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Boomers go back to the commune in retirement

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Home sharing programs
Approaching the business of shared living from another angle is the National Shared Housing Resource Center, which lists about 350 organizations nationwide involved in the business.

The center offers links to two types of shared housing programs, says Eva Gertzfeld, co-president of the organization. One is a simple match-up plan designed to introduce home-providers to compatible home-seekers. The second type of program involves shared living residences, where a number of people live cooperatively as an unrelated family in a large dwelling.

Gertzfeld is also executive director of the nonprofit Chicago-based match-up program Center of Concern, where she says she finds economic incentives a strong factor in older people's decisions to participate in shared living arrangements.

"A lot of apartment buildings in our area are going condo," she says. "So there are fewer units available to rent. At the same time, there are so many foreclosures on family homes. So it makes sense for homeowners to make use of the existing stock of their home, either to get an additional small income through rent or to make other financial and emotional arrangements so that they can continue to reside in the community they love."

Staffers at the Center of Concern, Gertzfeld says, conduct interviews, do background checks and coordinate initial meetings between "those we think will be a good team to live together in the same household." Ironing out the financial details is left up to the participants.

Those arrangements, she says, might involve exchanging lodging for transportation, shopping and other services as an alternative to traditional rent.

"There's a big emotional benefit as well," she says. "Some people we have matched have by now been together five years or more."

Contractual understanding
For anyone contemplating communal living in their retirement years, Access Brokerage's Parker says, important issues to consider involve security, liability, the form of ownership and the physical living arrangement itself.

"There needs to be some kind of contractual understanding," he says, "and each one will be different." But in general, he says, the administrative or legal model tends to resemble a trust or condominium partnership.

For example, Parker says, "one person might buy a home outright and then sell or lease space to three or four others, aged 55 or older. Eventually they may become co-owners."

He says possible financial plans for a private, unfurnished bedroom and attached private bath -- with kitchen and yard privileges -- might range from a flat fee for life to a monthly payment. In addition, he says, there may be a need for nominal charges tied to maintenance of the property. These could include repainting, plumbing, electrical repairs, reroofing, and heating, ventilating and air conditioning, or HVAC, contracts as well as any household improvements, landscaping and replacement of appliances.

Parker says he advises people contemplating shared living to clearly state in these contracts the rules of living and privileges of residents, stipulating what happens if someone stops upholding their end of the deal.

"The idea," he says, "is that everyone will look out for one another and share expenses. But what works well on paper may not play out that way. For example, someone might move in and decide to bring their chickens and dogs along."

If the individual shape, philosophy and financial underpinnings of communes take many forms and make them hard to track, one thing is evident, says Schaub -- their numbers are increasing.

"Not only are there more of these communities every year," he says, "but more people seem to feel comfortable and confident about communal living.

"The thing we are most excited about is that while there are only going to be a small percentage of people who want to do this, what they are doing is very valuable to the wider society. In looking for more of a sense of belonging and connection, they are sending a message that people don't have enough community in their lives."'s corrections policy -- Posted: April 10, 2008
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