Our community will have:
C. What if we can't find a building to rehabilitate?
- Let's build our own!
- How about starting with something cheap to build --
very minimal -- such as
a cement shell, with industrial/commercial space below
and an upper residential floor.
- We'd each own a cube of it
and could do its interior as we each choose.
- Something like that. (This is all up for discussion...
Share your own vision! Design your own space!)
D. A private living space for each participant
- Yes, everyone has their own kitchen.
- Each unit is a complete home, with bathroom(s), bedroom(s),
living room(s), etc.
- It is as conventional or unconventional as
its owner chooses to make it.
- Some owners may want to have some commercial space
e.g. a retail shop downstairs;
let's plan for this if possible.
What It's Not
- It's not an investment in the sense of speculation --
we're doing it not to make money or to create something for resale;
we're doing it to create a community and a place we want to live in.
- It's not a commune.
- It's not an intentional community; there is no idealogical,
religious, or spiritual theme, though those things may certainly
be possessed by individuals who join us.
- It's not a political movement. There is no litmus test.
How Much Does It Cost?
Raines Cohen, one of our Bay Area cohousing gurus, describes it thus:
Cohousing is not affordable housing.
It's not cheaper than conventional housing, just different.
Here are the price tags on the phases of cohousing:
2-digit ($10s) for meetings, membership fees (monthly), childcare expenses, meals, getting going
3-digit ($100s) for workshops, trainings, and conferences
4-digit ($1,000s) for feasibility, consultants, assessment, legal advice, design, permit applications
5-digit ($10,000s) for downpayments, investments -- what's needed for design and approval
6-digit ($100,000s) for construction, mortgage financing, and purchase
Chuck and Katie wrote (July 22, 2013):
There is so much misunderstanding and false economy around the costs of growing older. I've asked over 200 people, who now live in cohousing, how much money they were saving per month, compared to what they spent before. Savings ranged from $200 per month to $2430 per month. The person who was saving the most sold one auto, moved from a house with an average of $300/mo in energy bills to one with an average of less than $50/mo, traveled less, and had 20 other monthly bills dramatically reduced.
In a senior cohousing we just finished in Grass Valley one resident just told me that he went from purchasing 4-5 tanks of gas a month to less than one. That has so many other benefits besides economics, less exposure by being less often on the road and less green house gases emitted.
People staying in their homes is expensive and wasteful. Having people institutionalized is expensive and distasteful. The challenge to seniors interested in community is to be a little proactive and entrepreneurial. The default, staying at home waiting to be institutionalized, is the proverbial frog in the pot of warm water. The greatest risk of all for seniors is to do nothing at all.
Location, Location, Location
The location will be urban -- San Francisco would be great if
we could overcome its politics and economics. Several
similar efforts have failed in SF. There are a half-dozen
thriving urban villages (cohousing communities) in the East Bay (Oakland,
Emeryville, Berkeley, Pleasant Hill) and affordable
industrial-margin sites with at least some
urban services (public transit, shopping).
An East Bay location may be an acceptable compromise.
However, it looks like a new opportunity is emerging in
The Concept of the Urban Village
An urban village has three features that
distinguish it from ordinary housing developments in the USA:
- Its residents participate in the development process from
the very beginning. With the help of experts, they do
the planning and design and financing and construction.
They don't just buy something some developer developed;
they are the developer.
They don't do it to make money (as an investment);
they do it for themselves because they want to live there.
- It has more shared resources (see above)
than typical housing which might share only a pool,
a lobby, and a driveway.
Wikipedia has an excellent description
of the concept of cohousing. Give it a read!
Cohousers in San Francisco
Here is a group with similar ideas:
What would it be like to own your home in a thriving community, close to work and school?
Cohousing is housing created with the design input of the residents, according to common goals such as
sustainability, community, and simply living well by sharing more. It includes individual homes supplemented
by shared facilities and common areas. Management is consensus-driven and done by the residents.
There are over two dozen cohousing communities in the Bay Area to date, and it is time to build the
first community here in San Francisco! Together we can make it happen.
We hope for residents of all ages and backgrounds, singles, couples, and families. A diversity of uses,
including residential, work/live spaces, and retail storefronts, will enable residents to run businesses within
the community. Shared gardens, open space, and a common house provide opportunities to know your
neighbors, get involved, and live the good life, right here in the best city in the world.
Others Doing Urban Villages
In some European countries (notably Denmark) the cohousing
movement is mature and well-established. Some cohousing
communities were begun there four or five decades ago. Much
can be learned from them.
