What Members Think
So, What Is This Thing Called Cohousing?
A current television advertisement claims that 10,000 Americans retire each day. For many of those individuals whose careers and family obligations may have carried them all around the U.S., retirement offers the first chance to really put down roots. In planning my retirement, just as important as the question, “Where will I settle down?” was the question, “What kind of life style will I settle for?” I have found my answers: Oakcreek Community, Stillwater’s new cohousing development. The concept of co-housing springs from the premise that seniors have longer, healthier, and more productive lives when they live interdependently in a supportive community with other like-minded people. The experience of living in cohousing reduces or eliminates the necessity of ever having to move into assisted living or other institutional living arrangements, since residents know each other well, assist each other as needed, and share the normal tasks of gardening, landscaping, shopping and other elements of community living. Because a cohousing community is developed by and for its residents, all home-owners participate actively in every design and management decision that is made. Stillwater cohousers early on agreed upon the shared values they wanted their community to reflect: stewardship of the environment, mutual respect, dedication to life-long learning, social and intellectual growth, and economic sufficiency. Then, applying those values and bringing together a wide diversity of life experiences, the residents intentionally planned their neighborhood on North Husband. On 7.5 beautiful, wooded acres, Oakcreek contains 24 small, privately-owned homes and a large common house that will be used every day as an extension of the private homes—for housing guests, sharing meals, exercising, woodworking, watching movies, hosting concerts and community programs, and having lots of fun. The life-style that cohousing offers is exactly what I need as I begin my senior years! You can learn more about senior cohousing principles in The Senior Cohousing Handbook, one of several books written by Charles Durrett, who brought the concept of cohousing from Denmark to the United States. Charles Durrett and Kathryn McCamant, of Nevada City, CA, are the architects and consultants for Oakcreek Community, the only senior co-housing community in the central United States and only the 6th in the nation.
Our Wake-Up Call
Our neighbor fell down the stairs and broke her ankle. That was the wake-up call. In our seventies, we’d been thinking of what to do about downsizing. With three daughters who all lead busy lives in distant places, we knew that it was important to make plans for our future that left us in charge and, insofar as possible, relieved our daughters of worry about aging parents.
Enter Oakcreek. We learned about the new-to-Oklahoma concept of cohousing and were intrigued; it’s a totally different kind of community than we had ever known. As longtime residents of Stillwater we knew we wanted to age in place to enjoy our friends and the many advantages of a small town with a major university.
Oakcreek Community has 24 privately-owned one- and two-bedroom homes, shared open spaces, and a 3800 square foot Common House that community members share equal interest in and access to for community gatherings, cooperative activities and guest accommodations. Fourteen families have already caught the cohousing concept and have already bought homes. Among our new neighbors are single people and couples, retired and non-retired folks, ranging in age from 55 to 85+. At Oakcreek, age is a number, not a state of mind.
We are excited about the good mix of privacy and social interaction that we have already experienced with the group and look forward to being in just-the-right-sized home for us without the hassles of a big yard and a bunch of house maintenance. The best thing, though, is that THIS IS NOT A DREAM! We are well on our way to completion. In fact, we’ll be moving in to our new, energy-efficient, geothermally heated and cooled, intentionally designed and quality workmanshipped home this October 2012.
Hope you will visit soon. Better yet…move in to Oakcreek with us!
Margaret and Sidney Ewing
Being in Charge
When making decisions for future living arrangements there are many factors to consider to make the best choice for continued quality of life. In addition to the traditional, institutional facilities (retirement villages, assisted living and nursing homes), alternative living situations are now being developed. The importance of living more active, healthier lives as we age is being stressed more and more by the health, psychological and related professions. Google has over 600 web sites—including https://www.womenshealth.gov/getting-active/physical-activity-all-women and medical school sites—dealing with the importance of staying mentally, physically and socially active as we age.
