For many, the idea of retirement conjures the image of happy silver-haired couple riding off into the Florida sunshine, ready to embrace the next chapter of their lives together. In reality, however, many retirees find themselves widowed or otherwise alone, unsure of what their next chapter will look like. Retirement communities have long provided these seniors a chance to have fulfilling social lives full of fun, laughter, and camaraderie, even as they adjust to life in a new home, without a significant other.
In the past decade, a novel concept has been spreading through the world of retirement communities: communal living. While the term may call to mind collegiate hippy housing, the concept is actually a practical solution to the emotional and financial costs of living alone as you get older.
Imagine: dear friends, siblings, cousins—you name it—realize that they are now in the same boat. Both know that they do not want to live alone, that life shared with someone is so much more appealing, and they decide that they can easily be roommates.
Continuing care retirement communities, like Woodland Pond at New Paltz, offer these duos a viable option. Most units are built to easily accommodate more than one resident, and a joint residency in a two-bedroom home means having your own space (and bathroom) while still being able to share your morning cup of coffee—and your living expenses—with someone you love. Woodland Pond cites a growing number of non-romantically involved duos and trios finding a home in their community. Like many continuing care retirement communities, their campus' population is primarily comprised of single females. Just 30 percent of residents are part of a couple. Many of the community's single residents, both male and female, live in spaces that could accommodate a second resident: someone to split the chores with, go to aqua aerobics with, and share a nightcap with. Or, maybe it's someone you do none of those things with, but who will split the upfront and monthly costs—which can reach the six-figure range—while still offering that extra peace of mind that someone else there in case of an emergency.
"This concept is really trending on the East and West Coasts and is very big in Europe," says Ryan Cowmeadow, vice president of the National Shared Housing Resource Center, an all-volunteer clearinghouse of HomeShare programs, in a recent article for Retirement Living Sourcebook. "Our numbers are up about 15 percent since 2007, and about 75 percent of applicants are female. We're hoping to see a real surge with the Boomers entering retirement age now. They're the ones who didn't take 'no' for an answer. Homesharing just makes sense." As noted in The New York Times piece "Grow Old Like the Golden Girls," you needn't look further than Dorothy, Rose, Blanch, and "Ma" (two generations of retirees, to boot!) to see the value of retiring with friends. There is a reason this show remains such a success almost 20 years after the last episode: It allows the viewer to imagine a happy, healthy, and supportive environment for single folks during their retirement years.
According to the Retirement Living Sourcebook, their last count of nonrelated retirees living together in 2010 exceeded 450,000, and it's estimated that the numbers have only grown in the last nine years. More and more savvy retirees are realizing the myriad of social and economic benefits to cohabitation in nontraditional ways—and there's something to be said about the knowledge that you don't necessarily have to drive off into the sunshine solo.