Re: Wall Street Journal on Senior Cohousing
From: Martin Sheehy (
Date: Tue, 3 Oct 2006 10:03:40 -0700 (PDT)
Pity they ( WSJ) didn't interview the former nuns in VA as well.
  I am glad the West & CO does not have a monoply on the elder co-housing 

Sharon Villines <sharon [at]> wrote: 

And except from a WSJ article on alternative retirement strategies. 
Unfortunately, this except was marked "Cohousing: Colorado".

As the generation that created the commune craze heads into retirement, 
its members are beginning to build "co-housing" developments -- a 
concept borrowed from Denmark in which residents have their own private 
townhouses or condos but share a central "common house." Nearly 200 
co-housing developments have been started in the U.S. since 1991. Now, 
at least two such developments specifically targeted to older people 
have opened their doors, in southwestern Virginia and Northern 
California. And a third is under way in Colorado that could become the 
model for "elder co-housing" around the country.

Silver Sage Village, in Boulder, Colo., now under construction, plans 
to have a meditation room on the main floor of its common house where 
acupuncturists, massage therapists and other healers can work. The 
common house also will have a craft room, sitting room and media room 
-- a luxury some multigenerational communities forgo because of 
parents' concerns about children watching television unsupervised. The 
development sits next door to a multigenerational co-housing community 
with which it already has close ties. That's the model that a small 
band of co-housing consultants and architects expect to take hold, 
because the younger residents can help provide neighborly support to 
their elders -- and move next door as they age, if they so desire.

Annie Russell, Silver Sage's coordinator, lives next door at Wild Sage 
Cohousing. In the new development, 25 people will be living in 16 
households. "There's a desire on our part to have a really close-knit 
community," she says. "You're committing to be there for each other in 
need, and that takes a pretty intense relationship."

Co-housing isn't necessarily an economical option. Units at Silver 
Sage, situated on prime Boulder land, start around $400,000. Six homes 
were set aside as "affordable" -- about $119,000 or $140,000 apiece -- 
for which Colorado residents are most likely to qualify. Applicants 
currently must have annual income of roughly $35,000 or less to qualify 
for the $119,000 units and $45,000 or less for the $140,000 units. In 
Abingdon, Va., where a group of former nuns sparked the formation of 
ElderSpirit Community, with 29 cluster homes and apartments, prices 
were kept in the $100,000 range by searching for a bargain-basement 
land price and winning state grants.

At a gathering this summer in Asheville, N.C., of 135 architects, 
developers, academics and retirees interested in elder co-housing, a 
troubling question was raised: What happens if too many residents 
become frail at the same time? Since the concept is so new, there's no 
firm answer. Zev Paiss, a consultant who specializes in elder 
co-housing, says the experience in Denmark, so far, has been that 
residents' needs have been staggered enough that their neighbors can 
juggle the help.

Many more informal, communal arrangements could come about as well, 
especially among divorced and widowed women friends who buy a house 
together with an extra room for a home-care worker if needed -- or a 
chauffeur, says Sandra Timmerman, director of the MetLife Mature Market 
Institute in Westport, Conn., who has kicked around the idea in her own 
social circle.

Co-housing's biggest advantage could be the sense of community it 
creates and the isolation it helps its residents avoid as they grow 
older, says Ron Manheimer, executive director of the North Carolina 
Center for Creative Retirement, who organized the conference in 

"The whole idea that your neighborhood is your community hasn't been 
the case for an awful long time for a lot of people," he says. 
"Clearly, that seems to be part of the expectation for co-housing: that 
people could be living in a more intimate way."

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