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Baby-boomer housing options are springing up throughout the county

Boulder County is a hotbed for aging baby boomers, and housing options that allow them to stay in their homes and stay active are springing up all over.

By Neshama Abraham

Baby boomers love Boulder County, where interest in fitness, culture, education and the environment abounds, along with access to public transportation, locally grown produce and high-quality health care. Many would say Boulder is the ideal city for aging boomers.

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As modern medicine continues to extend the life of Americans, two primary paths emerge for aging individuals: staying in your home, aka “aging in place,” until you can no longer manage on your own, or going to an institutional setting like assisted living or a nursing home, where you’re under the care and control of others.

But innovative boomers have invented a third path—“aging in community”—where people maintain the independence and dignity of staying in their own homes by sharing resources, help and companionship through affordable housing and co­housing opportunities.

Home Alone

When you think ahead 10, 20, 30 years, do you picture yourself in your current home? If you do, you’re among the 92 percent of Americans age 65 or older who want to live out their life in their existing home, even if they need help  says a 2000 study by the Association for the Advancement of Retired Persons (AARP).

But gerontology and aging experts will tell you that making your home physically safer for aging in place is only part of the solution. “Living alone in isolation is dangerous for your health,” says Harry “Rick” Moody, a Boulder resident, gerontology textbook author, and editor of the national AARP Human Values in Aging monthly newsletter. “What if you fall down?” he asks.

Falling and being alone were exactly what motivated Marianne Kilkenny, 62, to live in a shared house in Asheville, N.C., with three women and one man, all over age 55. Six years ago she fell down a flight of stairs on Christmas Day. While lying immobilized, she wondered how long she’d have to wait till help came. “After my wake up fall on Christmas Day, plus the sadness of putting my parents in a nursing home several years ago, I knew I did not want to live alone anymore,” Kilkenny says. “I needed to create something different for myself that gave me both personal privacy and community.”

Given the economy and the financial advantages of sharing housing expenses (e.g., mortgage/rent and maintenance), and the trend to living longer and wanting independence, shared housing makes even more sense today.

Silver Sage residents share a weekly meal in the kitchen  in the community’s 5,000-square-foot common house and watch a presidential debate in the media room.
Silver Sage residents share a weekly meal in the kitchen in the community’s 5,000-square-foot common house and watch a presidential debate in the media room.

It took Kilkenny nearly five years to find compatible housemates and create a shared housing arrangement. She gained valuable experiences along the way and vowed to help others achieve a faster, easier experience than hers by founding the Women for Living in Community Network and becoming a national expert and resource on shared housing.

Cohousing Catches On

Experts on aging often recognize co housing as one of the better options for people over 50. Co housing residents have private homes and control over their daily lives, while thriving in a community setting where they enjoy the benefits of safety, friendship and reduced living expenses by sharing resources with neighbors.

Conceived in Denmark in the 1970s, cohousing blossomed with the Danes and is actively supported by both the Danish government and that country’s version of the AARP. Denmark has 450 cohousing communities, with about 250 senior cohousing projects, according to architect Charles Durrett, whose firm, McCamant & Durrett Architects in Grass Valley, Calif., specializes in cohousing communities.

“Cohousing is a great solution for people who are smart and want to plan their future instead of becoming victim to circumstances,” says Durrett, author of Senior Cohousing: A Community Approach to Independent Living.

More than 120 completed cohousing neighborhoods exist across the U.S., with several having received the AARP Livable Communities Award. Colorado is the fourth-leading state for cohousing, with 10 completed projects. Under the guidance of Jim Leach, Wonderland Hill Development Co. has completed three multigenerational cohousing communities in Boulder County alone: Nyland Cohousing in Lafayette, and Wild Sage Village and Nomad Cohousing, both in north Boulder. The company also developed Silver Sage, an adult community for people ages 50 and older in north Boulder’s Holiday neighborhood.

