Senior housing cooperatives have had decades of success. They are mainly in the Midwest, but have recently started to spread to other areas. The movement is well established enough to have its own national body, the Senior Cooperative Foundation. This movement has its origins in labor unions’ efforts to take care of their retirees, but in recent decades it has operated somewhat out of the public eye, despite growing to dozens of communities with thousands of members.
However, there is once again a sign of movement into the mainstream, which has even leapfrogged beyond the relatively conventional apartment life of most senior housing co-ops (which provide enhanced activities and opportunity for participation, but ultimately share the physical layout of most aparment buildings). This month’s issue of the AARP Bulletin features a story about how some retirees are making dramatic cuts to their expenses without a decline in quality of life. In fact, the general thrust of the article is that people are happier living simply.
If this article simply encouraged readers to drop their country club membership and use a public golf course, I wouldn’t be too impressed. However, the writer includes a profile of one couple that “still live like graduate students. The couple and three housemates rent a rambling eight-bedroom, three-bath 1920s bungalow in Seattle and share grocery shopping and cooking.” As a grad student who currently lives with retirement-age parents who pointed out the article, I love the irony.
The article also talks about community-supported agriculture, as well as intentional communities and senior cohousing that provide a mix of personal and shared space for residents. Incidentally, this year’s national cohousing conference (Seattle, June 24-27) includes several workshops on the senior subject.
Another initiative that should be of interest to the aging population (and their families) is the Green House pilot project (courtesy of NBC Capital Impact, which is the nonprofit wing of the National Cooperative Bank). In this model, elders who do need skilled care live cooperatively together. Rather than each needing their own live-in help, the assistance can be spread around in more affordable ways. And of course, the residents can help each other. For example, those with strong vision can read to their weaker-eyed housemates.
The aging of the baby boom comes at a time when we are already struggling to deal with our current social needs as a society. We obviously need to find better ways of caring for our elders, and that includes helping them to remain as independent (and interdependent) for as long as possible. It’s great to see that the AARP has joined the fray.