Aging Cooperatively

Our Vision: Elders deserve to live with housing security, in a community of their choosing, and retain self-determination for as long as possible. The Sustainable Economies Law Center supports resident-controlled housing options for all, and is further committed to support cooperative, resident-controlled housing for seniors.

seniors march for housing equityBy the year 2030, one in every five Americans will be over the age of 65. As thousands of Baby Boomers retire each year, and continue to live longer and vibrant lives, alternative housing models that meet our aging population’s needs must be explored.

For most older Americans, high-quality supportive housing and services is prohibitively expensive. Reasonably priced nursing home facilities are commonly associated with boredom, depression, and abuse. Many seniors try to live unassisted in their homes for as long as possible, but encounter financial hardships - a third of adults 50 and older already spend more than 30% of their income on housing. For seniors who own their own homes and opt to age in place, many experience isolation and depression due to lack of community.

Within this context, some seniors are taking a proactive approach to create long-term, affordable, and communal housing solutions. A group in the East Bay, who call themselves Hibiscus Commons, have banded together to collectively look for property to call home. They are working with the Bay Area Community Land Trust (BACLT) to form their housing cooperative.

Hibiscus Commons first began to organize because its members acknowledged the difficulty of finding affordable housing. They found the available models of senior housing alienating, disempowering and institutional, and took the matter into their own hands.

While each member of Hibiscus Commons will have their own apartment unit within their envisioned co-op, members will share communal space such as a community garden and dining area, and decide collectively the policies and decisions, such as what staff will be hired (if any), when and how much to raise the monthly assessments, as well as decisions about building maintenance. The residents will screen and select new residents when units become vacant.

Current Hibiscus Commons members are considering leaving one apartment unit vacant for a live-in aide, as their health needs increase, to provide help with house cleaning and personal care.

Democratic control of the cooperative will be protected through cooperative bylaws and oversight by the BACLT. A Board elected from among the cooperative members will have direct responsibility for overseeing management of the co-op and implementation of the bylaws and membership agreement.

International Models of Elder Housing Cooperatives

There are several successful models of senior housing co-ops created by older women, that could provide an example for newly forming ones like Hibiscus Commons. Maria Brenton helped create a housing co-op called New Ground in North London, in response to her discontent with traditional forms of assisted living. “Most of the older population do not wish to have everything done for them," she says. New Ground is comprised of 26 women aged in their 50s to 87; the oldest member is still working.

When a New Ground resident falls ill, members provide for one another, working with the member’s family and social services to get the support they need. "The group rallied when one of their members got ill, and for at least a week someone would bring her a hot meal every day and look after her," says Brenton.

The women in London struggled to buy land and get financing, but eventually prevailed. The Hibiscus Commons group is still looking for a realtor and deciding on a neighborhood to concentrate their property search.

In such expensive and rapidly-gentrifying areas such as the Bay Area, Hibiscus Commons’ collaboration with the BACLT might help them to obtain below market-rate property, especially if some of its members are 80% below the Area Median Income, qualifying the co-op for certain tax breaks and subsidies.

We envision a world where every person has a home, and housing is a right rather than a commodity.Still, the process of elder co-op formation can be long, and serves as a reminder of the time commitment inherent in forming a housing cooperative: searching for like-minded members, a suitable property, and collectively engaging in the components of decision-making. The process for New Ground took approximately 20 years.

There are several housing options available - it is important to take the time to choose the model that is right for you.

1. Join Existing Housing Communities

For seniors who are interested in becoming a member of Hibiscus Commons, or learning more about seniors-only housing co-ops, they can contact organizers through the BACLT website. There are also other intergenerational models to consider.

2. Get Legal Help For Your Existing or Emerging Housing Coop

Sustainable Economies Law Center offers free legal services for newly forming housing co-ops, at their Resilient Communities Legal Cafes. RSVP for an upcoming legal clinic today!

3. Get The Help You Need and Build Community While Aging in Place

For seniors interested in Aging in Place, read about the village model, as a way to stay in your homes with the support of the community, and become a member of an existing village in the East Bay: Ashby Village, or North Oakland Village, to help you run errands and perform household chores. Becoming a member of a village also gives you access to a thriving community with a wide variety of classes and events.

The National Council on Aging (NCOA) created this Downsizing for Aging in Place Guide to help people considering a smaller home they plan to grow older in. In it, they provide guidance and tips on:

  • Choosing the right downsized home for different needs
  • Fall prevention and features for a safe environment
  • Resources to help people clear out their homes and prepare for the move

Plus, they provide insight into other aspects, like proximity of the home to essential services, social activities, and budget considerations.

4. Share Housing with a Senior Roommate

For seniors who want to rent a room out in their house, or who seek to live in another’s home with similarly-situated roommates, become a member of the East Bay organization TTN HOME.

5. Help Expand the Housing Options Available by Joining the Senior Policy and Programming Brigade

Sustainable Economies Law Center supports changing policy and introducing supportive programs that benefit older Americans.

Some states, like New York, have rent subsidy programs that freeze eligible seniors’ rents so that they are not as vulnerable to eviction. Some universities match students with seniors in the community who have a spare bedroom in their houses. National Shared Housing Resource Center matches seniors with potential roommates of all ages. 

Julie Gilgoff Senior Housing Sustainable Economies Law Center Borchard FellowIn other models, students receive discounted rent in exchange for helping seniors run errands or perform household chores. 


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