Self organization is the hallmark of collective housing. Self-organization means freedom to found and shape your ‘shade of community’, establish a community based on ‘elective affinity’ or become ‘kindred by choice’. With it comes the responsibility to contribute to its viability and vitality. Raines Cohen, a Berkeley community activist, long-term member of a co-housing community turned co-housing consultant talked at the last AHWGO meeting about the tenants of co-housing, origins, precedents and its attraction as a community form of ‘independent senior living’. Co-housing of course originated in Scandinavia and attracted young families that wanted to share child care and the cost of living. Here in the US it is less about families but more about adults who are interested in living in community. Apart from some early adopters, such co-housing communities were not founded by and for people in their post-familial phase of life. Aging boomers are now starting to explore co-housing. It makes sense in many ways, shared resources help to stretch limited, personal resources, and help to be a better informed, more powerful older consumer. Then of course the need for safety and belonging, even more important as old age takes away some of our mental and physical strengths are supported by the commitment to community and the familiarity with the community.
The rewards of co-housing are hard earned. There is an extended planning and realization time including finding a committed group of people with a shared vision. Even in co-housing, change is built in. Members leaving and new members moving in can become a complicated juggle that changes the nature of the community. How will a community rejuvenate in 30 years from now when members will have moved because they need more assistance or will have died? Even though standards have evolved, every community sets its own rules for communal living. How far this self-help model is taken depends on the community. So far it is still ‘independent’ living for senior co-housing. I am sure serviced models will be soon explored.
Developers of course have also discovered the co-housing model as a housing type and I fear that such developer driven co-housing is an oxymoron to self-organization and self-determination. Names of co-housing developers such as ‘Wonderland Hill Development Company’ raise a red flag.
Co-housing communities are an option, not an answer. They do not serve everybody and do not fit everybody. Most co-housing members are educated and white. They require social competence. Even though in most of them members are ‘self-selected’, they are planned communities but I guess we self select when we move into a neighborhood too. Regardless if this or other models of aging in community fit us, it behooves all of us to self- help through being informed.
Examples of co-housing communities in Northern California:
Temescal Commons Cohousing
Glacier Circle in Davis
Swan’s Market Cohousing in downtown Oakland
Doyle Street Cohousing in Emeryville
Pleasant Hill Cohousing