Baby Boomers Finding New Lease On Life With Communal Housing

A trend becoming more common around the world is communal living or living with roommates, but it’s no longer just for the twenty-somethings in college.

Baby boomers are the growing generation who are jumping at the chance to move in with their retired friends. Whether it’s buying a house to share with a group or buying condos next door to each other, seniors are combatting loneliness by moving in with others of their generation and it’s a new level of friendship.

What Is Communal Living?

seniors playing bridge in minnesota
Photo Credit: Bruce Bisping/Star Tribune via Getty Images
Photo Credit: Bruce Bisping/Star Tribune via Getty Images

When you hear ‘communal living’ you might think we’re talking about seniors moving into retirement homes or assisted-living facilities, but that’s still years away for many of these baby boomers. Communal living for this generation means opting to move in with others of similar age, rather than continue to live alone or just with a spouse.

These aging citizens each have their own take on what ‘communal living’ means too, whether it’s pooling your savings to buy a house for seven of you to live in, or moving in with your two best friends after your husbands passed away.

The Reason Behind It

senior woman watching tv by herself at home
Photo Credit: Media for Medical/Universal Images Group via Getty Images
Photo Credit: Media for Medical/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

There are a number of factors behind why seniors are opting for communal living, but loneliness is the biggest one. Their spouse may have passed away or their adult-children moved to different cities, states, countries etc. and rather than continue to live alone, they want to live with their friends.

The rising cost of health care and housing costs is a major factor as well, with many not needing or wanting the responsibility and financial burden of owning a large home for just one or two people.

The Attraction

men playing cards at bar in southern italy
Photo Credit: Salvatore Laporta/KONTROLAB /LightRocket via Getty Images
Photo Credit: Salvatore Laporta/KONTROLAB /LightRocket via Getty Images

Being a part of a community has been proven to have positive health benefits, particularly in older people, which is one of the biggest draws for communal living. Having a sense of community and being a member of something – a bridge club, aquafit classes, curling club – can reportedly add years to someone’s life.

Another reason some people cited was opting for shared housing reduces their carbon footprint. If two or three couples can share one large home, it’s more beneficial than all those couples having their own separate mid-size homes.

Sense Of Security

senior women laughing in launderettes
Photo Credit: Getty Images
Photo Credit: Getty Images

From a health and safety perspective, many older citizens – particularly women – are drawn to the idea of having their own space but also having someone close by if they need it. For many couples, when their spouse passes away or they get divorced, it can be the first time they’ve lived alone in decades, which is daunting.

Living communally means they know if they need help or they get sick, there’s always going to be someone there for them.

Redefining Retirement

pensioner using homemade zip line in Somerset
Photo Credit: In Pictures Ltd./Corbis via Getty Images
Photo Credit: In Pictures Ltd./Corbis via Getty Images

The baby boomers who are in the retirement stage of their lives now are setting new standards for what it means to be an aging citizen, and there is still plenty of their generation left to retire. By 2030 it’s estimated over 20% of the U.S. population will be over the age of 65 which may not seem significant but that’s over 60 million people.

The boomers now are creating new pathways for those that come after them. Don’t count them out just yet.

Guangzhou Golden Girls

shot of the seven women who retired together
Photo Credit: YouTube
Photo Credit: YouTube

In a YouTube video posted in July 2019 that now has over 1 million views, a Chinese media company did a profile on what could be described as the modern-day Golden Girls.

Seven Chinese women decided to pool their money together to buy a house for them to retire in together. The 7,500-square-foot house they decided on cost them 4 million yuan (around $580,000 USD) and then they completely renovated the house.

The Inspiration

exterior shot after renos house in Guangzhou
Photo Credit: YouTube
Photo Credit: YouTube

The seven girlfriends have known each other for over two decades and apparently have joked for years that they would retire together, but it wasn’t until 2018 that they decided to make it a reality. They started off as colleagues, but define themselves as “closer than siblings.”

The friends said the largest age gap between the youngest and the oldest of the group is 10 years, and they hope to live in this house for decades to come.

Finding The Perfect Home

floating tea room guangzhou house for seven women
Photo Credit: YouTube
Photo Credit: YouTube

The house was originally all-red brick, but the friends completely re-did it to make a stunning house featuring floor-to-ceiling glass windows and an all-glass floating tea room that looks out over the fields surrounding the house.

The modern mansion is located in a small village that’s about a 60-minute drive outside of Guangzhou, and the house is surrounded by paddy fields and seemingly endless greenery, giving the perfect calming atmosphere for the retirees.

The Newly-Renovated House

kitchen at guangzhou house for seven women
Photo Credit: YouTube
Photo Credit: YouTube

The three-and-a-half storey house features an outdoor tea pavilion which is connected to the house by a wooden boardwalk, in addition to the floating one inside the house, because the women all have a shared love of tea.

The main floor of the home is all communal space including a spacious kitchen with a large dining table for group meals. The upstairs has individual bedrooms for each of the seven women to have their own independent spaces.

Living Out Their Best Years

guangzhou exterior house with tea pavillon
Photo Credit: YouTube
Photo Credit: YouTube

Each of the women brings something different to the house. Some are excellent cooks, some are knowledgable in traditional Chinese medicines, others play instruments and collect food in the village. They each have their own strengths that they contribute.

