NY Times: Cohousing Creates Brave Old World for Seniors

Seniors are creating a brave old world for themselves through cohousing, where residents like those of ElderSpirit help take care of each other, reports the New York Times in a series of articles on creative senior living options.

“The curses of aging are loneliness, helplessness, and uselessness,” said Dene Peterson, ElderSpirit’s founder, in a video the NYT filmed of the community. “This takes care of all of those issues.”

Located in Abingdon, Va., ElderSpirit is a mixed-income development that houses 44 home-owners and renters. Characteristics of senior cohousing include shared meals, community classes, help with housecleaning and other day-to-day activities after medical procedures, and close friendships born out of close quarters.


There are 250 multi-generational cohousing communities throughout the U.S., but ElderSpirit is one of only four senior communities. One reason for the concept’s slow growth is the recession and crash in the housing market, said architect and developer Katherine McCamant in the NYT article.

It’s difficult to obtain funding for these types of housing developments, and it’s also hard to attract new residents who often have trouble selling their homes in the current housing market, the NYT details. It took 10 years of planning and $3.8 million from a variety of sources, including grants, private donations, and loans, to establish ElderSpirit.

However, the community’s relative success became evident once it got off the ground. Construction began in March 2003, and by July of 2009, all 29 houses—13 owned, 16 rented—were full. Renters pay between $325 and $463 a month, and units sell for $160,000, with owners paying $150 a month for maintenance fees.


Peterson acknowledged that the community is not set up in the event a resident has a serious stroke or accident, or develops a memory disorder. Still, she maintained, living in cohousing increases the time a senior can remain at home.

“With the support we get from the community, and with home health care, and some housekeeping services, people can die at home,” Peterson said.

Check out the full video and article here.

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Written by Alyssa Gerace