Shared Housing for Seniors

Learn the basics of how cohousing works for seniors.

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For seniors, shared housing requires a little interdependence and creates a lot of independence. In many ways, sharing is the new Social Security, because it's a way for communities to come together to meet individual needs. Cohousing or a group house for seniors can create an environment where residents can provide care, or "co-care" for each other. It can facilitate shared purchase of services such as meals-on-wheels, home health care, yard care, home repair, transportation, and so on. Senior cohousing could also include a space for a live-in caretaker to provide care to multiple residents. Multigenerational shared housing can provide other benefits, such as opportunities to be around young children or to get help from younger, stronger adults.

A handful of communities in the United States were designed specifically as cohousing for seniors. Shared senior housing raises unique questions, such as:

  • Should there be age limits or health requirements for new residents?
  • How much will the residents be able or willing to do for one another? Help with household chores? Cook for each other when one is sick? What about helping with personal care needs, such as feeding, dressing, or bathing someone who is very ill?
  • Under what circumstances should a person leave and move to a home with a higher level of care (if ever)?
  • Is there special funding available, such as public or private grants for senior housing?

Any existing retirement community can adopt many of the sharing mindsets and practices of cohousing communities, and even retrofit buildings to create more shared space. For a wonderful book on forming senior cohousing communities, read Senior Cohousing: A Community Approach to Independent Living, by Charles Durrett (Ten Speed Press).

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