ML Burke and Associates

Seniors Cohousing -

Creating Affordable Housing with Heart

By ML Burke, November 10, 2012

Intentional Communities:
  If it takes a community to raise a child or support an elder, then cohousing is that community.  Building intentional communities such as seniors cohousing, including collective houses, is a fast-growing trend amongst boomers and seniors.  It is healthier, more affordable and promotes aging-in-place.  In Cohousing your home may be smaller but your life becomes much larger.
Embracing a human-centered, collaborative approach to location and housing design, cohousing communities find a way to create a close-knit neighbourhood be it  in the midst of a buzzing city or rural village.  A home should be more than a roof over one's head or a financial investment. A home should provide a sense of security, comfort, and most of all, community. 

DSCF3254.JPGThe heart of a cohousing community, in addition to the private homes, is the common house, with shared amenities such as a large dining room and kitchen for regular shared meals and gatherings. Other amenities may include child or adult play/craft areas, meeting rooms, guest rooms, workshops, etc.  The originating group decides what is important for them.

How is it healthier?
  It’s like living amongst a large extended family.  You come to know your neighbours through daily contact and you make new friends, meaning socializing opportunities within your complex are abundant.  Also, if you are frail or needing medical or support services, your new friends/neighbours are likely to make sure you are taken care of by informing family and health professionals of your changing needs.  Seniors living in cohousing tend to remain in their homes 20% longer than if they lived in a regular home or condo.  Not only are they happier but the health system saves a lot of money by not having them in institutional care.

How is it more affordable? 
You’ll spend less going out for dinner, movies, etc., because it’s more fun to hang out with your neighbours. Central sustainable heating and electrical systems can save huge dollars in utility bills.  Smaller individual units with pre-determined flooring, counter finishes, etc., can reduce construction costs greatly.  You may not need a car if the group decides to share some cars.  A self-managed strata council with volunteer committees saves huge dollars in management and landscaping fees.  Eating some of your meals in the common house encourages socialization and saves you time and money not cooking for yourself.
What’s a Collective House?
  This is a house that is within the cohousing development and is suitable for singles and/or frail seniors on a tight budget.  It consists of 4 or 5 pods around a central kitchen/dining/living room.  Each pod has its own bedroom, sitting room and bathroom.  These pods can be purchased much cheaper, around $150,000, compared to the market costs of the other homes in the complex.  The pod-residents can take turns cooking meals for their residents or they might hire a cook.  These folks also have full access to the Common House and all its amenities.

Transit/Cars, Parking, Shopping?
  Cohousing sites should be near enough to shops and transit that seniors could walk there.  Cars and parking within the complex are usually relegated to the perimeters or underground to further encourage connections amongst neighbours moving around the people-streets inside the development.  Sidewalks are wide enough for scooters, wheelchairs and wagons for hauling stuff from the cars or street and also for emergency vehicles to access if need be.

Decision Making:
  The originating group comes together to decide on three areas: 1) location/site; 2) interiors of homes such as flooring, counters, lighting; and lastly 3) what amenities they want in and around the common house.  Decisions are made through consensus.  This process takes a bit longer but is more effective in the end as everyone has to buy into the decisions and live with them. Those who find it too difficult to compromise or agree will usually weed themselves out of the group. 


To see an architectural plan for a Seniors' Common House go to "Wolf Creek Lodge"

Are You Interested in Learning More?  Go to (Vancouver)   or     or (Canadian Projects)  or  (U.S. Site)