” There many be some that are close, but usually they have some drawback (cost, weather, population size, political make-up, closeness to friends/relatives, quality of health care, taxes, etc., etc.). We have yet to spend enough time in the Pacific Northwest to even judge if it could be a viable location for one season, much less the remainder of our lives. However, the (lack of) taxes would perhaps allow us to escape the winters by snowbirding to SF and/or LA, where our two sons now live. I do not mind dreary, gray, damp days (BTW, I also love Brit mysteries and TV shows … a place that has such weather quite frequently). Dreary days are good for Netflix, mall walking, libraries, internet searches for next area to visit, novels, even biking and hiking if not actually raining. My wife would rather have lots of sun. However, FL (and SE in general) has the sun, but the heat, humidity, tonradoes, and hurricanes; desert SW has sun and dry, but HEAT … and too dry; some of Rockies is nice (and dry), but beetles killing the pines and wildfires. Compromises. We have found many areas that we love for one reason or another. Once wife retires in few years (I was forced to a couple months agao), we will most likely sell home and become nomads for a while (renting and moving on when an area has either lost interest or we want to see somewhere else more – with option of eventually returning to one of the already visited areas). Ah, life is SO much more fun without a 9-5 (or 6-6) job and people who claim to know what they’re doing, but are not quite able to pull it off. 😉 BTW, I truly believe that one can obtain the above lifestyle on a VERY modest budget … as the now trite saying goes, one must merely “think outside the box.” Own an economy car that gets great mileage, eat at Subways, look for travel deals, rent inexpensively, and other means. Also, check into caretaking (homes), transferring cars for people, couch surfing, volunteer work in parks for free campsite (and sometimes food or supplies). Many of us have lived the 9-5 life for 20, 30, or more years. Now, in our “golden years” may be the time to take some chances and try alternatives that break those boundaries.

    by mad monk — August 7, 2012

  17. Hi,

    I have a question kind of related to Mad Monk’s comment. I’m retired and am currently living in the midwest. I’m seriously considering moving back to the West Coast, where I lived and worked for a decade and still have friends. Due to the high cost of living where I lived previously, a large progressive city, I’m considering moving a small to midsize college town, near where I lived before but with a lower cost of living and what might be a much more conservative culture. Possibly a big change, but I’m not sure just how large it is, especially being single, it makes it more difficult sometimes to form friendships. I thought I might try it out on a temporary basis to learn what it would be like to live there without the major expense of moving cross country. The issue I haven’t figured out yet though, is where I could stay. Do people look for furnished apartments with short term leases (I’m not sure this town is large enough for this) or is there a better way of approaching this? I’m curious how others have dealt with living in an area on a temporary basis without actually moving there.

    by LFremont — August 9, 2012

  18. I am a 59 year old single lady looking to retire from the midwest to somewhere in the southeast. Looking for a place that single women are welcome and also easy on the retirement budget and low taxes. Any suggestions?

    by Terry Gee — August 9, 2012

  19. Once again I’m asking if anyone has visited or knows about Vero Lake Estates in Vero Beach, Florida. We’re looking for a community that does NOT have an HOA and this area looks great and affordable. Any information about the Vero Beach area is much appreciated! Thank you, Karen

    by Karen — August 10, 2012

  20. Try the Florida Panhandle. It has mild winters, some times hot weather-July and August; low crime and nice people. Other areas of Florida can be more expensive, so I would suggest Pensacola area.

