Senior Cohousing in Southern Nevada: A Better Way to Live

If you have reached late middle-age and beyond, you probably expect to retain control over all decisions concerning your life going forward. In fact, you probably take that part for granted. You will avoid nursing homes and assisted living scenarios at all costs. You would never be “put out to pasture” and made irrelevant, separate from the heart of your community. But without careful planning and strategic life choices, you may find you have no such guarantees.

If you have grown children or grandchildren, you may have reservations about relying upon them in your later years, for many reasons. You’ve heard of some alternatives out there but dismiss those that seem at first glance to be hippie-type communes, off-grid domes or tiny houses and RVs, great for crazy free spirits, but not sensible, reasonable, fiscally responsible you. But you would love to be able to choose the people with whom you might end up living the rest of your life.

You will not be placed against your will in a corridor of ailing people who cannot get outside without an escort, who can only eat on someone else’s schedule in the group dining room. You will not outlive your money, become a ward of the state or cared for by a social worker who will try to make your modest financial resources last as long as possible before Medicaid is brought to the rescue, limiting your options even more. You’re smart enough to know it doesn’t have to be that way if you’re willing to make some fundamental changes now, while you are of sound mind and able body. You’ve heard of some rather attractive-sounding developments in California and throughout the west, but find no such places here in southern Nevada.  Why is that?

Two Las Vegas residents decided to look into it further, forming a discussion group to explore forming an intentional community – a cohousing project based loosely on the cooperative models which began in Denmark in the 1970s. Kim Henry, owner of BooksOrBooks, an independent bookstore in Green Valley, and Marta Thompson, a school librarian, began a search earlier this year for like-minded individuals ready to consider building the first such residential community in southern Nevada.

Henry and Thompson envision a community dedicated to sharing resources and enjoying a quality of life residents might not otherwise afford on their own, retaining sole ownership of private homes uniquely designed to promote and develop community and conditions for “aging in place.” Cooperative housing of this sort is NOT a “commune,” and it is not for those who would prefer – or have already decided – to live with family members in their later years. For those of us who will have no family options, or who have reasons to avoid such options, we can choose to remain independent for as long as that works.

The term “intentional community” means the owners choose all aspects of their community, from the broadest to the most minute. Residents create all the advantages of small-town living while retaining access to urban amenities. The most important and defining feature is that these residents retain sole ownership of their homes – they are NOT owned communally. This is often the most misinterpreted aspect of cohousing.

Intentional communities have been thriving throughout the US and Europe for over 30 years. Most communities begin as a study group of anywhere from 5 or 6 to 20 or 30 interested individuals. The Senior Cohousing Book: a Community Approach to Independent Living by Charles Durrett, 2009, gives a thorough overview with examples of different communities and links to further resources. In the words of Durrett, an architect specializing in affordable cohousing, “Imagine a living arrangement in which …community is a way of life…residents who actively cooperate… to re-create an old-fashioned neighborhood that supports friendly cooperation, socialization and mutual support.”  The individual homes take whatever form decided by the residents at the earliest stages of planning: condo, townhouse, lodge, ranch-style house, contemporary or rustic…all aspects chosen exclusively by the homeowners, and typically conforming to the aesthetic standards of the larger neighborhood or zone.

And cohousing is not exclusive to seniors; it often exists as part of a greater intergenerational cohousing community. Many cohousing communities naturally became senior-oriented as the original residents grew older. Now, many cohousing communities form around seniors who choose to “age in place,” with younger residents following as the community expands.
Wasatch Commons, a community located in Utah, defines cohousing as “a neighborhood in which the residents take community seriously.” They have regular common meals and cooperate daily in various ways. Residents agree to share resources, respect the Earth and each other’s diversity and humanity. They participate in the design of the community, the site plan, and all operating rules, aimed at promoting community.

Is Cohousing Right for You?  (from the Portland Parent, July 1997)

Charles Maclean, a spokesperson for the Trillium Hollow project, readily admits that, while the cohousing arrangement may sound ideal, “it’s not for everybody.” In fact, most satisfied cohousing members share a number of personality traits.  A checklist developed by Trillium Hollow highlights five characteristics required of most cohousing residents:

(1) a willingness to think and act for the good of the whole,

(2) tolerance for different points of view,

(3) willingness to work out conflicts and not hold grudges,

(4) an adventurous and courageous spirit,

(5) a generally social nature, but this is not strictly necessary. Introverted individuals can also benefit from and contribute to a cohousing community.