Despite the desire to live at home as we get older, many older adults do not have the financial means, the health status or the social support necessary to stay home alone or to rent suitable housing. The scarcity of affordable housing, the stress caused by a move, as well as having to move away from friends and family are all factors that may further isolate older adults.
Many older adults face complex (and sometimes heartbreaking) housing decisions.(1) When we think of housing options for older adults, we often think of their own homes, retirement homes, seniors' residences, nursing homes or other long-term care facilities. But what you may not know, is that other options exist, such as "co-housing".
Co-housing is an idea that emerged in Denmark in the 1960s.(2) It is a community of private houses grouped around a shared space. The goal of co-housing is to have a group of people live together as a community, without however resembling a commune. Each house has its own private bedrooms, kitchen and bathroom. Shared spaces typically include a common building, which can include a large kitchen and dining area, laundry facilities and recreational areas. The shared outdoor space may include parking, driveways, open space and gardens. Each individual or family has independent income and a private life, but the members of a co-housing project will plan and manage community activities and shared spaces collaboratively. Co-housing projects are often multigenerational but can sometimes target seniors. Co-housing projects are based on values of engagement, collaboration, interdependence, mutual support and even "co-care" (members thus taking care of each other).
This model seems to be gaining in popularity. The Canadian Cohousing Network identified dozens of communities at different stages of development across the country.(3) But what are the success factors for co-housing projects for older adults?
What Research Tells Us
A recent systematic review of 60 articles examined the reasons cited by older adults for supporting co-housing, interpersonal issues in such projects, and other implementation considerations such as privacy, accessibility and security.(4)
Reasons to live together
Co-housing involves a way of life that values private as much as community life, which seems particularly attractive to older adults. Studies also shown that seniors who turn to co-housing enjoy being able to reduce housing costs, feel safe, share household chores and increase their social interactions.
Profile of members of cohabitation projects
Although older adults positively consider co-housing with younger generations and do not exclude minority groups, they nevertheless want to have a say in the people with whom they will share their daily lives to ensure that there is a good compatibility.
The mechanisms to maintain healthy interpersonal relationships are essential in co-housing projects. You have to learn respect, tolerance and the art of compromise but also establish clear rules related to decision-making processes, the use and maintenance of shared spaces, noise, cost sharing, visitors, pets, alcohol consumption, or smoking. Studies show that such rules seem essential to ensure living together is successful.
It’s important to get to know the people you will be living with in order to establish rules that everyone agrees to. External help from third parties, such as organizations matching individuals and families with co-housing projects, can be beneficial.
Privacy, accessibility and security
The balance between shared spaces and private spaces is a key factor in any successful co-housing project. Living together must not compromise the residents' need for privacy. In addition, whether it's about sharing existing houses or new constructions dedicated to co-housing, accessibility and security features must meet the needs of older adults (needs which may evolve according to their health status). The proximity of the co-housing project to health and social services therefore remains an important consideration.
In the case of new construction for co-housing projects, you must also ensure that you obtain professional advice in order to comply with the existing housing and town planning regulations specific to your municipality.
Interested in co-housing?
Learn more about co-housing (and about yourself!) to find out if this model resonates with your values and can meet your needs.(5)
Learn about existing co-housing projects or about those in development in order to better understand their respective characteristics and their members (and consider contacting them in order to schedule visits).(3)
Start a co-housing project if no project exists in your community or if none seems to meet your values and needs.(6)