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What is Senior Cohousing?

Learn about senior cohousing and how it could benefit you or your loved one. Seniorly has resources to help you understand cohousing retirement communities.

By Seniorly Editor Updated on May 10, 2023

Senior cohousing is an excellent independent living alternative for the elderly who want to live in a supportive community environment. Cohousing communities are designed to have a shared common space while still maintaining independent homes for individuals.

More and more, the aging population, particularly Baby Boomers, are concerned with how and where they are going to live out the rest of their years. Many of them don't have children, and could potentially be left without anyone to take care of them. However, assisted living may not be necessary yet, or it might be outside their budget.

There is a slew of choices to consider ranging from staying in their own homes with the help of a hired nurse to elder care facilities. But, rather than live alone, older adults are choosing a relatively brave new world. It's an idea brought over from Denmark two decades ago called senior “co-housing," also known as elder self-directed intentional communities, or EIC. These cohousing retirement communities typically take residents from age 55 and up.

Cohousing benefits

If you've never heard of it, co-housing is a do-it-yourself type of community. Viewed as a radical alternative, EIC's allow senior citizens to be autonomous and interdependent. Rather than depending on an administrator, older adults can live and age in a community of friends — a group of individuals with whom they choose to live and run the cooperative community.

Sense of community

One of the major benefits of senior cohousing is the sense of community it provides among seniors. Having the opportunity to socialize and live among others is shown to decrease depression and increase longevity. Cohousing communities allow individuals their independence while encouraging social meals, activities, and support. Having a friend or living partner nearby can provide peace of mind in our golden years.

Cost savings

Senior cohousing is also less expensive than paying for assisted living. In fact, some units are state-subsidized and can cost less than $500 per month depending on the community. And co-housing communities are on the rise: there are approximately 250 multi-generational co-housing communities in the United States.

Why cohousing?

A phrase widely used amongst retired people is "aging in place" — the idea of staying in familiar environs by living in your own home. However, the idea and practice of "aging in community" has developed a significant following as it offers a place to live amongst people who share in your aging experience. Some describe it as a housing cooperative and as a mecca for Baby Boomers who don’t want to live the rest of their years isolated or in an institutional setting. Rather, co-housing offers a community setting that is neighborly, close-knit, safe, and nurturing.

Cohousing communities typically share resources such as common areas, groceries, transportation, and other daily living benefits. There are also social and community activities for everyone who wants to participate.

Imagine building a condo or townhome community where every resident takes part in its design, from the ground up. That's how many of these co-housing communities get started. Sometimes they have a cohousing association to manage the facility and shared group experiences.

Among the important details to consider are things such as common or open space areas so that the entire group can come together on a regular basis, socialize, and share meals. Typically, there will be a common house and then private homes clustered around, making the livable space easy and convenient to access.

Cohousing vs. other types of senior living

Senior cohousing represents an alternative to other independent and assisted living options for the elderly. While there are many different types of assisted living options, cohousing or roommates provides seniors a great alternative.

Here’s a table that outlines some of the major differences in assisted versus independent living options.

 Senior CohousingSenior RoommateSenior Living
24-hour Medical Attention  X
Shared ExpensesXX 
Common AreasXXX
Independent HomesX  

Cohousing vs. senior roommates

The primary difference between a senior cohousing community versus having a senior roommate is the independent living space. Typically, senior roommates share a home and have only their own rooms to themselves, sharing kitchen and living spaces.

In a senior cohousing community, individual homes are typically clustered around a central living area or commonhouse. Every member of the community has their own home and independent living, if desired.

There are some similarities in terms of shared expenses, common areas, and social activities. One of the main benefits of both living situations is the sense of community and safety by having others around for older adults who wish to still live outside of a group home.

Cohousing vs. assisted living

Similar to assisted living options, cohousing communities can also choose to have regular housekeeping or medical support onsite. These are some of the major benefits of assisted living options that can be included in senior cohousing communities as a shared expense, if the group desires.

Even in other assisted living options, such as board and care or skilled nursing facilities, there are common areas and independent quarters for individuals. However, many individuals have roommates in assisted living situations to share costs. One of the major differences in assisted living is the full-time care and living in the same building (versus independent homes).  

Cohousing communities

There is an attractive philosophy and a practicality behind co-housing. Experts in geriatrics consider aging a "team sport" and that life together is better than apart. Cohousing alleviates loneliness for widows/widowers, and it also encourages people to come together to help each other with the day-to-day in case some members become disabled. Baby Boomers in particular can benefit from a communal lifestyle because many don't have children and therefore have no immediate family to take care of them should they become sick or disabled.

According to some geriatricians, the United States has experienced a fading away of the traditional understanding of family and care-giving, unlike other countries and cultures who keep multiple generations under one roof. Co-housing brings that sense of family back to folks who would otherwise be alone or placed with a group of strangers.

In a senior cohousing community, life's rituals such as movie night and luncheons are the norm and the bygone era of helping one's neighbor is an expectation and a team effort.

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Seniorly Editor

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