We are a fierce generation. We are not moving into cookie-cutter retirement communities where the biggest excitement is a visit from the grandchildren. We are demanding more. More freedom, more control and more independence.
The answer is a new twist on an old solution. Communal living. Not Haight Ashbury style with futons, hash pipes and woks (although there’s nothing wrong with that) but a variety of contemporary living arrangements that address the rising cost of living, the negative aspects of living in isolation as we age and the statistics that forecast your chances of ending up on your own.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the divorce rate has doubled for adults over 50 since the 1990s. Even if your marriage is the Rock of Gibraltar, odds are, you are going to outlive your spouse by ten years. If you can swing the cost of maintaining your home and rising property taxes on your own, cool. But if you’d rather tour the fjords in Norway and go on archeological digs in Greece than let your home eat up your life’s savings, read on!
Remember those roommates you had in college? The all-night relationship analysis. Swapping clothes and boyfriends. Living on tuna noodle casserole and Kit Kat bars. It’s time to take a leap back to the future. From Manhattan to San Francisco, women over fifty are discovering the financial and social benefits of having a roommate.
Renting out a spare bedroom makes dollars and sense. And condo-shopping with a roommate in mind, enhances your buying power, square footage and amenities. According to AARP, there are now 4 million women over the age of 50 who live with two other women of the same age. The Golden Girls are alive and well. However, for practical reasons, some are choosing roommates a little younger than Estelle Getty.
Judy, in her early fifties, had been caring for a mother with dementia. When her mother died, she wanted to rent out her spare bedroom. “I work from a home office and knew how hard it would be to find someone my own age with whom I would be compatible, who wouldn’t cramp my space. I wasn’t looking for a best friend, but I did want the extra income. So, I rented to an international grad student who was upbeat, responsible and respectful of my privacy.”
The trend is so popular that there are national online roommate matching services specifically targeting empty nesters and boomers such as Silver Nest. Think Tinder meets Re/Max. Homeowners and renter post profiles with preferences, price range, etc. Meanwhile, Silver Nest provides background checks to weed out scams and credit risks.
“This concept is really trending on the East and West Coasts and is very big in Europe,” says Ryan Cowmeadow, vice president of the National Shared Housing Resource Center, an all-volunteer clearinghouse of HomeShare programs.
If you prefer not to share your living space, but want the social and financial advantages of communal living, check out Co-housing, a collaborative community style imported from Denmark. Also known as the Village-to-Village movement, Co-housing is an intentional community of 20-40 private homes clustered around shared space which typically feature a common house, including a large kitchen, dining area and recreational spaces.
Unlike independent living communities, Co-housing is not owned by any corporation. It is owned by the residents who vote on all expenditures and decisions like members of a condo association. Residents tend to be boomers who have experienced parents in traditional independent and assisted living facilities and said, “Hell, no, we won’t go!”
The first Co-housing community in the nation opened in 2005. Today, there are over 150 “villages” across the country and another 120 in development. Where are these Co-housing developments? Not surprisingly, they are in the most desirable and culturally vital locations from coast to coast, including: Santa Fe, Austin, Taos, Chapel Hill, Boulder, San Francisco and LA. For a directory, visit http://www.cohousing.org
In her book How We Live Now, sociologist Bella DePaulo writes. “The rhythms of co-housing with regular dinners, meetings and occasional workdays, offer a magnificent opportunity to develop relationships with breadth and depth.”
Want to create your own “village” with your friends? No problem. Co-Housing Solutions: Sustainable Neighborhood Consultants will provide some guidelines and advise you through the process of getting started. There is so much interest in co-housing, they are now offering a training program for entrepreneurs who want to build the movement.