Communes for grownups --Co-housing for Boomers a growing trend

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Cohousing, the current incarnation of what we Baby Boomers used to call communal living, turns out to be a growing senior living trend. Both in Denmark, where co-housing originated in the 1970's, and in the United States where the model has been gaining ground, senior interest is on the rise.

Boomers have only begun to retire. At its peak this retirement wave will reach as many as 10,000/day and will continue for more than a decade. Not only will there be more of us retiring but we will be "retired" for longer. The phrase that has already reached the popular lingo - aging in place - will be the theme song. Managing the phenomena, especially managing it financially, is going to require major changes. There is reason to think this change may be for the better. Certainly, the current model - from home to assisted living to nursing home - is anything but user-friendly.

In co-housing, self-sufficient units are owned or rented by the individual -- similar to a condominium -- but in addition there is communal space and shared amenities. These may include a large kitchen, dining area, media room, workshop, laundry facilities, even rooms for guests.

There are six commonly accepted characteristics of co-housing. The model is participatory -- usually from its origin - community centered with a shared decision making process, resident management and common facilities but income is individual rather than shared. Co-housing has been a leader in being environmentally friendly, a trend which will certainly continue.

Babyboomers will reshape retirement not only to our personalities but to financial realities. Most of us will continue to work after retirement, many of us at home. Retirees benefit from knowing their neighbors, pooling resources, what has been called an "interdependent elder village lifestyle." Economic and emotional necessities - like companionship, shared living costs, pooled labor, and access to services - all point in the direction of an increasing cohousing movement. The challenge may be in providing sufficient benefits to younger families and individuals to make these centers multi-generational.

There has been a trend toward retirement to college towns () and colleges and universities are paying attention. If this trend combines with the cohousing movement then college students - who are struggling with record-breaking levels of debt and could benefit from housing and jobs - may turn out to be labor and companion source match made in heaven.

First to embrace the cohousing lifestyle? According to AARP research. Teachers, spiritual leaders, mental and physical health workers, artists, writers and others who see themselves as self-starters: the kind of people who are likely to be a good fit for college students.

Chuck Durrett, author of "Senior Cohousing: A Community Approach to Independent Living" (Ten Speed Press, 2005) remarked, "I haven't seen people have as much fun as they do in senior co-housing since the college dorms," and Beth Brown, writing in the AARP Bulletin (and picked up by the syndicated press), coined the phrase, "Communes for Grownups."

Elder co-housing may be a remarkably solid solution to a combined wave of problems. It's an exciting possibility for many of us.




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