Dormitories for retirees? You may be suprised

In the boom boom real estate days of 2004 and 2005 I brokered a land deal to a visionary developer that planned on building what was essentially a shared housing complex for senior adults. On one foot print (the area that a building occupies on a piece of land) this developer designed a three story building with an elevator. On the first  floor was parking and storage for bikes and utilities. On each of the other two  floors were five bedrooms, each bedroom area with it’s own sitting area and wet bar complete with small fridge and microwave, a full size bath, plentiful closets and a balcony with a view.  On the same floor with those five bedrooms was a shared laundry room, kitchen, living room, and dining area. Some folks are calling this dormitory living for adults. Others call it pod living. I was intrigued. Very intrigued.

You see, this house for ten “families” is actually classified as a duplex for zoning purposes (only two kitchens). The concept keeps costs down, has low impact on a neighborhood, is affordable for retired couples and young professionals alike, and promotes a sociability that extends the life for its residents or at the very least extends the useful life of their pocketbook. This shared housing concept has possibilities that extend beyond Dormitories for retirees or just housing for retirees: for example student housing, vacation homes, and urban living.

The project in Cape Coral, Florida never got off the ground, as it was a victim of the real estate bubble of 2005. But perhaps now is the  time to dust off those plans and build dormitories for seniors again.  See some examples below

The “We Generation”

Growing old Together: Co-housingJOANNE TULLER, a 58-year-old community health center administrator, has lived with other people — other people who aren’t relatives — for her entire adult life. She loved college dorm life, so after she graduated, Tuller moved to a co-op in Cambridge with seven housemates. This is great, she recalls thinking early on. This is for me.

More than three decades later, Tuller owns a big Victorian in Dorchester with her partner and shares it with five other adult men and women — plus one newborn. The residents buy their food together, split the cooking and other chores, and each pays about $525 a month.

While admitting collective living isn’t for everyone, “I expect that boomers are going to find the idea less radical than older people,” says Tuller. “Boomers are community-oriented, they went to college and lived in dorms, the hippie [experience] makes them more open to living with people they’re not related to.”

There are compelling demographic reasons why Tuller’s prediction is good news. For one, the pool of family caregivers is shrinking. Some 1 in 4 boomers never had children; those who did may have sons and daughters thousands of miles away. One-third of the population will face old age single — either widowed, divorced, or never married. Already, 4 million 50-plus women live in US households with at least two other women of similar age.

And since the boomer generation is so large — by 2030, the 65-plus population is expected to double to 72 million, or 1 out of 5 Americans — their economic strength, as a demographic bloc, could lead to communities built around all sorts of shared interests. Andrew Carle, founding director of the Program in Senior Housing Administration at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia, envisions niche communities for dog lovers, gardeners, even cruise ship enthusiasts. “Boomers have always had the critical mass to demand more choices in anything, whether flavors of ice cream or brands in blue jeans,” he says. “You only need 300 Grateful Dead fans to fill a retirement community.”

– From The Boston Globe, Sally Abrahms

Elder Co-Housing

Introducing elder cohousing

Dormitory for RetireesAn emerging form of age-targeted cohousing will allow residents to confront the issues of aging in a new way. Called elder or senior cohousing, this model came about
in the U.S. in response to a need for more creative and supportive housing for a growing senior population of aging baby boomers. Residents are moving into two elder cohousing communities: the ElderSpirit Community in Abingdon, VA, and Glacier Circle Senior Community in Davis, CA. A third, Silver Sage Village, plans to start construction in 2006. Silver Sage is in Boulder, right next to the multigenerational Wild Sage Cohousing. Four of Silver Sage’s members are coming from an existing cohousing community, Nyland Cohousing in Lafayette. They are drawn by the age-awareness and appeal of active-adult cohousing, and want to live in a more urban setting where they can “age in community.”

The idea of creating elder cohousing in close proximity to multigenerational cohousing has led to a major success in Denmark, the original home of the cohousing movement. Chuck Durrett, author of the newly-published handbook, Senior Cohousing: A Community Approach to Independent Living, notes that of the last 25 cohousing projects in Denmark, 20 have been age-targeted.

Active seniors like the idea of planning and managing their neighborhood and their own care, living with others of like mind, being close to old friends, and knowing that physical and social needs will be met in their last quadrant of life. Denmark also has an excellent socialized medical system that meets their health needs.

Here in the U.S., Zev Paiss, and his wife, Neshama Abraham, formed the Elder Cohousing Network, and offered the first “Getting Started” workshop in March 2005. Their website ( has been visited by 6,000 aging and housing professionals and future residents interested in this new industry, which can provide a respectful and autonomous model for housing our aging population. Neshama believes that it is time for multigenerational cohousing communities to focus on the issues of aging. She thinks some older cohousing residents may be ready to join an elder cohousing community like Silver Sage or the dozen other projects around the U.S. in the early stages of development “Some people who originally were drawn to the age-targeted approach at the elder cohousing training discovered that they want to age in a community with people of all ages,” she says. Either way, she adds, “Cohousing has the potential to transform the way we age in this country so that our elders are treated with respect and their contribution is honored through their last breath.”

– From “Elder cohousing — How Viable is cohousing for an aging population by Kate LaGrange

Co Housing, POD living or dormitories for  retirees – these are all options that need to be explored. I would welcome and encourage comments from any one who has first or second hand knowledge of any of these options.

What do YOU think?


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