Senior Cohousing Provides Community Assistance with Living

Instead of assisted living, or managing a large home without help, cohousing creates a small neighborhood of independent individuals who all do what they are able in order to maintain a mutually beneficial and enjoyable community.


| June 2016



Seniors eating at the common house

Some seniors prefer intergenerational cohousing. There are 21 seniors (and 37 kids) in Nevada City Cohousing. Other seniors prefer senior cohousing.


Photo by Charles Durrett

Successful and dignified aging for most seniors means maintaining control over their own lives and not feeling burdensome to their children. Unfortunately, with living situations limited to options like retirement facilities, assisted living, personal caregivers, or reliance on family for help and housing, the loss of independence and self-sufficiency may seem unavoidable. In The Senior Cohousing Handbook, Charles Durrett not only gives an enlightening overview of cohousing as a whole, but encourages seniors and families to consider this approach to aging with their independence intact. Cohousing is a way of cost-efficient, environmentally-friendly communal living, where custom-built neighborhoods fit the needs and aspirations of their residents. Here there are shared resources, safety and security, and perhaps most importantly, accessible social contact, which leads to better physical, mental, and emotional health. Built with an intentional emphasis on autonomy, cohousing provides a way to grow old in community.

You can purchase this book in the MOTHER EARTH NEWS store: The Senior Cohousing Handbook.

In villages, people work together to build a schoolhouse, raise a barn, harvest the crops, celebrate the harvest, and more. Similarly, residents in cohousing enjoy the benefits of cooperation, whether by organizing common dinners, social activities, or caring for an elderly resident. Both communities build social relationships by working together to address practical needs. Cohousing offers the social and practical advantages of a closely-knit neighborhood consistent with the realities of 21st-century life. While incorporating many of the qualities of traditional communities, cohousing is distinctively contemporary in its approach, based on the values of choice and tolerance. Residents choose when and how often to participate in community activities and seek to live with a diverse group of people. Cohousing is a “best of all worlds” solution.

In addition to its social advantages, cohousing offers numerous environmental benefits. Depending on the design, cohousers on average drive about 60 percent less and use 50-75 percent less energy for heating and cooling than they did in their previous homes (for a family of three), in part because the passive cooling measures (cross ventilation, holding the night cooling, etc.), are so effective. Cohousing residences are about 60 percent the size of average new American houses, and cohousing communities on average occupy less than 30 percent as much land as the average new subdivision for the same number of households. But what impresses me most about working with cohousing communities is watching the best intentions of the group for living lighter on the planet percolate to the collective consciousness after being initiated by a few individuals. Community is really the secret ingredient to living lighter on the planet.

Six Components of Cohousing

Cohousing can be found in many forms — from urban factory loft conversions to suburban cities to small towns. Whatever the form, cohousing projects share these six components:

1. Participatory Process: Active participation of residents, from the earliest planning stages through construction, is the first—and possibly most important—component of cohousing. Often a core group of 6 to 12 families establishes a development program, finds the site, hires the architect, and then seeks other interested people. Typically, all of the houses are sold or rented before the project is finished.





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