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Cohousing, a solution not only for the older generation

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.

Co-housing projects

In European countries where there has been more investment in senior cohousing (the United Kingdom, Germany and France) and this has produced numerous experiences. There are homes in residential areas for people of a certain age, independent houses or condos consisting of individual apartments with common areas, residences for the elderly with assistance services ranging all the way to those that include a care home within the complex. The inhabitants can opt either to buy or rent the home.

Italy is still lagging behind when it comes to the quantity of such housing available but according to market research by Nomisma this sector is set to see major development. In Italy 80% of older generation live in their own homes, which in 7 out of 10 cases were built more than 50 years ago, and in 76% of cases do not have an elevator. Nomisma is monitoring cohousing that fits the following characteristics: structures in city center locations in provincial and regional capitals; two-bedroom apartments measuring 50-60 square meters, with 10% of the spaces destined for common areas; a share of residences destined for temporary use (post-recovery, family visits); basic services (reception, swimming pool, gym, restaurant) and optional services (domestic assistance and transport), perceived for cohousers with an average annual income of between 20 and 30 thousand euros. Various operators in the sector believe that shared housing enables savings of up to 30% on costs.


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.

Where to find cohousing structures for older generation in Italy

In Italy there is still little in the way of cohousing for the elderly. Many projects are at an experimental stage, others in the design phase. Below are some examples, including initiatives supported by Enel Cuore.

Valle d’Aosta

“La Bonne Maison,” a home for self-sufficient old people was opened in Nus in 2018. The Maison Anselmet cohousing project in Charvensod is due to become operative by 2022, thanks to municipal investment.


In Novara, as part of the Viva gli Anziani program, three apartments in Villaggio Dalmazia have been converted into cohousing projects, as has the home of the former President of the Italian Republic, Oscar Luigi Scalfaro, which was donated to the Comunità di Sant’Egidio and renamed “Casa Simeone and Anna”. In Crevacuore, near Biella, a house has been donated to the municipality with the same goal. Beinette, near Cuneo, is home to the “Casa Nostra” cohousing project, which was halted during the health emergency.


A cohousing project for older generation can be found in the Figino Sustainable Village, in Milan, one of the main cohousing experiences in Italy. In Bergamo the Domitys Quarto Verde has 124 apartments for older generation.


Borgo Mazzini Smart Cohousing in Treviso has dozens of apartments for senior citizens. In Padua, the cohousing experiment for the elderly in the area of Arcella is facilitated by Comunità di Sant’Egidio.


Trentino is one of Italy’s more pioneering regions. The “Casa alla Vela” in the Vela area in Trento, was created in 2014 and offers cohousing for young and old people. The “Casa Cles,” in the mountains of the Non Valley, has been active since 2017. Forms of cohousing for older generation are being trialed in public housing in the municipality of Bolzano.

Friuli-Venezia Giulia

The “Casa Egidio” is located in Pordenone, while the “Casa Blu” is in Trieste.


In Genoa, at the Villa Marta rest home in Betania, there is a community-residence for self-sufficient old people. The “Convivenza solidale Roberto Bianchi”, in the Carignano neighborhood, is home to old people who, rather than ending up in an institution, have joined forces to live together in an apartment. Also in La Spezia the La Falena association is trying to launch a cohousing project for the elderly.


In Zambra, in the municipality of Cascina near Pisa, “Isaro Casarosa” houses self-sufficient people aged over 65. In Grosseto, in the building of the Vescovile seminary, the “Casa Francesco Mocciaro” is home to self-sufficient old people who cannot count on the ongoing help of their relatives. The “Cohousing del Moro” is the first cohousing initiative for the over 60s in Lucca.


“Ca’ Nostra” in Modena and “Solidaria” in Ferrara were some of the first examples of cohousing for the elderly in Italy. Similar experiments have been replicated in Castel San Giovanni, near Piacenza, and recently in Bologna, in the Santa Marta complex.


Guarcino, near Frosinone, is currently being repopulated with pensioners and students who want to live in a village suited to the needs of the elderly. In Ostia a cohousing project has been launched by the Comunità di Sant’Egidio. Roma Capitale (the municipality of Rome) has opened “Casa Giada” in the Giustiniana area, “Casa Gaia” in the Torre Gaia neighborhood and “Casa delle Viole” in Monteverde. Abitare Gea is the promoter of the dispersed cohousing project in the capital, while through the Viva gli Anziani program we have contributed to creating a cohousing apartment within a protected apartment block in Via Quinto Cecilio (in the Monteverde Vecchio neighborhood).


“Casa Mia,” in Narni Scalo near Terni, is a cohousing project for people that are self-sufficient or with minor disabilities.


In Naples, as part of the Viva gli Anziani program, work has been carried out on renovating the lower parts of the Care Home in the San Lorenzo neighborhood. “Nonninsieme” a Cava De’ Tirreni, near Salerno, was created to house over 65s who are either fully autonomous or need minor assistance.