Co­hous­ing: Com­pan­ion­ship a key rea­son se­niors are turn­ing to home shar­ing

The Mercury News Weekend - - FRONT PAGE - By Karen D’Souza kd­souza@ba­yare­anews­

The skyrocketing cost of Bay Area hous­ing al­most forced Ma­ri­etta Borgel to leave San Jose, the place she’s called home for six decades. Then she dis­cov­ered home shar­ing and, for the first time in her 75 years, Borgel moved in with a room­mate.

Life in a tra­di­tional re­tire­ment home didn’t ap­peal to An­gela Hun­kler, a 73-year- old artist, so she and her wife, Kate Mur­phy, sold their Berke­ley house and bought a small con­do­minium in a se­nior co­hous­ing com­mu­nity on the wa­ter­front in Oak­land. It’s an easy walk to her stu­dio and the views of the wa­ter just won’t quit.

Borgel and Hun­kler are part of a bur­geon­ing trend in com­mu­nal liv­ing among se­niors, who are band­ing to­gether to share re­sources and ca­ma­raderie. Whether they’re find­ing room­mates or liv­ing in a mod­ern co­hous­ing de­vel­op­ment — pri­vate homes clus­tered around shared spa­ces that res­i­dents man­age to­gether— these se­niors are find­ing a new way of think- ing about re­tire­ment, one that re­volves around cre­at­ing a com­mu­nity where you can age in place with oth­ers. Some say liv­ing-to­gether op­tions are the fu­ture of ag­ing.

“These folks are re­ally pi­o­neer­ing a new way of liv­ing,” says Anne Glass, a pro­fes­sor of geron­tol­ogy at Univer­sity of North Carolina Wilm­ing­ton.

“So many older peo­ple en­dure a crip­pling sense of iso­la­tion. Why not live in a vil­lage where you know all of your neigh­bors?”

Com­pan­ion­ship is a key rea­son se­niors are turn­ing to shared hous­ing. Lone­li­ness is a huge health risk for older Amer­i­cans, big­ger than smok­ing or obe­sity, ac­cord­ing to a 2015 Brigham Young Univer­sity study. The de­sire for in­de­pen­dence is an­other fac­tor fuel­ing the trend.

Un­like in a tra­di­tional re­tire­ment com­mu­nity, res­i­dents in co­hous­ing com­mu­ni­ties are in charge. They de­cide how things should work. Some com­mu­ni­ties vote; oth­ers just work to­ward a con­sen­sus. There is no staff pro­vid­ing meals, land­scap­ing or pro­grams. The res­i­dents, most of whom sell fam­ily homes to fi­nance their moves, vol­un­teer to do all that.

“This isn’t an in­sti­tu­tion, it’s a com­mu­nity,” says Mur­phy, 64, an es­tate lawyer. “No one wants to live in an in­sti­tu­tion.”

In the Bay Area, there are three se­nior co­hous­ing com­mu­ni­ties — Phoenix Com­mons, which opened two years ago, the Moun­tain View Co­hous­ing Com­mu­nity and Santa Cruz’s Wal­nut Com­mons. The at­trac­tion isn’t about price: Most units aren’t much cheaper than any other Bay Area home. There are 13 other com­mu­ni­ties across the coun­try and more are be­gin­ning to take shape, in­clud­ing one in Marin. The na­tion’s first se­nior co­hous­ing com­mu­nity opened in 2005 at Davis’ Glacier Circle.

For those on fixed in­comes who want to stay in their own homes — or are happy liv­ing in some­one else’s — there is also home shar­ing. Or­ga­ni­za­tions and even pri­vate com­pa­nies are spring­ing up to make the tra­di­tional room­mate search much eas­ier.

“It would be nice if we lived in a so­ci­ety with a safety net so that ev­ery­one knew they could make ends meet, but we don’t,” says Glass. “Home shar­ing can be a blessing for se­niors who are cash-strapped.”

As baby boomers age, they are de­mand­ing al­ter­na­tives to the tra­di­tional re­tire­ment home, ex­perts say. Over­all, the num­ber of U. S. res­i­dents age 65 and older grew from 35 mil­lion in 2000 to 49.2 mil­lion in 2016, ac­cord­ing to cen­sus data.

And there are now 4mil­lion women over the age of 50 who live with two other women of the same age, ac­cord­ing to AARP.

“The boomers have rev­o­lu­tion­ized ev­ery stage of life, and the se­nior years are no dif­fer­ent,” says Wendi Burkhardt, CEO of Den­ver- based Sil­vernest, which is sort of like a for se­niors who want to share liv­ing spa­ces. Launched in 2015, Sil­vernest has con­nected many Bay Area se­niors. “In the past, you lived at home and then you went into as­sisted liv­ing. Now, peo­ple want more con­trol over how they age.”

The vi­brant life­style you find at Phoenix Com­mons, a 41- unit se­nior co­hous­ing com­mu­nity on Oak­land’s wa­ter­front, looks a lot more like an episode of “Friends” than “The Golden Girls.” Prices range from $ 500,000 for the smaller units to $700,000 and up.