    by Marie Price — August 10, 2012

  21. Terry – Check out “Pinehurst Trace” in Pinehurst, NC.

    by Judy — August 11, 2012

  22. Pensacola gets clobbered by hurricanes, every year. A dear friend lost everything she owned in Pensacola and moved inland. One thing I would counsel about Florida: if you have serious health problems, you must be near one of the big cities. We lived in The Villages, for five years. We thought it was perfect — Disneyland for active adults. However, we learned the very hard way that healthcare there is a disaster. The nearest good hospitals are 65 mile to the south in Orlando or 60 miles north in Gainesville. Frankly, a doc in Gainesville treated my husband for restless leg and gave him a dangerous drug without proper follow-up. His kidneys crashed and we are back in the N.E. and my daughter had to donate a kidney. Also, if you are planning to continue working into retirement, Florida is insanely bad on wages and working conditions. The theory is that you get the good climate in exchange for very low wages. In Central Florida, $10/hr was considered good money and COL is not significantly less. Housing is definitely less as income taxes, but they make it up in fees for everything and property taxes. Investigate the community you choose, carefully, and don’t fall for sales pitches that promise more than they can deliver.

    by Lois — August 17, 2012

  23. Lori:

    You are SO correct about Pensacola. I have two friends in Gulf Breeze, near Pensacola, and they moved from Hew Hampshire about 15 years ago. They have a lovely single family home, but HATE the fact that they get terrible weather every year, hurricanes, tons of rain, thunderstorms so bad that we do not talk on the phone if any are forecast. They feel isolated on the panhandle, one of them has chronic health conditions.They are looking to relocate but as of yet have not decided where to go.

    I live in DC and work in the medical field. I am amazed at all the snowbirds from Florida who come back to us for any surgery they may need as they do NOT have any faith in the Docs in Florida. Many of these people come from Ft. Myers/Naples/Ft.Lauderdale as well.I find it odd as none of the Doctors up here accept insurance and are non-par. This tells me alot about Florida. I have seen many people who thought they would love the tropics, only move back up north when it did not work out. I would prefer to just rent for a winter season in St. Thomas or St.John and come home for the summer. One is still in the USA. Puerto Rico is also another option for several months a year.

    Florida is not the panacea many people imagine. My own Grandparents wisely rented during the season. They found that after a couple of years being among only senior citizens would be a drag. They also tried Arizona and disliked that as well, for the same reason and ended up retiring on a lake in south Michigan with mixed age groups. In the winters they travelled and rented if for more than a week or two.

    by Jennifer — August 18, 2012

  24. You are so right about Pensacola. Crime is also getting worse there. We lived there back in the 70’s and it was nice then…but no more. Have you
    ever seen those palmetto bugs “roaches”? They live and breed in the bark
    of the pine trees there. Nasty!!! They can squeeze into the tinest crack
    in your house and get in. We were constantly struggling to rid them.

    by May — August 18, 2012

  25. […] For further reading: Del Webb Baby Boomer Survey on Single Women When Living with Strangers Makes Sense Creating Your Own Retirement Community (Forbes) The Best Places for Retirement for Single Women Women and Retirement (Topretirements Forum topic) Retirement Your Way – When Cohousing Might be the Answer […]

    by » Are You Single? Tell Us Where You Plan to Retire – and Why - Topretirements — March 15, 2015

  26. Goodness, don’t let the roaches ruin your retirement.
    ‘Boric acid is a popular component in many roach remedies. The chemical is lethal to cockroaches but relatively safe to use, being only mildly toxic to people and pets. When roaches come into contact with boric acid, it adheres to their legs and antennae. Later, during the grooming process the compound will be ingested, absorbing the majority of bodily fluids and causing death through dehydration. To make a boric acid repellent, mix ¼ cup of boric acid (available at most pharmacies) with ¼ cup powdered sugar. Measure half of this combination into a small bowl and add enough water to make a thick paste. This will give you a dry powder to sprinkle along baseboards and a sticky paste to apply to more difficult areas. You can use bread dough and boric acid to make up Marble size balls to toss under your house foundation or underpinning of house trailers once a year.

    by DeyErmand — September 12, 2015

  27. We moved Kayelily’s comment to another blog article concerning Cohousing for a better fit and recent discussion:

    Start Your Own Cohousing Community:

    by Admin — May 11, 2017

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