The women chose to create their communal home in order to keep their chosen family together forever. These seven girlfriends clearly know how to retire properly, and are an example of true friendship!

The Phoenix Commons

phoenix commons intentional community in Oakland, CA
Photo Credit: Phoenix Commons
Photo Credit: Phoenix Commons

There are many examples of North Americans who are opting for communal living in their old age as well, it’s not just for the Golden Girls.

After retiring from their jobs, San Francisco-natives Rose Mark and her husband Larry were looking to move from the ever-growing tech-focused city to something a little calmer and they stumbled upon the Phoenix Commons (not located in Phoenix, surprisingly) which is a 55+ intentional living community located in Oakland.

Co-Habitation At The Commons

rose mark at phoenix commons
Photo Credit: Phoenix Commons
Photo Credit: Phoenix Commons

The Phoenix Commons is a 41-unit co-housing community, where every resident owns their own homes but share communal areas such as a large kitchen and a movie theater. The community is self-managed with daily volunteers doing the cooking and cleaning for everyone.

Every unit in the Phoenix Commons has a private kitchen for those days when couples or singles don’t feel like being social, but it doesn’t seem to be used very often!

A Focus On Community Events

phoenix commons communal event
Photo Credit: Phoenix Commons
Photo Credit: Phoenix Commons

According to the Phoenix Commons website, the communal living site hosts potluck dinners, as well as birthday parties and holiday parties. Residents are also encouraged to have friends and family from outside the community participate in those events.

There’s also a library, a community room for movie nights as well as presentations or speakers that are brought in, and then a hobby room for ‘creative activities’ such as woodworking, music classes, and art classes. There’s an abundance of activities to keep residents busy!

Why Choose An Intentional Community?

phoenix commons outdoor blaconies
Photo Credit: Phoenix Commons
Photo Credit: Phoenix Commons

Rose Mark and her husband were one of the first couples to move into the Commons in 2016 and believes that “if [her friends] could witness life here, it might allay some of their fears about giving up their independence.”

Mark has found exactly what she was looking for from this intentional community and recommends communal living to any new retirees who are unsure about the next stage of their lives. “It is an incredible feeling of security, safety and peacefulness.”

Friends For Life

barb, phyllis, mary friends who live togeth
Photo Credit: CBC
Photo Credit: CBC

Still not sold on the idea of living with roommates in your retirement? Barb Coughlin, 71, Mary Townley, 71, and youngster Phyllis Brady, 66, decided to take the plunge into shared-living after they’d all been living alone for around a decade.

All three women have adult children who are starting their own lives, while two of the women are widowed and one is divorced. The women said in an interview that the decision ultimately came down to the need for companionship.

The Party House

barb, phyllis, mary decorating christmas tree
Photo Credit: CBC
Photo Credit: CBC

Barb, Mary, and Phyllis have been friends for forty years and have been living together in London, Canada, since the summer of 2018. After deciding to move in together, the women all sold their respective houses, eliminated as many appliances and as much furniture as they could since they’d have triples of many things, and then they pooled their finances to buy the house they now live in.

Barb said in an interview that friends of the women call their house ‘the party house’ because of their living situation.

Choosing A Home That Would Age With Them

the three women - barb, mary, phyllis 2014
Photo Credit: CBC
Photo Credit: CBC

One major factor the three women considered when buying their home is their mobility. Regardless of their fitness level now, they knew they’d decline over the years, so if they want to live in this home for the rest of their lives, they needed to pick one that would be accommodating. They opted for a house with minimal stairs for that exact reason.

The house they chose has individual bedrooms and bathrooms for each woman including a finished basement with a bar, and then they use the kitchen and living room as communal spaces.

A Glowing Recommendation

barb, phyllis, mary divvying out the bills
Photo Credit: YouTube
Photo Credit: YouTube

Barb, Phyllis, and Mary share all the financials in the house and split all responsibilities (cooking, cleaning, general upkeep) in three ways. They have said that the added financial savings is nice but the biggest draw is the benefit to their mental and physical health.

When asked in an interview if they had any regrets, the question was met with a unanimous ‘No.’ Phyllis said, “If we can be independent and be in this kind of situation for the next 20 years, that would be a great thing.” Doesn’t look like they’ll be moving out anytime soon.

Finding Your Community

seniors playing mahjong in Melbourne
Photo Credit: WILLIAM WEST/AFP/Getty Images
Photo Credit: WILLIAM WEST/AFP/Getty Images

As you can see, there are a number of different adaptions for seniors interested in living communally, and everyone will require something different. Some people prefer to have a completely separate space with the opportunity to participate in community events, whereas others prefer to share everything but have a private bedroom.

Doing your research before making the step into communal living is really important. There are a lot of resources online like Facebook groups and websites that can assist with setting people up in intentional communities.

The Takeaway

happy smiling senior couple sitting on bench
Photo Credit: Universal Images Group via Getty Images
Photo Credit: Universal Images Group via Getty Images

When people hear the words ‘communal living’ or ‘intentional communities’ there are a lot of misconceptions that can be drawn from that. But young people live in houses of two, three, four or more people all the time, so why can’t seniors?

Aging doesn’t have to be a bad thing, and these baby boomers are simply taking advantage of this next stage in their life by using a little creativity to reinvent the traditional retirement communities.