According to the Business Insider article titled – Millennials are paying thousands of dollars a month for maid service and instant friends in modern ‘hacker houses’, by Melia Robinson; some critics see co-living as a fringe “dorms for grown-ups” trend.
In Rockwood, Ontario a shared ‘dorm like’ home is taking shape with the construction of Oak Hill Co-Living. The Oak Hill shared home experience will be for seniors.
Co-Living for Seniors: What is it all about?
Co-Living provides an opportunity to design your desired retirement lifestyle, ‘having it your way’ as you age. Co-living focuses on a genuine sense of community and creates a more convenient, supportive and fulfilling lifestyle opportunity. Co-living provides opportunities for supportive ‘co-care’, neighbourly mutual support, a social equity asset which can help to reduce social isolation and promote positive, active aging.
Oak Hill Co-Living was designed with the goal of an ecologically reduced footprint. Living smaller in shared spaces, sharing resources is an environmentally responsible approach to ‘aging in place’ that comes with economic benefits. The six co-owners of Oak Hill will each own a 1/6 share of the property and house, much like being a part owner in a ‘private retirement home’. Other than the individual private bed sitting rooms they will have access to all other parts of the property and house. Each share will be sale-able should the co-owner decides to leave, or it will become a part of their estate should they pass while living there.
The term co-living is often interchanged with shared home, shared living, homeshare or co-housing, Every co-living arrangement will be unique as the result of type of housing (rental, ownership), location, residents and shared philosophies, goals and commitments.
Benefits of Co-Living: Varied
- Economic advantages of sharing resources (taxes, utilities, maintenance)
- Reduced environmental footprint
- Maintained independence
- Privacy and companionship
- Joint decision making in all household matters
- Co-ownership allowing for equity retention
- Co-ownership shares which are individually saleable or become a part of your estate
- Social equity (benefits of living in community) promotes healthy longevity
- ‘Lock & leave’ lifestyle allows you to actively live your life and travel knowing your home is secure
- Healthier diet due to cooking and sharing of meals
- Walkable communities provide daily movement an important ‘health ingredient’
- Opportunities for joint initiatives – neighbourhood associations
Co-Living for Seniors: How is it affordable?
Sharing monthly expenses provides the most significant cost savings of shared living to the individual residents. Instead of living alone and paying 100% of the monthly costs of living, each member of a co-living arrangement pays an equal percentage of the costs. Residents could share the costs of a cleaning service, cook, bookkeeper, gardener or personal support worker.
Many seniors live alone in older uninsulated homes with high energy bills and ongoing maintenance costs. Sharing the monthly expenses and ongoing maintenance costs jointly in a shared home can leave enough money for travel or pay for other desirables.
Older Women are especially in need of alternative affordable housing options. Statistics show that women tend to outlive men. In Canada 38.3% of women 65+ live alone, compared to 16.8% of men. Many women were traditionally ‘stay at home’ mothers, arriving at retirement without CPP income; and find themselves financially unable to afford the transition to retirement home living. Affordable housing options for this segment of the population will be in increasingly diminishing supply because a large group of ‘boomer women’ are now in their sixties and entering their retirement years. Many older women living alone in older homes are challenged to pay for household expenses, including maintenance and to have enough money left to pay for quality food to maintain good health.
Shared living and shared expenses provide individual cost savings as well as cost savings to the government.
An Affordable Alternative ‘Age in Place’ Housing Option
Six people living alone:
- 100% of household expenses paid by each person in each home
- Inefficient use of resources to operate and maintain each home for one person
- Inefficient use of ‘age in place’ care supports for one person in each home
- Large gas emissions and environmental footprint to support one person living alone in each home
- Many household deficiencies in older homes require cash investment or increased expenses to become sound, suitable, safe and sustainable for one resident
- Isolation and loneliness come with increased risk of decline and health care costs
Six people living together in a shared home:
- Each of the residents pay an equal percentage of the total home expenses (16.6% for six people), allowing for economical monthly cost of living per resident
- Efficient use of resources to operate and maintain a home for several people, improving housing affordability over the long term
- Efficient use of ‘age in place’ care supports for several people in one home location, a savings to the home care system and individually
- Reduced risk of health decline due to living alone – a definite cost savings to the health care system due to a reduced need for movement into a LTC facility
- Retained equity as co-owners = available funds for future private or shared personal support care if needed = a cost savings to health care system and reduced need for movement to a long term care (LTC) facility
- Reduced cash investment requirement into one shared home to become sound, suitable, safe and sustainable for several residents to ‘age in place’ as opposed to the cash investment for those people to live in separate homes alone safely
- Improved living conditions for seniors living together through financial assistance to repair deficiencies, retrofit, and renovate one existing home to accommodate them together to ‘age in place’
- Realized savings of sharing one home, resources and expenses
- Realized healthcare savings and reduced need for movement into a LTC facility as the result of co-living under one roof. Co-care, a social capital asset, provides companionship reducing social isolation and promotes positive, active aging
- Reduced demand for services and institutional living by increasing and extending independent living for seniors
- Extended useful life and long term physical sustainability of shared homes through shared maintenance
- Shared cost of incorporating accessibility features into the building or renovating design of shared homes in preparation for ‘aging in place’ needs
- Increased housing inventory with the movement of residents from single occupied households to one shared home. This leaves additional homes to transition into affordable shared housing or single traditional family homes
- Movement of single household seniors into one shared supportive home frees up waiting list numbers for individual apartment rentals (where they may have been headed), retirement home suites (where those that could afford may have been headed) and eventually long term care facility rooms.