Katie McCamant and
Chuck Durrett are leading this movement in the
United States. I've heard them talk. They're great people
doing important work. Here is An Interview with the Pioneer Couple of American Cohousing. A quote:
It was very evident how advanced the Danes are in the art of housing themselves, with lots of clustered housing based on sociological research about what people need. What we saw there seemed very applicable to the American lifestyle, especially the idea of balance between privacy and community. Privacy is very important, but in America, we.ve come to an extreme point on it, losing community along the way. Sure, you can get in a car and drive to find community, but that gets really old after awhile. The idea of spontaneously finding community just walking out your door, running into neighbors, and being able to go to a movie with them, or sitting down with them and talking about what a tough day you had at work -- that's hard to find these days. People interested in cohousing are trying to find a balance between privacy and community again. Without losing their sense of autonomy, they want to come home to something bigger than an empty house.
There are already a few dozen cohousing groups in the USA.
Several are in the Bay Area.
is a directory.
It's happening in New York City, too -- my cousin Elsie attempted it there.
Here's an article
from the New York times of 11/30/2008 about it (and her).
They made great progress but the project ultimately failed when the
banks would not provide financing. What a stupid decision by the
lenders, and what a shame so much time and energy was wasted.
A cautionary tale, I guess, for anyone who thinks these projects are easy.
Near Sacramento in Northern California, a community named Glacier Circle
has succeeded (see article
in the Sacramento Bee) and so has another named Wolf Creek Lodge
in Grass Valley.
Another approach is to create a "village" -- See the Feb. 9, 2010 article
For Senior Care, Sometimes It Does Take A Village in Kaiser Health News. It starts:
Nearly three years ago, Harry Rosenberg and his wife, Barbara Filner, met with nine of their neighbors about starting an aging-in-place "village" in the Burning Tree community of Bethesda, Maryland. The idea: If neighbors could help one another with basic services such as transportation and simple home maintenance and with friendly visits, people could stay in their homes longer as they aged. It took 19 months of planning and organizing, but Burning Tree Village accepted its first request for assistance in November of 2008: helping an 81-year-old widow take out her trash and driving her to the doctor.
Here's an excerpt from an article from the AARP Bulletin:
Cohousing -- A new option for retirement -- or sooner!.
Pat Darlington, 59, realized that when she got older, she didn't want to live like her 83-year-old father. It struck her when she was visiting him in Florida and realized he should no longer be driving, only to be told his neighbors had come to the same conclusion long ago. Why hadn't they let her know, the Oklahoma psychologist asked? "We didn't want to get involved," they said.
Their hands-off attitude became the driving force behind Darlington's decision to help create Oakcreek Cohousing Community in Stillwater, Okla. Across the country, senior cohousing, like the one Darlington is planning, is turning into an increasingly popular option for boomers and older adults. In these communities, a group shares a property, lives in condos or attached homes clustered together, and shares some weekly dinners, outdoor space and facilities.
On the grounds is a common house, a feature of all cohousing projects, containing a kitchen for preparing communal meals or potluck, a dining and living room, and other rooms, depending on what the group wants. Options might include a media room, an office, a workshop with a kiln, or a fitness or art studio. The common house always has two or three bedrooms for guests and
caregivers should aging residents need them.
The social interaction often extends beyond the property. If someone wants to go to the movies, for a hike or to the theater, they can send out an e-mail or ask around. There's always an instant buddy, or the space to be alone.
People in Darlington's world are buying into the concept of elder cohousing. So far, at Oakcreek, 12 one- and two-bedroom houses costing $150,000 to $265,000 have been spoken for by residents ages 57 to 84; the group needs to find another eight people to commit to houses so it can break ground this June.
When she reaches her dad's age, Darlington expects to be surrounded by loving, supportive neighbors. She hopes never to be in assisted living or a nursing home.
Darlington has seen, firsthand, the life she doesn't want. "I have patients with a ton of money, long-term care insurance and round-the-clock caregivers, and they sit in their lovely homes bored and lonely," says Darlington, a widow whose four children are scattered around the country. "I saw my dad isolated in his own house and that is not how I want to spend the rest of my life. When you go to a financial adviser, you're told to have a diversified portfolio. Cohousing is my social portfolio," she says. "Some people say, 'Why are you doing this? You're only 59.' I want to invest in relationships now so that when I need help, I will already have them. We have choices and don't have to do 'aging' the way it has always been done."
