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Boomers go back to the commune in retirement

Don't consign the commune to history just yet. With living costs spiraling upward and empty-nesters feeling a need for a greater sense of community in their lives, some baby boomers are reconsidering the concept of group living. This time around, the idea holds appeal as a cost-efficient, socially engaging way to spend their golden years.

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How widespread is this phenomenon? One national directory service speculates the number could be 65,000 and growing. A resource center in Chicago lists more than 300 organizations nationwide engaged in the business of helping people work out a shared living accord.

For a number of reasons, though, it's difficult to come up with a reliable count. Arrangements, say those familiar with the movement, are usually private, and most who participate are not inclined to go public with their plans. But motives, they say, are generally linked to two major concerns -- economic survival and compatible company in retirement.

"This is a trend that is very real," says Jim Parker, broker-owner of Access Brokerage Real Estate Services in Marietta, Ga.

Living options
You can rent, buy a home or join a commune. Some communal arrangements require you to abandon your inner capitalist.
Restoring a sense of community
1. Sharing income
2. A microcosm of Communism
3. Shared commitment, assets
4. Home sharing programs
5. Contractual understanding

Parker has been looking into types of communal living at the request of a number of people in their mid-50s who have come to him with questions about the possibility of trying this kind of living arrangement as they age.

"A lot of people end up single in retirement," he says. "They may not be well off enough to just go out and buy a house, and they're looking for other choices besides renting."

For these folks, Parker says, some kind of communal arrangement is a practical alternative.

Sharing income
What defines a commune? Ideals aside, it's based on income-sharing, says Laird Schaub, executive secretary of the Fellowship for Intentional Community, or FIC, a 20-year-old clearinghouse for "who's doing what in community living in the U.S."

FIC maintains an online directory of communities, he says, and also produces events and publications "about community and people's experience of it."

"Income-sharing" covers a lot of territory, Schaub says, from monasteries and similar faith-based communities to communal farming co-ops, group homes and collectives of varying sizes where residents pool at least a portion of their incomes.

FIC's directory lists about 100,000 people around the nation living in some form of purposely organized community, of which, Schaub says, about 1-in-7 to as many as 1-in-6 fulfill the income-sharing requirement that technically defines them as communes. Two-thirds of these communities, he says, are in rural settings.

Since listing a group in the FIC directory is a voluntary matter requiring some kind of collective consent, Schaub says the figures considerably underestimate participation in the trend.

Next: "From each according to his abilities..."
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