As they age many seniors need help with activities of daily living. However, institutional care is expensive. A family member recently had to move into assisted living at a cost of $11,000 a month. Home care is also expensive, although that was no longer an option. Even for seniors who don’t yet need in-home care, living at home by yourself can be expensive as well, and lonely.
Years ago I read an article in The New York Times that suggested seniors needing help could save money by sharing a three-bedroom apartment with two roommates. The point was that several seniors with similar needs could live together and share the cost of around-the-clock home care more cheaply than one person could live in a nursing home. I thought it was a unique idea but it needed scaled up beyond one apartment. Some Baby Boomers are doing just that; figuring out unconventional living arrangements to save money, increase their independence and prepare for when they can no longer live by themselves.
Once the kids are grown and people retire, they may no longer need a 4-bedroom house with an upstairs and a quarter-acre lawn to mow. Perhaps they still wish to live in their 4-bedroom home, but could use some bucks to pay the housekeeper, the lawn service and the high Texas property taxes. Or maybe they are no longer married and are divorced or widowed. Perhaps they’ve checked on senior communities and don’t like spending $4,000-$5,000 a month on a small 1-bedroom efficiency apartment owned by an assisted living REIT. Baby Boomers are weighing their options won’t accept the status quo from years past.
I’ve known seniors who had roommates (think Golden Girls). I once met a widow who rented a room from friends. In an interview the late Betty White claimed the four women who lived together on the Golden Girls did so for social reasons, not economic ones. The show would have made more sense if the storyline mentioned saving money and boosting independence. According to the Washington Post, aging Baby Boomers are moving in together not only to save money but also a host of other reasons.
According to a 2021 AARP survey, 70% of adults over age 50 report being willing to share their home with a family member, while more than half reported being willing to share their house with a friend. Only 6% reported being willing to share it with a stranger. Of those unwilling to share their home nearly one-quarter said they would change their mind if they needed the money. For some it’s because they’re house rich but cash poor. Or they could use some company. This from WaPo:
For Kim Bolding, 61, home sharing allowed her to stay in the five-bedroom Colorado Springs home where she had raised her biological, adopted and foster children after being diagnosed with a form of muscular dystrophy in 2012.
Initially Ms. Bolding found a neighbor who wanted to move in. Later she found several others who needed a cheaper place to stay. Everybody who lives in her house is on disability, but able to live independently. A Colorado nonprofit called Sunshine Home Share Colorado helped her find suitable roommates. In some other cities there’s a match-making service called Silvernest.
Indeed, I found numerous articles claiming that Baby Boomers are reinventing retirement and senior living by moving into communes. These aren’t necessarily Hippies from the ‘60s (Ok, some of them are) but many seniors are embracing communal living. According to UPI:
The 1970s phenomenon of communal living is making a comeback in the United States, popular among retiring baby boomers looking to reduce their environmental footprint and stay connected socially.
Timothy Miller, a University of Kansas professor who has spent years studying “intentional communities,” said interest is on the rise again, especially for “co-housing” and “ecovillages.”
Co-housing communities, which he describes as less intense than other forms of communal living, consist of groups of private homes clustered around shared space. They usually include a common house with a kitchen, dining room and living room.
The developments have an overall corporate structure and the residents govern themselves, Miller said. There is an informal understanding that community members will help each other, making co-housing especially attractive to baby boomers, the generation born between 1946 and 1964.
Professor Miller was interviewed for several of the articles I read. I suspect his phrase reducing their environmental footprint could be used interchangeably with reducing their “economic footprint.” Baby Boomers don’t want to move into old fashioned “old folks homes” (as we called them when I was young) where the cafeteria menu reminds me of Johnson Grade School when I was in 3rd grade. They’re inventing their own communities, which can vary depending on their needs and desires.
Rather than settling down in traditional assisted living facilities, some are turning to shared homes and cohousing communities.
A few years ago, Marianne Kilkenny’s elderly parents moved into an assisted living community. That got her thinking about her own plans because she didn’t want to end up in a similar community or a facility run by a company.
These resident-created retirement solutions, or intentional communities, are taking different forms, from shared homes to cohousing communities to “pocket neighborhoods” of people who choose to live in the same area and watch out for each other, which includes cooking and doing errands together and taking care of people when they are sick.
Another way to describe this phenomenon is a community of group homes retirees voluntarily share for similar reasons. Maybe their health in deteriorating and they need a little help. Some don’t want to be isolated. Perhaps they really don’t have anywhere else to live and are looking for a suitable arrangement. There is even a name for this, Senior Cohousing Communities.
Residents live in individual homes but share some spaces, such a common building with a kitchen, library and exercise room. Patios and gardens are positioned in a way to promote interaction. As a result, residents engage in communal meals and other activities.
These new arrangements differ from traditional over-55 residential communities, which are planned and managed by a developer. These places are often large and provide organized activities for those who live there.
SCCs, however, are typically small and are planned, developed and operated by the residents themselves. The whole idea is to promote community, social engagement and active aging.
A major reason that people choose to move to a shared housing community is social engagement. This is a critical issue since 1 in 3 people over age 45 are lonely. Being part of a community that offers mutual support has a positive impact on health status, connection and quality of life during later years.
The residents we interviewed reported that they enjoy the common activities, such as shared meals, parties and discussion groups, along with the opportunity for spontaneous interactions. Caring relationships develop among the residents, and many described the support received after major events such as a hospitalization or significant loss, and also for smaller tasks such as a ride to the airport or pet sitting.
An article in Senior Housing News said:
Instead of taking a “one-size-fits-all” approach, senior living companies should instead focus on “one-size-fits-one,” said Dana Wollschlager, partner and practice leader with Plante Moran Living Forward, the company’s senior living development advisory group.
The important question is how these diverse retirement communities plan for the inevitable time when residents cannot live independently, even with a little home care assistance. In one of the articles I read residents made it clear they wanted to be in a community. Residents liked that they could lend a helping hand to fellow residents when needed and depend on help from others when needed. They also made it clear they did not want to become caregivers for those who could no longer care for themselves and needed institutional care.