Co-Living for Seniors: How is it health promoting and a health care cost saving?
Co-living homes provide an opportunity for governments to support a unique housing model that can provide groups of elders a way to focus on living full and vibrant lives in small, intentional communities. From the words of Dr. William Thomas, geriatrician and founder of The Green House Project in the United States, “We can use the historic strengths and values of elderhood as the basis for creating real homes and communities that can protect, sustain and nurture the most vulnerable among us. The driving force behind the Green House Project is the idea that our current nursing home system tends to create sterile, lifeless environments for our elders, which in turn fosters loneliness and boredom. Fundamental changes to the way we build and operate senior housing can make our loved ones’ lives healthier, livelier and more meaningful. “
Co-living provides additional health care savings. Co-living provides an opportunity for co-care, a social capital asset, through neighbourly companionship and care under one roof – lessening the health costs associated with seniors living in isolation. Co-living requires daily ‘crossing of paths’ to access exits and meals, leading to interaction – a health promoting benefit missing for many seniors living alone in homes, condos, apartments and even family granny suites. According to The Government of Canada Report on the Social Isolation of Seniors, “Socially isolated seniors are more at risk of negative health behaviours including drinking, smoking, being sedentary and not eating well; have a higher likelihood of falls; and, have a four-to-five times greater risk of hospitalization. Research also indicates that social isolation is a predictor of mortality from coronary heart disease/stroke”. The report goes on further on the impact of social isolation: “Social isolation also affects the psychological and cognitive health of seniors. It is associated with higher levels of depression and suicide”. Statistics Canada, Trends in Social Capital in Canada reports “the individual benefits of social capital, which are often considered public policy goals, are many, including positive health effects”. The UK, Campaign to End Loneliness Network states, “co-living provides opportunities to develop the social capital that creates and maintains a sense of community”.
Co-Living provides residents with an opportunity to benefit from the Blue Zones strategies, taken from the longevity hot spots of the world where people live the longest and healthiest.
#1 Move naturally – possible in a ‘walkable’ community
#9 Right tribe – living with a supportive ‘family’ of like minded people
More of the National Geographic Blue Zones Project strategies could be incorporated into the co-living homes to maximize healthy longevity. As co-owners, residents have a say in implementing health promoting strategies like healthier meal planning.
Co-Living for Seniors: How can governments help?
Seniors living together in shared homes can help the government to meet the objectives of Ontario’s Action Plan for Seniors – “We will harness the potential and maximize the contributions of our seniors by promoting the development of age-friendly communities that weave together services and policies to enhance seniors’ well-being and participation”.
- Co-living homes are people centred housing solutions based on a ‘people first’ approach that focuses on positive results for the individuals and the newly formed family living in the homes. Co-living in a shared home provides a combination of companionship and privacy; a necessary mental health support for aging seniors.
- Co-living homes provide an opportunity for partnerships to build healthy, sustainable and inclusive neighbourhoods. Partnerships between seniors who desire to remain active and independent, supporting each other daily through friendship and neighbourly care under one roof. Partnerships between housing authorities and groups of seniors to create shared, supportive housing solutions in familiar ‘age friendly’ neighbourhoods and communities.
- The co-living opportunity in Rockwood is locally driven and provides an optimal supportive environment where services like doctors, chiropractors, massage therapists, optometrist and amenities like pharmacy, churches, library, grocery store, hardware store, restaurants, bakery and go transit stops are within walking distance.
- Co-living provides opportunities for those in need of housing to move into permanent, supportive, long term affordable homes where they have the option to ‘age in place’, and cost effectively share the costs of living and support services.
- The option of co-living provides a housing option that is free from all discrimination especially that due to financial circumstances. The opportunity can be made available for those with or without equity, as co-owners or renters. Although the focus of the Rockwood Co-Living Interest Group has been to highlight the need for and possibility of co-living and co-housing as an alternative housing option for seniors, it can be made available to all people of all ages.
- Co-living provides an opportunity for governments to be fiscally responsible, using their spending and lending power to maximize real outcomes like long term housing affordability and supportive environments; particularly for the rapidly aging senior population. Providing financial supports to allow for the creations of co-housing homes for groups of seniors makes financial sense, not only short term but also long term. Supporting groups of seniors, many of whom may be living alone in individual houses in the same community and who have some equity; to transition into cost effective shared housing options like the proposed Oak Hill home, provides long term affordability and savings. Co-living in a shared home provides an opportunity for groups of seniors to be fiscally responsible, reducing their environmental footprint by sharing the cost of resources and household expenses including care supports as needed. These savings translate into savings for the government long term.
