Co-housing offers independence and support for seniors

The hybrid living arrangement popularized in Europe is catching on with seniors in North America.



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Two questions I am hearing a lot these days, especially from boomer-aged women are:  Where am I going to live? Who is going to look after me? A new housing trend, at least in North America, called “co-housing,” may provide the answer. Originally from Europe, this housing approach supports healthy aging, provides community and quality of life. It’s not surprising that Europe is ahead on innovative housing options because their populations are already further along the aging demographic phenomenon and their housing is pricey. North Americans are just beginning to recognize some of the housing challenges of an aging population including affordability, accessibility and quality of life.

With the decrease in traditional families and multi-generational homes comes an increase in those who live alone and consequently with age feel more vulnerable about finding suitable long term housing. A sizable number of boomers bypassed parenting. Even for those with children there is no guarantee of their availability or suitability to assist with aging parents. Most parents are reluctant to burden their children as they age anyway. These realities mean that new innovative housing and support options are needed.

The co-housing approach

Co-housing can include ownership privileges within a community environment. The intention is to provide a way to live with privacy while also recognizing the benefits and importance of depending on other members of the community. Philosophies such as environmental sustainability, social change and aging in place are dominant themes behind many of these developments. The range of living styles and accompanying price ranges are vast including some with options geared to income. Some are multi-age communities while others concentrate on older adults, although local laws would dictate the range of possibilities.

Specialty co-housing for seniors

Seniors co-housing is a sub-specialty within this style of housing. It acknowledges aging and accompanying vulnerabilities and dependencies. The intention is to provide a healthy and co-operative living environment with community supports for those who are experiencing health issues. The Canadian Co-housing Network refers to this as co-care. The seniors co-housing movement has its own website if you are interested in learning more. Seniors in co-housing will be expected to participate in the community including the upkeep of the homes. This will help maintain their own personal vitality and reduce the risk of social isolation. Their family members will benefit from knowing that others are looking out for their aging relative should any problems arise unexpectedly.

Living in a co-housing environment, as in any relationship, will include its challenges. Rules will need to be clearly defined regarding un-partnering and re-partnering, protocols for visitors, smoking, financial issues and mediation options. Although this style of living will not appeal to everyone, it does provide another realistic housing option for our aging population.

Lee Anne Davies has worked as a consultant for insurance, wealth management, banking and financial education companies. She has a PhD in Aging, Health and Well-being and a Masters of Arts (MA) in Gerontology and Health Studies from the University of Waterloo and an MBA from Athabasca University’s Information Technology Management program. She’s also successfully completed the Canadian Securities Course and the Professional Financial Planning Course. To read more from Davies, visit her blog Agenomics.

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