CRITERIA DEFINING SENIOR COHOUSING CERTIFICATION
Preamble: Americans are fast and furious with the English language, especially when it comes to Real Estate. The business plaza without the plaza, the industrial park without the park for example.
There are already lovely communities that call themselves cohousing that are in fact very cohousing inspired, cohousing-like, and are lovely places for sure—but are not cohousing.
Criteria that Define Cohousing:
1. Co-developed, co-designed, and co-organized with the group. First and foremost the future residents are an integral part of creating the future community.
2. A private home but also extensive common facilities that supplement and facilitate the daily living. Common facilities are perceived as an extension of each resident’s house and supplement each home. There must be practical excuses to bring people together – otherwise they are just “back at the house.” Common meals at least once a week. There is no more timeless means of sustaining community than breaking bread together.
3. Designed to facilitate aging in place with good acoustics and ample lighting for all ages; ergonomic details; Universal Design principles (but stairs are OK); and Co-care, mutual support systems, and interdependence during illness or convalescence through community, and cooperation.
4. Designed to facilitate naturally-oriented community interactions over time. Not auto-oriented, but every electric wheelchair, Segway or other personal vehicle necessary to keep the site auto-free except on rare occasions.
5. Completely resident managed. The residents – who are the owners of their own homes – in a cohousing community have the privilege and responsibility of determining how they will organize themselves and the work (and play) of managing their own lives and homes.
6. No hierarchy in decision-making. Cohousing is about cooperation rather than type of ownership. And, as it turns out, cooperation transcends ownership type.
7. No shared economy. Unlike that of the commune or sometimes a co-op structure, cohousing community members do not share personal income.
Being clear about nomenclature and certifying senior cohousing is as much about consumer protection as anything. Selling seniors “lake front” property without a lake is just not the right thing to do. Likewise, selling cohousing without the co (co-designed for example) means just selling real estate, without the value added by the co.
We’ve already seen the marketplace try to sell “new and improved” senior housing, labeled as cohousing but without the co. In these facilities, rooms to fit the needs of the community are too small. Rooms that fit the prejudices of the developer are too big. The common houses in these facilities get less than 100 people-hours of use per week, instead of 400 people hours in a genuine, high functioning senior cohousing common house. And the wrong-sized and ill designed rooms did not save money. They just diminished the use and therefore the community.
Unfortunately the temptation to build senior housing without the co is based on the misconception that co-designing will slow the process down, but it actually speeds it up. When we co-developed/co-designed Cotati Cohousing in less than 3 years, Cotati outpaced the other three brand new projects surrounding it. Those three neighboring projects took 5, 5, and 7 years to develop. They took longer to get through city approvals because they hadn’t involved the future residents. For senior cohousing to continue to be faster to build and higher functioning than other senior housing alternatives, what is and isn’t senior cohousing must be clearly defined and actively defended. We’ve already seen too much real estate labeled “Business Plaza” with no plaza, or “Industrial Park” with no park. Marketers are cavalier when it comes to real estate nomenclature, but S.A.G.E. will work hard to preserve the integrity of senior cohousing.
Others have suggested many additional criteria around universal design and some defined level of spirituality and accessibility. We find that future residents define these very well themselves. In fact, they do so much better than we ever could. We wouldn’t want to tie their hands, especially in regard to costs and personal choices. In the end, all of the discussion about facilitating co-care and mutual support will be worked out by the future residents themselves. See senior cohousing communities Oakcreek Cohousing in Stillwater, OK; Quimper Village in Port Townsend, WA; Mountain View Cohousing in Mountain View, CA; Wolf Creek Lodge in Grass Valley, CA; and Silver Sage in Boulder, CO as great examples and models.
Our ultimate goal with this certification is consumer protection and what better way to make sure we do this right than go to the consumer. Pat Darlington, and David and Pat Hundhausen of Oakcreek senior cohousing and Port Townsend senior cohousing (resp.) co-authored this certification program. It is through individuals like these cohousers and the dedication of SAGE that senior cohousing will become readily accepted as a successful model for seniors in the U.S. and around the Globe.
Thanks for adhering to these criteria when naming your project “Senior Cohousing”.
Please contact us at SAGE Cohousing for your certification. (www.sagecohousingadvocates.org)