- Co-living provides an opportunity for seniors to maintain better health as they age, a definite cost savings to the health care system. Isolation and loneliness are a common mental health challenge facing seniors living alone in communities. Lonely seniors are more likely to decline requiring more in home and health care supports. Statistics show that seniors who live in community, like that provided in a shared home, live longer and are healthier than seniors who live alone.
- Older Women are especially in need of alternative affordable housing options. Statistics show that women tend to outlive men. In Canada 3% of women 65+ live alone, compared to 16.8% of men. Many women were traditionally ‘stay at home’ mothers, arriving at retirement without CPP income; and find themselves financially unable to afford the transition to retirement home living. Affordable housing options for this segment of the population will be in increasingly diminishing supply because a large group of ‘boomer women’ are now in their sixties and entering their retirement years. Many older women living alone in older homes are challenged to pay for household expenses, including maintenance and to have enough money left to pay for quality food to maintain good health. Providing financial supports for groups of six women living alone in six possibly uninsulated, energy inefficient, inaccessible homes to one shared insulated, energy efficient, accessible home where they can share household expenses and supports; can translate into cost savings to government coffers long term. Savings realized by not having to pay out for ongoing supports for six women living and ‘aging in place’ separately, alone in six separate homes would be significant.
- Co-living meets SIF objectives:
- Reduced number of households in need by improving access to affordable housing that is sound, suitable, and sustainable for priority households.
- Reduced greenhouse gas emissions as a result of increased energy efficiency.
- To improve the living conditions of households in need through financial assistance to repair deficiencies in affordable ownership.
- To foster independent living of seniors and persons with disabilities by providing financial assistance to support modifications and renovations to increase accessibility of affordable rental and ownership properties.
- To increase the supply of affordable rental housing by providing assistance to create secondary suites in existing single family homes.
- To respect the environment and to realize savings that will improve housing affordability over the long term through the use of energy-savings products or systems.
According to the SIF key objectives, “municipalities can offer funding for an array of housing options that address affordable housing needs for identified priority groups across the housing system and increased resources are available to address housing needs of households by encouraging contributions by others including the private and not-for-profit sectors.” Through the Investment in Affordable Housing (IAH) for Ontario Program, “municipalities have the flexibility to invest in a range of housing programs and initiatives”.
A co-living, shared home project is a ‘novel’ alternative affordable housing concept for seniors. It may not yet fit into the traditional definition of ‘affordable housing’ in terms of a parallel ‘apples to apples’ comparison. People who are able to become co-owners of a co-living home will be a fortunate group in that they will have real estate equity. There are many seniors who do not have real estate assets to be able to ‘buy in’ that would benefit from this type of supportive, independent shared living. Co-living, shared home projects are considered ‘purpose built’ and not viewed as an ideal investment opportunity by most financial institutions.
The Rockwood Co-Living Interest Group’s goal is to promote the creation of co-living shared homes for seniors and to have the government see co-living as an alternative supportive ‘age in place’ housing solution that qualifies for financial support.
Thinking long term! Thinking BIG!
The Rockwood Co-Living Interest Group likes to think ‘possibilities’ and big! What could the future hold for co-living, shared home living for seniors? What would we like to see?
- Establishment of a Seniors Co-Living/Co-Housing Buyer Grant similar to the First Time Home Buyers Grant to allows seniors to recover some of the costs associated with their ‘age friendly’ co-ownership purchase; such as legal fees, land transfer taxes, accessibility and ‘age friendly community’ real estate location premiums.
- Establishment of an Age Friendly Community Planning Micro Grant for Co-living homes forming small ‘age friendly communities’ for seniors to age in place, providing funding similar to grants that are provided to municipalities to create ‘age friendly communities’.
- Establishment of an Age Friendly Walkability Micro Grant for co-living ‘age friendly’ homes planned and created in ‘walkable’ communities.
Seniors are competent individuals, a knowledgeable resource. The Rockwood Co-Living Interest Group helped bring Oak Hill Co-Living from an identified senior housing need in 2014 to a reality in 2017. Seniors are very capable of helping themselves, with supports; which enables them to help each other. A win, win for all.
“Older people are a wonderful resource for their families, communities and in the formal or informal workforce. They are a repository of knowledge. They can help us avoid making the same mistakes again … The societies that adapt to this changing demographic can reap a sizeable ‘longevity dividend’, and will have a competitive advantage over those that don’t.”
— World Health Organization – “About Aging and Life-Course”
Elisabeth Hines, C.N.C., C.B.P. Holistic Wellness Practitioner, Health by Design, www.mybodycanhealitself,ca, https://www.facebook.com/HealthbyDesignForAHealthierYou/
Member of the Rockwood Co-Living Interest Group that has supported Janette Ledwith, the owner of 125 Richardson Street in Rockwood, with the launch of Oak Hill Co-Living.
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