Not that trailblazing boomers, now in their 50s and 60s, would settle for the status quo anyway. They watch their parents decline in institutional settings or cut off from society and vow not to wind up like that. "People are creatively and proactively saying that there are options that might be better," says California architect Charles Durrett, who, along with his wife, Kathryn McCamant, brought the idea of cohousing from Denmark to the United States in the late 1980s. "The trend of senior cohousing is just getting started."
Copyright 2012 © AARP
Here's an article from the New York Times:
Grass-Roots Effort to Grow Old at Home.
August 14, 2007
A Grass-Roots Effort to Grow Old at Home
By JANE GROSS
WASHINGTON -- On a bluff overlooking the Potomac
River, George and Anne Allen, both 82, struggle to
remain in their beloved three-story house and
neighborhood, despite the frailty, danger and
isolation of old age.
Mr. Allen has been hobbled since he fractured his
spine in a fall down the stairs, and he expects to
lose his driver's license when it comes up for
renewal. Mrs. Allen recently broke four ribs
getting out of bed. Neither can climb a ladder to
change a light bulb or crouch under the kitchen
sink to fix a leak. Stores and public
transportation are an uncomfortable hike.
So the Allens have banded together with their
neighbors, who are equally determined to avoid
being forced from their homes by dependence. Along
with more than 100 communities nationwide -- a
dozen of them planned here in Washington and its
suburbs -- their group is part of a movement to
make neighborhoods comfortable places to grow old,
both for elderly men and women in need of help and
for baby boomers anticipating the future.
``We are totally dependent on ourselves,'' Mr.
Allen said. ``But I want to live in a mixed
community, not just with the elderly. And as long
as we can do it here, that's what we want.''
Their group has registered as a nonprofit
corporation, is setting membership dues, and is
lining up providers of transportation, home
repair, companionship, security and other services
to meet their needs at home for as long as
Urban planners and senior housing experts say this
movement, organized by residents rather than
government agencies or social service providers,
could make ``aging in place'' safe and affordable
for a majority of elderly people. Almost 9 in 10
Americans over the age of 60, according to AARP
polls, share the Allens' wish to live out their
lives in familiar surroundings.
Many of these self-help communities are calling
themselves villages, playing on the notion that it
takes a village to raise a child and also support
the aged in their decline. Some are expected to
open this fall on Capitol Hill; in Cambridge,
Mass.; New Canaan, Conn.; Palo Alto, Calif.; and
``Providers don't always need to do things for the
elderly,'' said Philip McCallion, director of the
Center for Excellence in Aging Services at the
State University of New York at Albany. ``There
are plenty of ideas how to do this within the
Although not a panacea for those with complicated
medical needs, the approach addresses what experts
say can be a premature decision by older people to
give up their homes in response to relatively
minor problems: No way to get to the grocery
store. Tradesmen unwilling to take on small
repairs. The isolation of a snowy winter.
As these small problems mount, sometimes
accompanied by pressure from adult children,
experts say, the elderly homeowner is caught off
guard. Remaining at home without sufficient help
is frightening. But moving to an assisted-living
center is often an overreaction that can be
avoided or postponed.
``A few neighborhood-based, relatively inexpensive
strategies can have an enormous effect,'' Mr.
McCallion said. ``If people don't feel so
overwhelmed, they don't feel pushed into
precipitous decisions that can't always be
For inspiration, the nascent groups looked to
Beacon Hill Village in Boston, which pioneered the
approach six years ago. Beacon Hill's 400 members
pay yearly dues -- $580 for an individual and $780
for a couple, plus ŗ la carte fees -- in exchange
for the security of knowing that a prescreened
carpenter, chef, computer expert or home health
aide is one phone call away.
Experts in aging say the self-help approach
provides a sense of mastery, often lost with the
move to an institution or even an adult child's
spare bedroom. That can-do spirit is attractive to
baby boomers like Alisia Juarrero, 59, who is a
board member of the Allens. group, which spans the
Palisades neighborhood, an enclave of
single-family houses northwest of Georgetown, and
Foxhall, an adjacent area of attached Tudor homes.
Ms. Juarrero is mindful of the future because of
the struggles of her 89-year-old mother and
92-year-old aunt in Coral Gables, Fla. ``This is
where we're all headed,'' she said. ``If I help
set this up, it'll be there when I need it.''
So far, most of the villages are in places where
residents are well connected and skilled in
finance, law, medicine and philanthropy as a
result of their own careers. That raises the
question of whether the model is viable only in
neighborhoods of privilege. But experts point out
that most care for the elderly is already out of
reach for all but the wealthy.
The amenities of an assisted-living center are far
more expensive than a village's membership fee.
