Senior Cohousing Communities – a way to overcome loneliness, abandonment and lack of support
Author: Ksenija Petovar
Lockdown for those over the age of 65 has made the question of how synchronised are forms/types of accommodation for the elderly, with their daily needs and abilities to actively and rationally organise their daily lives, a hot topic. Generally, we know that Europe’s population is ageing rapidly, that Serbia belongs to the group of European (and Non-European) countries with the highest median age (over 43), that the ageing index (ratio of age contingent 0-19 and 65 and more) in Serbia exceeded 1 a long time ago (the number of elderly citizens exceeds the number of children), that the majority of the population over 65 live in elderly, one/two member households where both members are advanced in age, that these households are common in both rural and urban areas, that large numbers of elderly people choose retirement homes (or are being placed in retirement homes unwillingly) as a forced solution. We are aware of the numerous problems arising from living in solitude, such as buying groceries, visiting the doctor, maintaining personal hygiene, loneliness and feelings of abandonment. In a nutshell, over the past half century, the age structure of the population has drastically changed (due to the constant and rapid increase of the aging population) as well as a model of family life (nuclearization of families, reducing the portion of multigenerational families where the younger members look after the elderly), which has inevitably led to a bigger proportion of elderly (one or two-member) households in the demographic structure of households.
In many countries, however, demographic changes have not been complemented by new forms of accommodation for the elderly, which could reduce social isolation and solitude while providing good quality of life. Housing, just like food, is a basic human necessity. Cultural and social development of a community includes, among other things, adjusting accommodation forms to the changes in demographic profile. Socially responsible countries which respect the human rights of their citizens, through various mechanisms, encourage the improvement and harmonisation of different segments of their societies (in this context – new organisational forms of housing, supported by a legislative regulation) with the needs of certain social groups, especially the marginalised and socially vulnerable.
The result of these efforts are new forms of accommodation – cohousing communities for senior citizens, where they can (in a timely manner) organise themselves, choose with whom they wish to live, construction and architectural characteristics of their community, its ambiance and legal and organisational properties, management model and maintenance of these individual facilities or units, ownership and legal structure, regulations, etc. The role of a state is primarily to legislate these new forms and provide the legal protection of such agreements and contractual obligations.
New forms of accommodation for the elderly are the result of choice, decision and self-organisation. Publications provide descriptions of various forms of senior cohousing communities, and one thing they have in common is that their members remain active, at the same time preserving the privacy of their home and the possibility to choose and decide with whom and to what extent they want to socialise. These communities, as a rule, are built outside city centres, on lots with gardens where they can do grow vegetables, own pets, play sports, engage in hobbies, etc.
Senior cohousing communities are economically sustainable. Since most of the senior citizens own real estate or have savings or legal heirs who would support their lives in organised cohousing, the economic issue is not an obstacle in the implementation of such projects. The key link in their implementation is the readiness and ability of the citizens and their associations to organise themselves and implement the projects. Senior cohousing communities (which may be combined with the accommodation of other groups, such as single parents or couples with small children, who can develop numerous forms of mutual help and cooperation, as evidenced by examples in Holland and Sweden) are far more desirable than conventional retirement homes. Simultaneously, retirement homes are considerably more expensive.
The role of the state in these projects is to enact appropriate legislation and ensure that adopted laws are obeyed. The state has no financial obligation, but it is essential that such projects are organised and implemented within a clearly defined legal framework which will protect beneficiaries from potential abuse or machinations, and guarantee implementation of the adopted legislation.
For several years, Belgrade’s municipality of Savski venac, a small group of elderly citizens has been trying to design and implement a senior cohousing community project. The project is still in its initial stage and its implementation is completely uncertain.
Ms Ksenija Petovar
Professor (retired) at the Faculty of Architecture and Faculty of Geography,
University of Belgrade
Founder and a member of the Management Board of the Centre for Democracy Foundation
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