Cohousing for Aging Boomers

Cohousing has been around North America for a few years, imported from Denmark by visionary architects Charles Durrett and Kathryn McCamant; there are now about 100 multi-generational cohousing communities in the United States. At the same time, we have a lot of aging boomers and active seniors rattling around in big houses now that the kids, and often a spouse, have gone. We have noted before (see Back to the commune, man) that the concept could work very well for seniors. Wolf Creek Lodge, under development in California, is an example. According to the LA Times,

The basic premise of cohousing -- that life is better together than apart -- is an even neater fit for people as they age, because "aging is a team sport," said Dr. Bill Thomas, geriatrician and author of "What Are Old People For?" But cohousing communities specifically geared for seniors are just beginning to take off.

"For a long time, the team was your blood kin. Now the team, more and more, is going to be the people with whom we choose to live," Thomas said. "Elder cohousing is a response to the fading away of our traditional understanding of family and care-giving."

Common House at Wolf Creek Lodge: most cohousing projects have both communal eating opportunities but also private kitchens.

They are also building it very green; the Times continues:

Also simple -- though legion -- were the environmentally conscious decisions the members made to ensure their new home's sustainability. No old-growth trees would die as it was built. Only the common house would have air conditioning.

A third of the acreage would remain in a natural state. Low-toxicity materials would be used whenever possible. Gray water would be recycled for nondrinking purposes. Landscaping would be indigenous and drought-resistant.

Although the idea of a Sierra summer without cold air on demand makes Mari Kobus, 61, "a little nervous," she said, she is very proud of her new home's deep green pedigree.

"All of us," she said at a recent group potluck, "are committed to living more lightly on the environment." ::LA TImes via ::Planetizen

One of the issues that will have to be faced by this and other similar projects is that they are financed by the equity in the participants' previous homes, which in the current real estate meltdown will either be harder to sell or will not sell for as much money. This happened a lot in the '92 crash, where purchasers of seniors condos could not get out of their houses.

Perhaps one of the answers might be to buy up cul-de-sacs full of unfinished or unsold houses, duplex or triplex them and turn whole blocks into cohousing projects.

See also TreeHugger on Sustainable Community: A Cohousing Book, PSS: Cohousing, Green, Urban Cohousing: Eastern Village and Solar Row: Sustainable Housing In Boulder

Tags: California