Medicare does not pay for long-term care, and
private help is costly. Only the destitute are
protected in old age because Medicaid pays their
nursing home fees.
A few villages are cropping up where low-income
families live, such as in the Richmond District of
San Francisco, with its recent wave of Russian
immigrants; Falmouth, Mass., where year-round
residents struggle when the summer crowd is gone;
and in pockets in Westchester County, like
Yonkers, with diverse populations.
In such locations, social service organizations
are likely to organize the project, instead of the
older residents, and they rely on volunteers or
bartered services to keep fees down. One member
fixes another's faucet, banks the time and in
exchange gets a ride to a medical appointment.
Groups also share expertise online and at local
and national conferences, including several this
past spring. Some have access to regional resource
centers that help with matters like hiring an
executive director or buying liability insurance.
In terms of government support, New York State is
at the forefront, with a 20-year-old model known
as a NORC, or naturally occurring retirement
community. Since 1995, the state has financed
social services, including nurses and case
managers, in many apartment buildings with a
concentration of residents over 60. Last year, it
added a few suburban neighborhoods, so-called
On the federal level, Congress authorized
experiments in aging in place in the 2006 Older
American Act but did not finance them.
The sprawl of suburbia presents challenges to the
elderly once they cannot drive. Amid the rolling
hills of Fairfax County, Va., one group is
grappling with how to serve prospective members in
a place with a single general store and five-acre
lots. Taxi vouchers may be too costly when running
errands can take hours. Recruiting volunteer
drivers from 118 home owners. associations and 17
churches presents liability issues.
.The question is distance and time, and the money
that relates to that,'' said William Cole, 77, the
founder of the group. Mr. Cole anticipates yearly
dues of $1,000, which may be prohibitive for
neighbors who are real estate rich but cash poor.
One likely service, Mr. Cole said, will be advice
about reverse mortgages.
Many of the villages are concerned about whether
they can provide adequate support once the
founding members, who tend to be vigorous
regardless of age, decline either physically or
cognitively. In this regard, the New Canaan group,
with annual dues of $360 and $480, may be less
vulnerable than most. The suburb already has a
home health care agency, an assisted-living center
and a nursing home, thanks to years of advocacy by
a local physician, an 87-year-old board member.
Because of that, ``we have the confidence to live
without these problems getting the best of us,''
said Tom Towers, 69, the board president of the
group, Staying Put in New Canaan. ``And if they
do, we can take care of it right here.''
The first village in the Washington area is
expected to be on Capitol Hill. When it opens for
business on Oct. 1, annual memberships will be
$750 for a couple and $500 for an individual.
Among those eager to join are Marie Spiro, 74, and
Georgine Reed, 78, who share a rambling house that
they insist they will only leave 'feet first'.''
Between them, Ms. Spiro, an emeritus professor of
art history and archaeology, and Ms. Reed, a
retired designer of museum exhibits, have already
endured three knee replacements and an array of
Ms. Spiro describes huffing and puffing while
grocery shopping; Ms. Reed is increasingly
reluctant to visit friends across town. Both
women, who are childless, would already welcome
help with meals, transportation and paperwork. If
they need home care, Capitol Hill Village will be
able to organize that.
``I've never had to rely on other people, and I
never wanted to,'' Ms. Spiro said. ``But I'd
rather pay a fee than have to ask favors.''
Members of all these groups share an independent
streak -- and the willingness to plan for the
future. Those characteristics were on view
recently in a living room in Hollin Hills, a
post-World War II development in Alexandria, Va.,
where a half-dozen neighbors who once organized
baby-sitting co-ops are now organizing for their
Now, in their 70s and 80s, they still drive, play
tennis and travel the world. None has yet lost a
spouse, but they fear what will happen to the one
``The vast majority of people don't have the
capacity to be realistic,'' said Ruth Morduch, 71.
``We don't know what's going to happen in X number
of years, but we know we're going to need help. In
my own home, that's less likely to be humiliating.
And an organization like this gives me a sense
that we're all in this together, our last grand
Copyright 2007 © The New York Times Company
One of the biggest challenges of all-volunteer groups like these is self-regulation.
How do we manage ourselves to minimize squabbles and to get hard work done?
This is no mean feat and has sunk more than one well-intentioned group.
Especially when the topic is money -- lots of it, often one's life savings --
discussions can become scary and contentious.
The answer, we have concluded, is a system (pioneered in Holland) named
We think it's an essential component for projects like cohousing.
Here are some documents that describe it.
-- Dan Keller
Updated Tuesday, 23-Jan-2018 16:50:41 MST