Each cohousing neighborhood in-cludes private homes and ­community-owned shared land and amenities. The cohousing clubhouse or “common house” is used for social events, meetings and regular optional meals that residents take turns preparing.

Leach took a personal leap five years ago when he and his wife, Brownie, moved into Silver Sage, the third senior cohousing community in the U.S. “In a community things happen organically and naturally, falling out of the deeper relationships you build as you live together,” Leach says. “We’ve had several people need to go to a doctor or the hospital and they just sent an email around the community. One member said, ‘I’ll take anyone to the hospital day or night.’ We’ve become like an extended family, without the obligations. This is all voluntary. People take care of each other and enjoy doing things together.” Silver Sage residents regularly perform social activities together, including one group that travels to Europe and the Middle East.

All’s Well in Washington

Washington Village is Boulder’s most recent aging-in-place community. This mixed-income, 33-household cohousing neighborhood is centered on the conversion of the historic Washington Elementary School into private residences and shared common areas. The 8,000 square feet of community space is used for a range of activities, including meals, music, exercise, art shows and meetings. At the corner of Broadway and Cedar, the community is close to a shopping plaza and the hospital and within walking distance of downtown.

The walkability of this boomer-focused development prompted empty-nesters Darrell and Kathy ­Icenogle to join it. When their son left home, the couple moved to Washington Village from Massachusetts. The ­Icenogles’ home was the first house built in the community.

“Something unique about Washington Village is how it brings in the notion of New Urbanism, walkability and economy of motion,” Darrell says.

Washington Village offers homes from condominiums to single-family houses,as well as economic diversity with 10 affordable units and 23 market-rate homes. All are highly energy-efficient, with passive solar design, high-performance building materials, and geothermal heating and cooling, and the option to upgrade to solar electricity.


Resources

Visit the following websites for information about cohousing, shared housing and other resources for aging in place, as well as open houses and homes to rent or buy in choosing communities.

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making_golden_marphouseThe Community Spirit

Living at Marpa House, whether for a short or multiyear stay, entails participating in cooking, cleaning and household maintenance. Residents must also downsize into a single room and practice Buddhist meditation or a related spiritual discipline. A primary draw is the focus on spiritual practice and simplicity.

“Marpa House allows you to pool your resources with other people to have a wholesome lifestyle without an emphasis on material goods,” says Tsultim Datso, a 60-year-old resident and head of meditation practice and education. “You have instant community and connectedness with others who share your values, and the freedom to spend time on things you care about.”

Datso, who has lived at Marpa House on and off for the past three years, previously lived in a shared house that she owned, sharing expenses with several others who were all interested in spirituality.

Serviceable Solutions

Beacon Hill Village is a member-driven organization for Boston residents 50 and older that provides programs and services to help boomers lead active lives while remaining in their own homes. The concept originated in the Boston suburb of Beacon Hill Village, where the 10-year-old, 400-member organization thrives.

Members pay an annual fee and call a “concierge” number for information about discounted providers and volunteers who offer driving, housecleaning and other services, and help them manage their households and stay active and healthy. The concierge coordinates vetted providers, from dog walkers and plumbers to acupuncturists and painters, and also schedules social and cultural programs, travel, films, singles’ events, lunch groups and cocktail parties. More than 60 similar organizations have cropped up in the U.S. in the last 10 years, although not in Boulder County.

AARP editor Moody would like to see elements of Beacon Hill Village replicated in Boulder County—for instance, using the local cohousing common houses as venues for social events, medical screenings and other activities for the surrounding neighborhoods.

If any boomer-housing model appeals to you, consider hosting a Meetup group (Google “Meetup groups Boulder” for info) to find like-minded individuals. Or, as Leach puts it, “very active people looking for their next adventures in life.”

“Instead of being isolated,” he says, “in a community you have plenty of opportunities to connect with neighbors and make your life better and more interesting.”


Neshama Abraham covers topics related to social and environmental sustainability, and is a founding 15-year resident of the Nomad Cohousing Community in Boulder.