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Recently, I was tapped to be the keynote speaker for a one-day forum in Sao Paulo on housing for seniors! It helps to have a somewhat unique expertise – Cohousing.  While there may be one hundred and fifty or so built cohousing communities in the US, Brazil is just now working on their first.  And I learned from other speakers that Brazil needs to rapidly come up to speed on all forms of senior housing. Some of the other models discussed at the forum were Naturally Occurring Retirement Communities (NORCs), government-sponsored social housing for elders, and privately-developed communities for Independent and Assisted Living.

What struck me the most about the forum was the information about the global problem of the tsunami-like wave of aging populations.  Without exception, every “developed”, and “developing” nation will see a shift from about 10% of citizens over 60 years in age to over 30% in just a few decades.  “Under-developed” nations will follow a few decades later, due to increased longevity and reduced child birth rates.  There is no country that is yet prepared to house and provide health care for this rapid demographic shift.

At the close of the forum, I was invited to join a small panel in which we were asked what was the single most important aspect about the housing method on which we each had presented.  I had a list that included “control, connection, dignity”, and then I thought about our collective responsibility.  I pointed out that each baby boomer on the stage and in the audience, was “a part of the problem” just by the fact that we were born at the epicenter of this tsunami.  We have an individual responsibility to act now rather than wait for a government agency or private-sector senior housing developer to solve our problem.  We can be paralyzed by fear or denial, or we can embrace the challenge of being part of a solution.

Obviously, senior and multi-generational Cohousing (which has yet to reach even 1% of the US population) is not going to single-handedly meet the enormous demands for senior housing and assisted living.  However, the interest in my presentation was very high, as participants recognized that Cohousing is probably the best housing method for reducing isolation and retaining individual control over our physical and mental health as we age.  This is due to the way it connects households by design and engages residents in the management.

I hope that through my contribution to the forum, I was able to show the Brazilian participants that Cohousing is one way they can co-create dignified senior housing within a vibrant, self-managed community.  If enough baby boomers act now, we may collectively help to reduce some of the pressure on governments and developers as they strive to address this global problem of aging populations.  And in the process, we may influence the design of these government and developer driven solutions to be more humane, so that more of us have a supportive and engaging community at our doorstep rather than isolation as we age.

To learn more about senior and multi-generational cohousing, visit www.cohousing.org, or download a slide show “what is Cohousing” from www.facdarchitects.com/resources/cohousing-slideshows/