Book by Charles Durrett, 2009

Reviewed in April 2009 Research Update & featured in Summer 2009 fACTivist newsletter

Senior cohousing is a model of independent-intradependent living that is vastly different from assisted living facilities and retirement communities, and distinct from communes and intentional communities. The cohousing model incorporates both private dwellings and common facilities, designed specifically for a community of residents – in this case, seniors – interested in building a supportive community together.

Now, I‘m only in my mid-20s, but this book actually made me want to move into a Senior Co-housing community! The book is full of interviews, pictures, design plans, and stories of suc-cessful (and a few unsuccessful) cohousing com-munities. What resonates most strongly is the contentment, satisfaction and fulfillment of actively participating in a community as an alterna-tive to our independent, and often isolated, family households.

Cohousing for seniors takes the uniqueness of aging into account. Some communities, for ex-ample, incorporate an extra suite for a full-time caregiver to occupy, should one of the residents find themselves in need of that type of support. Mutual care and support seem to be the norm in the communities profiled in this book. As one resident explained, “In the house where I‘m living now, if I fall off a ladder, who‘s going to know? In cohousing, even if you‘re in your own house, you‘re going to know if you don‘t see somebody”. Senior cohousing provides community supports in many different forms, such as shared meals, community activities and events, easy opportunities to informally visit and socialize, and the opportunity to help one another with chores and errands. The model provides the peace of mind of knowing that there is always somebody that you know and trust if you really need help, and because all community members will be in need of some supports at some point, providing care or help is not viewed as burdensome, but rather as a form of insurance.

These social features seem to be what make the cohousing model stand out from other models. In many of the examples, a group of potential community members engaged in a long process of visioning, designing, and building their community. Community principles, obligations, decision-making processes, and conflict resolution are discussed and agreed upon at the outset, meaning that residents come to cohousing with a commitment to one another, and an idea of the shared values of the community. Participating in the design process means that the community can be structured both to fit and to be flexible. Some communities have prioritized features like easy access to shopping and services, accessible floor plans and elevators, extra-quiet individual units, and energy efficiency and environmental sustainability. Communities can include both higher and lower income seniors, and the vast majority of cohousing communities are financially self-sustaining.

This book does a great job of illustrating the potential of the senior cohousing concept. It gives examples of what has worked and what has failed, and provides resources and answers questions for people looking to start or to join a senior cohousing community. The handbook contains examples from Denmark, the USA, and around the world. In addition to looking at some of the advantages and risks, the handbook answers common questions regarding the physical design, the social design, financial considerations, the planning process, and the day-to-day life in a cohousing community.


Canadian Co-Housing Communities

Here is a sample of a few of the co-housing communities across Canada:

  • Prairie Sky Cohousing Cooperative (Calgary)
    Alberta’s first cohousing community, based on the principles of caring, respect, and sustainability.

  • Saskatoon Cohousing Group (Saskatoon)
    Newly forming seniors cohousing development of 20-24 homes to be located near downtown.

  • Cranberry Commons Cohousing (Burnaby, BC)
    A closely knit community of families, singles, and seniors with individual homes and extensive shared facilities.

  • WindSong  (Langley, BC)
    An environmental award winning development with 34 family homes, community gardens, greenspace and common space on 6 acres of land.

  • Northern Sun Farm Co-op (Sarto, MB)
    A rural intentional community with a focus on alternative energy, appropriate technology, simple lifestyles and self-reliance.

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