SEATTLE - For Washington seniors, cohousing might be just the answer to living independently but having the support of neighbors and friends. It is part of a cutting-edge trend toward smaller homes, and neighbors who share common spaces if they wish - like big dining areas, gardens and workshops. Some cohousing developments are designed only for seniors, but others are open to all ages.
Architect Grace Kim of Schemata Workshop, Inc., Seattle, just won a national design award for Daybreak, a Portland, Ore., cohousing community. She believes people over age 55 will make or break the cohousing trend.
"The boomers are here, and they're very proactive about taking care of themselves. And I think cohousing will be something that is very attractive to them for a lot different reasons - about self-destiny, about being able to develop themselves, about gathering their friends around them - so that they know how they're going to be supported in their later years."
Unlike condominium or apartment living, Kim describes cohousing as a way to maintain privacy but also be part of a community that is committed to getting along and being good neighbors. At the Portland development she designed, she says residents have come from as far away as Ohio, Illinois and Arizona to be part of the cohousing trend.
Safety is a big concern as people age and want to remain independent, says Kim, but so is the desire to stay connected with their community. Cohousing can provide both.
"These communities support elders and as they age, they can have an active and vital part in the community, in terms of the physical work; of mentoring, of being the sort-of surrogate grandparents. There's a lot of ways that seniors can contribute."
Kim also serves as a board member of The Cohousing Association of the United States
. She says most of the cohousing developments in Washington are in the northwest part of the state, from Bellingham and Bremerton to Port Townsend, and there are several in Seattle. More information about the trend, and how to start a cohousing group, is online at www.cohousing.org