JoAnna Allen, 75, is a long­boat racer and a car­pen­ter who moved with her hus­band from the Mid­west to be closer to their grand­chil­dren. Jane Voytek, 66, who man­ages the donor database at Berke­ley Reper­tory Theatre, of­ten hits the hot tub at 9.

“My daugh­ter says it’s like a dorm for grownups,” says Voytek, who moved in af­ter years of liv­ing in a condo at Jack Lon­don Square where she never got to know any­one. “All you have to do is come down­stairs to find friend­ship.”

Res­i­dents own con­dos that frame the com­muni- ty’s com­mon spa­ces where peo­ple can eas­ily so­cial­ize — a kitchen, a din­ing room and a gym. Like other re­tire­ment com­mu­ni­ties, there are guest units where fam­ily or care­givers can stay if needed. Phoenix Com­mons has a rooftop gar­den and a li­brary, while the 19- unit Moun­tain View Co­hous­ing Com­mu­nity, where units sell for $1 mil­lion and up, is built around a pic­turesque gar­den.

“It’s a lot of fun to gar­den with other peo­ple, while alone it can be drudgery,” says Pa­tri­cia Ann Boomer, 63, who picks straw­ber­ries for break­fast at the Moun­tain View com­mu­nity, where she moved af­ter selling her Penin­sula home. “I love the feel­ing of a good old-fash­ioned neigh­bor­hood.”

A few­times a week, res­i­dents break bread to­gether, which keeps peo­ple con­nected.

“The com­mon meals are the glue of the com­mu­nity,” says Hun­kler, tuck­ing into a meal of lasagna and ap­ple crisp at Phoenix. “It’s when we chat and catch up.

f course, you can al­ways re­treat to your own pri­vate condo. At Phoenix, the code is sim­ple: Close your blinds if you don’t want visi­tors.

You may have to work a lit­tle harder to keep your pri­vacy in a home- shar­ing ar­range­ment. Still, rent­ing out a room is one way to raise ex­tra money and avoid liv­ing alone. It’s also a way to live in the Bay Area with­out hav­ing to fork out big bucks.

Shar­ing a home was a life­saver for Borgel. She couldn’t find any place she could af­ford and hav­ing a dog made it harder.

“A lot of el­derly peo­ple end up home­less in Sil­i­con Val­ley and I can see why,” says Borgel. “It’s a real strug­gle liv­ing here on So- cial Se­cu­rity. It’s been very hard.”

Then she found Cathy Lo­gie, 50, an empty nester with four bed­rooms. They met through a mu­tual friend and now live to­gether in Lo­gie’s house with two dogs, a cat and three foster kit­tens.

“It’s nice to have some­one around,” says Lo­gie, a tech free­lancer who lives in San Jose. “We walk the dogs to­gether.”

Get­ting a room­mate also has been a game changer for Joseph Kar­nicky. The re­tired en­gi­neer has mul­ti­ple scle­ro­sis, which has left him al­most com­pletely par­a­lyzed and in a wheel­chair. The Menlo Park res­i­dent needed a help­ing hand, so he found a house­mate through a home- shar­ing ser­vice run by HIP Hous­ing, a San Ma­teo County non­profit.

“I don’t want to leave my home,” says Kar­nicky, who has wired a lot of his house for voice com­mands. “I need my free­dom.”

Dis­agree­ments hap­pen in shared hous­ing sit­u­a­tions, of course. Over the years, Kar­nicky has had his share of hor­ri­ble house­mates, in­clud­ing one who stole from hi­mand smoked crack.

“You need to find a good fit or it can be a night­mare,” says Kar­nicky.

And at Phoenix, one hot­but­ton is­sue is when and where to walk the dogs. ( There are 14 of them.)

“A lot of peo­ple ro­man­ti­cize liv­ing in com­mu­nity,” says Mar­i­anne Kilkenny, an ex­pert on se­nior com­mu­ni­ties. “The re­al­ity is that we are hu­man and there will be con­flict.”

Still, hav­ing peo­ple around you can count on in a pinch can be price­less.

“There is al­ways some­one you can turn to,” says Hun­kler.


Phoenix Com­mons res­i­dents, from left, An­gela Hun­kler, Vin­cent Wong, Karin Bloomquist and Jane Voytek talk in the Oak­land se­nior co­hous­ing com­mu­nity’s hot tub. Res­i­dents own in­di­vid­ual con­dos but share pub­lic spa­ces like the hot tub, a com­mon room and a din­ing room, which makes it easy to so­cial­ize.


Pa­tri­cia Ann Boomer, a res­i­dent at a co­hous­ing com­mu­nity in Moun­tain View, picks veg­eta­bles in the com­mu­nity’s gar­den.


Menlo Park res­i­dent Joe Kar­nicky, who is wheel­chair-bound due to mul­ti­ple scle­ro­sis, lives with a co-hous­ing room­mate so he can rely on the room­mate for help around the house.

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