4 nontraditional senior housing options


Many Americans favor nontraditional living arrangements nowadays, and retirees are no exception. Traditionally, seniors have moved to be with or near grown children or relatives, transferred to retirement facilities, or simply remained in their homes.

Most retirees continue to have these arrangements, but an increasing number are looking for creative ways to live their retirement lifestyles. As retirees live longer and stay active for years or decades after retirement, these arrangements are enabling seniors to meet their needs for social interaction and support while also enjoying their independence.

Here are some popular nontraditional living arrangements for retirees.

1. Home sharing. In this arrangement, several seniors share a home. They each have a separate bedroom, share the common areas, and share the costs. In some cases, one of them is the homeowner, and rents out rooms to others (think “The Golden Girls”, a popular 80s and 90s TV sitcom). In other instances, the housemates purchase or rent a home together and divide the expenses. Under some arrangements, trained staff members also live in the homes to assist the residents with cooking, cleaning, and other everyday tasks, and volunteers visit to provide social interaction.

This arrangement has become quite popular, and national organizations have formed to match seniors with homes, such as the National Shared Housing Resource Center. For information about the legal aspects of homesharing, see nolo.com.

2. Senior cohousing. With this arrangement, a group of seniors purchase properties in a community and share common spaces. Each individual owns their own home. Typically the homes are physically attached, such as condos or townhomes, and there is a common home on the premises that contains a communal kitchen, dining room, and possibly other rooms such as a fitness room, media center, or extra bedrooms.

The residents jointly decide how to run the community, such as whether to take turns cooking or have pot lucks, or whether to take care of the lawn themselves or hire a lawn service. Residents have the mutual support and social interactions they need, but also privacy when they want it.

Pat Darlington, an Oklahoma psychologist, founded the OakCreek Cohousing Community after witnessing the life of her father and the lives of many of her patients, who were living isolated and bored in their homes, surrounded by professional caregivers, with their relatives living in other parts of the country.

This arrangement is not just popular among seniors; many in their 50s and still working are entering into these arrangements, to prepare for the future. For more information about cohousing, visit the Cohousing Association of the United States.

3. Village model. For seniors who desire to remain in their homes, the “village” model is a modern adaptation of aging in place. Many seniors desire the privacy and independence of staying in their homes but need help with some daily tasks. The village model provides access to a prescreened network of contractors for household maintenance, yard work, or other services. In return for an annual fee, members get discount rates on the contractors’ services. A concierge coordinates requests for services among village members in each area.

Additionally, volunteers provide free transportation to shopping and doctor appointments and perform simple tasks like carrying bags or retrieving items from a kitchen cabinet. Volunteers may be village members themselves or may be students or young adults.

The village model originated in Boston and now has almost 200 locations, with another 200 being planned. There are over 25,000 village members nationwide and their average age is 74. For more information about the village model visit the Village-to-Village Network.

Watch this video about the village model.

4. Alternative senior housing. Many assisted living facilities are rather sterile environments with bare walls and floors, occupied by residents whose physical needs are taken care of but not their psychological needs for companionship and interaction.

Two current projects are attempting to address that. The Eden Alternative is focused on improving senior housing by providing residents with an attractive environment featuring frequent interaction with children, pets, and plants. The vision of the over 300 homes in the U.S., Canada, Europe, and Australia is “to eliminate loneliness, helplessness, and boredom.”

The Eden Alternative works to accomplish this by filling residents’ days with stimulating activities, making them equal partners in their care, and encouraging their continued growth. The Eden Alternative also has a initiative to improve the living environment for seniors who remain in their own homes.

The Green House Project is another initiative to improve the traditional model of senior living, by creating a home-like environment that emphasizes belonging, community, and autonomy. In operation for over a decade, Green House Project homes are designed and appear like single-family homes. Each houses 10 to 12 residents who have private rooms and bathrooms and shared community spaces.

Watch this video for an overview of the Green House Project concept.







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