Don’t expect baby boomers to rely on traditional options when it comes to retirement. Individuals and couples are feeling freer than ever to design their retirement to meet their desires and dreams. They want retirement choices to empower them to do what they most want to do and keep their own priorities front and center. So it may come as no surprise that cohousing in retirement is an extremely attractive option for many people.
Alice Alexander is the U.S. Executive Director of Cohousing, a nonprofit organization that supports the growth of cohousing in the US. She was kind enough to share her thoughts with us about cohousing in retirement and more.
What is your professional background? How has it served you in your position at Cohousing?
My career has been devoted to nonprofit management, particularly in the areas of strategic planning, board development, membership cultivation, fundraising, and operations. These skills have served me very well in working with the board of Coho/US to strengthen the organization and meet our priorities for growing and nurturing cohousing.
Please tell us more about the Cohousing Association of the United States.
Coho/US is our brand name, with a tagline of “Creating community, one neighborhood at a time.” Coho/US serves as a connector and clearinghouse to:
- Nurture cohousing communities and help them thrive;
- Inspire the growth of cohousing as an innovative option to social and environmental challenges;
- Advocate cohousing benefits, from resource conservation and sustainability to resilient communities and healthy families.
Our resources are available to the public, the 153 existing cohousing communities, and the almost 100 that are in formation.
Do you think cohousing is a smart move for most people?
Yes! Cohousing creates community, with neighbors having close relationships for everyone’s mutual benefit. Cohousing is characterized by private homes, clustered housing, pedestrian-friendly design, and common facilities. Often, a common house is the nexus of community life where neighbors gather for occasional meals and activities. Individuals own or rent their own homes, and they share in the maintenance of common facilities.
We believe that cohousing is not just about having a roof over our heads. Cohousing is a place where people develop and grow, ideas emerge, and opportunities thrive.
Cohousing is a model of community and housing development which combines private homes and shared common space, with the following features:
(i) intentional design to foster trust, cooperation and mutual support among residents;
(ii) conscious commitment by residents to being part of a community set up for mutual benefit of the residents, which contributes significantly to resident health, safety, security, connection, social support, and accesses to resources and social capital;
(iii) democratic management and control by the residents.
(iv) physical design reflecting a balance of privacy and community through creation of private homes and common spaces; and
(v) common spaces and facilities (such as a community house, gardens, playgrounds, and laundries) designed to encourage shared activities like community meals and gatherings as well as informal connections among residents.
Because cohousing communities are democratically managed, everyone has a voice. This means that people are empowered to act, to solve problems, and to make a difference.
What are some of the strongest reasons that retirees choose cohousing?
Cohousing provides solutions for many of contemporary society’s challenges:
- Creating Community: Humans thrive when in close physical and emotional proximity to others; when it comes to quality of life and good health, relationships are paramount.
- Building Sustainability: Energy costs are reduced with cohousing’s environmentally-friendly structures, shared resources, and sustainable approach.
- Enhancing Life: Sharing challenges – from preparing food, to ensuring children and elders are cared for, to meeting the demands of household chores – yields a more secure and relaxed life. Sharing delights – of conversation, meals, and milestones – yields a more enjoyable life.
How can cohousing help someone take steps towards retirement?
Cohousing communities provide the space and support through community for individuals to make personal decisions.
What are some of the biggest challenges that people are likely to face when cohousing?
Cohousing challenges are those common to living anywhere: you may not like all aspects of the design of where you live; you may not be best friends with your next door neighbor.
In seeking cohousing, these are good questions to ask:
- Have you taken stock of your situation towards developing a scenario that will lead to a more successful and happy elderhood? This is beyond organizing finances; this is focusing on one’s emotional well-being.
- Where is the right place for you to age in place? Some move back to the town they grew up in; some move next door to the kids; some move to a shared house with other seniors.
- What does aging in place mean for you, and how do you want to experience it? Participating in a study group with other seniors may be helpful in confronting the realities and opportunities of aging. Cohousing addresses many of the considerations in aging, such as encouraging civic engagement, providing abundant social interaction, staying active through collaborative management of facilities, continue to contribute talents within a community, and nurturing continued personal growth.
- Cohousing inherently involves group processes, like working together, and often learning new communication and decision-making skills. Does this appeal to you?
- Cohousing also inherently involves abundant opportunities for social interaction. Does this appeal to you, or are you a very private person who does not need or want much social interaction? In assessing a cohousing community, explore the balance between privacy within your own house or condo and how you want to interact with a community.
- Do you understand your choices in receiving, sharing and giving care within a cohousing community? Do you know how a community will accommodate nurses, other caregivers and family?
- Have you embraced the risks involved in staying where you are versus moving back to a small town, or moving in with children, or moving into cohousing?
- Have you visited a cohousing community, or had a meal with a community and joined a meeting?
- Finally, in addition to asking what a cohousing community can do for you, ask yourself what you can contribute to the community. This can be affirming and confidence-building in presenting yourself as an asset for a community.
What are some of the things that have contributed to your success? What are some of the things you learned along the way?
I have enjoyed enormous success in my nonprofit career by motivating others and empowering teams to work together. While my natural inclination is to “run the show,” the greatest creativity and productivity comes from allowing staff and volunteers to contribute skills in a way that works best for them (while maintaining mutually agreed upon goals).
Follow Alice on Facebook and Twitter.