Cohousing, a solution not only for the older generation
A garden, laundry, gym, vegetable patch, a basement workshop with tools, a games room with ping pong, table football and maybe even a pool table. For a normal home such facilities might be enviable extras, but in the case of cohousing they are commonplace. Because communal living is based on sharing some spaces, and costs, but also comfort and convenience. There is also the opportunity to enjoy the company of others and benefit from assistance when in need. For these reasons, the phenomenon of cohousing is growing, above all among the older generation who risk finding themselves alone during a time of life when they most need help.
The definition and meaning of cohousing
Cohousing is a simple concept of living together. The term was coined during the 1980s by two US architects who, while studying in Copenhagen, were intrigued by the idea of living in shared spaces. The practice was already widespread in Denmark thanks to the architect Jan Gødmand Høyer, who in the 1970s was the first to conceive of a form of communal living involving inhabitants of private homes with significant shared spaces.
In order to really understand the concept of cohousing, it is worth looking at the years of experience in northern Europe and North America where ‘cohousers’ have come together with a view to obtaining social, economic and environmental benefits. These are families, couples, singles, young people and senior citizens. As far as the latter category is concerned, there are, according to numerous studies, benefits from both a physical and psychological perspective. The architect Grace H. Kim is one of the leading international experts on cohousing and in his international conferences he stresses that living in a shared way means living more happily and longer.
The requisites of cohousing for older generation
The interest in cohousing for older generation – sometimes known as senior cohousing, silver (co)housing or senior living – is understandable when we consider the demographics of Western countries today. According to Eurostat, the number of over 65s in Italy has increased from 20.3% in 2009 to 22.8% in 2019, and by 2060 this figure is forecast to exceed 30%. In a society where life expectancy is increasing and where it is rare that children take direct care of their parents, it is senior people (or tomorrow’s senior people) who will have to design their own future.
In order to access cohousing for older generation there are no particular requisites. Sharing some parts of a residence does not require belonging to an all-encompassing life project. All potential cohousers need do is reconcile privacy with sociability and sharing, and be capable of taking care of themselves based on the type of cohousing selected.
Legislation regarding cohousing
While waiting for the Italian market to take off, some institutions are recognizing the potential of cohousing to help achieve social policies, while business can seize the opportunities cohousing offers from an architectural and legal perspective. However, in Italy there is no legal framework for co-housing, which follows the civil law on apartment buildings and makes use of existing legal institutions such as cultural associations for social activities, cooperatives or foundations. It is also possible that co-housing may involve interactions with other public or private bodies, since housing several people requires a large space such as a building, an apartment complex or a disused building.
Cohousing and rest homes: benefits and differences
The Osservatorio Senior association has calculated that in Italy structures for the over 75s are located mainly in the north of the country: 35.6% of structures are for old people who are not self-sufficient and 38.2% are for mixed use, while only 6.4% are for those who are self-sufficient. Senior cohousing is focusing on this latter segment. Cohousing for the elderly is not in actual fact an alternative to rest homes, because it concerns people who are still independent, even though the number of examples 65s is increasing. Indeed, much depends on the type of cohousing and the form of involvement, if through participatory planning or through projects designed by others. In any case elderly residents can maintain their private lives and personal rooms and share some daily activities with others in order to keep loneliness at bay and prevent social exclusion.