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Senior Cohousing: A Retirement Alternative

Last Updated: 9/28/11

Seniors want to remain at home as long as possible, but with family spread out all over the country, it isn't always easy to do so. "Senior cohousing," a relatively new concept, allows older Americans to age at home in a supportive community.

Senior cohousing consists of a group of houses or condos that are individually owned by seniors and are clustered around a common area. The design usually includes a common house that can hold guest rooms, a kitchen for group meals, and any other common areas the residents agree on (e.g., a gym, media room, or art room). The residents pay a monthly maintenance fee and meet regularly to make decisions as a group.

Cohousing can be beneficial for someone who is looking to downsize. The residents share amenities and common area maintenance costs, so expenses are reduced. The biggest benefit may be that individual residents have control over how things are run -- unlike at a continuing care community, which has a management board. Residents can decide whether to hire a gardener or a cook for the community or even whether to have a nurse visit regularly. While cohousing developments don't usually offer 24-hour nursing care, the neighborhood becomes a community where everyone knows each other and neighbors can help out if one resident becomes sick.

There are hundreds of multi-generational cohousing communities in the United States that welcome seniors, but senior-only cohousing is relatively new. There are currently five senior cohousing projects, in California, Virginia, Colorado and New Mexico, but others are in the works. One downside is that developing a cohousing development can take years. The process involves finding land, working with an architect and developer, and dealing with financing and zoning. In addition, because all the residents must reach a consensus, the decision-making process can take time.

To learn more about cohousing, contact the Cohousing Association of the United States (http://www.cohousing.org/) or read an article from the AARP on senior cohousing.

To discuss elder law issues with an attorney, please email the Elder Law Center or call 630-844-0065. The Elder Law Center is located in Aurora, IL, Kane County, in the Chicago Western Suburbs.