Cohousing: when seniors build their own community [Senior Circles]

Contact ReporterHoward County Times

With my 50th college reunion coming up in October, I am actively helping the planning committee with a reunion questionnaire and ultimately a commemorative booklet.

One of our classmates had a very interesting response to the question about looking toward the future. I thought this information worthy of reporting to the Howard County senior community as an alternate aging in place housing option — not in your current home but in your own house in a community where you can maintain your friends and activities.

My classmate and her husband live in Shepherdstown, W.Va., and have joined a group that is forming a Senior Cohousing Community there. The group is now searching for an architect and partner-developer. They hope to start building next year and move in the following year.

The idea is to have a community committed to taking care of each other and sharing resources as they age. The community will be built on 19 wooded acres and have 30 small homes, all Americans with Disabilities Act compliant, in clusters around a Common House.

For this couple, it is an opportunity to build something rather than settle for the alternatives, which are sparse where they live. They are happy to be able to continue to be connected to their friends and activities in Shepherdstown.

The name of their senior cohousing community is Shepherd Village. Its website, shepherdvillage.net, provides a wealth of information from the definition of cohousing to the answers to frequently asked questions about the cohousing community.

The community's website states that the Shepherd Village "pioneers" are "people who believe that the fall and winter seasons of life can be richly rewarding and creative."

To support that journey, they envision a community that: encourages connection and mutual support, while allowing for privacy; affirms environmental sustainability; integrates them into the vibrant life of Shepherdstown; and nurtures their continuing creativity, well-being and search for meaning as they age in place.

These Shepherd Village "pioneers" are creating what they need as older adults. Eighteen households (the "pioneers") own the LLC, Shepherdstown East Development, created to develop and build their project. They meet monthly to move their project forward. Each member of the LLC is on one or two committees, which do most of the work, recommending actions and proposing decisions to the body at the monthly meeting. Current and future "pioneers" will design the village and shape its plans and policies.

Project overview presentations on Shepherd Village are scheduled in Shepherdstown, Frederick, Mount Rainier and D.C., and the calendar for these events is continually updated on the website. Serious interested parties are offered two, two-hour orientation sessions, also listed with a point of contact on the site.

Cohousing is a new term and a new concept to me. According to the National Cohousing Association, "Cohousing is a type of intentional, collaborative housing in which residents actively participate in the design and operation of their neighborhoods. Cohousing provides the privacy we are accustomed to within the community we seek."

The 2015 National Cohousing Conference, "The Next Generation," is scheduled for May 29-31 in Durham, N.C. The write-up on the conference states that the first American cohousing communities were completed in the early 1990s. More than 135 communities have been built and more than 100 are in process. These communities are small and large, urban and rural, newly built and retrofits. Cohousing communities have consistently created environmentally and socially sustainable neighborhoods.

Examples of two existing senior cohousing communities are the ElderSpirit Community at Trailview, in Abingdon, Va., and Oakcreek Cohousing Community, in Stillwater, Okla. Each has a website you can check out. The Oakcreek site, quoted its residents as saying, "We recognize we have a better chance for healthy 'aging-in-place' by living in community – respecting one another's need for privacy, encouraging healthy activity and…having as much fun as we possibly can."

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