My major considerations in making decisions about my senior living arrangements were how to stay healthy, be active and continue to contribute to both the immediate community of my new location and to the community at large. After considering numerous options, including staying at home and moving near my family, I decided the best choice for me was one of the newer, growing movements in the United States, i.e., a planned group living arrangement where I will own my private living space but share some of the responsibilities of daily living, much as a family and small neighborhood used to function. Some stated values of the community are a concern for each other’s well being and respect for the need of each person to maintain independence and have an area/space for privacy. A small neighborhood in the city often functions like this, but the nature of an unplanned neighborhood will likely change as people move in and out. The only planned, small community in Stillwater where the future residents develop their desired values for the community and are in charge of the decisions being made for them is Oakcreek Co-Housing Community, currently under construction and with completion targeted for this fall. I like the idea of having input into the decisions affecting me and the community rather than having to follow a set of rules set up by some business or outside group. Stillwater is a great place to live and having a small, flexible community to live in as I age in place has given me the choice to stay here rather than move to the east coast where the only network I have is a few family members.
Aging is something that all of us deal with daily. There comes a time in a person’s life when we start thinking seriously about where and how we want to live out our lives. If we insist on our independence, we may stay too long in our individual home and find ourselves isolated when we can no longer drive and take care of all our activities of daily living.
I have recently discovered an exciting option where I can have as much privacy as I want in my own home and also experience as much community as I want with close neighbors who really care about me. The concept is called senior cohousing where interdependence is the key to aging successfully.
The first such community in the central part of the U.S. is currently under construction in Stillwater Oklahoma: www.oakcreekstillwater.com Twenty-four “right sized” homes are available for purchase in a neighborhood in the central part of the city, near essential services and on the bus route. There is a common house in the center of the neighborhood that has a dining room large enough for all the neighbors to eat meals together 3-4 times a week and share activities on a daily basis. There are guest rooms in the common house for any company that comes to visit from time to time.
Fourteen households have already bought into the community and I am one of them. I decided that I didn’t want to stay in my own home until I had some major health issue arise and find myself faced with having to go into an institutional situation just because I could no longer drive, or care for my house and yard, or accomplish activities of daily living all by myself.
This may be something that is right for other persons who are 55+ years of age, ready to get out of denial about aging, and willing to plan for aging successfully.
Cohousing: A living arrangement that combines private living quarters with common activity areas in a community whose residents share in tasks.
There’s this one short definition of cohousing in the American Heritage Dictionary, but Charles Durrett has written several books about it, including The Senior Cohousing Handbook. The term may be new to us, but the concepts described in the book are not. Many of us seniors (aged 55+) do, fortunately, remember the fun of living in a small community where people knew each other and were happy to be involved with each other in making the community work.
Stillwater has long been known for its innovations, and it will be again through cohousing. Because we’re living longer, there’s now a place in Stillwater that promotes in every way the lifestyle to support healthy, engaged living. Oakcreek Community, on Husband Street near Boomer Lake, is the first and only senior cohousing community not only in Oklahoma, but in the Great Plains Region. There are only 4 or 5 other such communities for seniors in the U.S. Many aspects of its creation make it unique, but one that I like is that the future residents have developed and designed it by themselves for themselves (with the help of architects Charles Durrett and Kathryn McCamant.)
Free at Last!
I too think that Stillwater is working toward making an attractive retirement community where there are supportive services, a variety of housing options and many opportunities to keep mind and body engaged. As I downsize my possessions, I feel a sense of freedom from my things, home and yard owning me! Simplifying life will enable me to spend more of my time on service, community and play that keeps one healthy and have a positive outlook as I age in place. Choosing to live in Oakcreek, a close community of neighbors, not only keeps one from being lonely and isolated, but enables each person to be helpful to one another when needed.
Financial decisions aren’t easy for most people. As I began investigating options for my later years, I was shocked at the price of long-term-care insurance, then at the cost of care in an assisted living facility — $2400 - $3500 per month and an additional $1050 - $1680 for a spouse. The costs, I found out, didn’t include personal care assistance, nor the initial cost of getting in. Also, I’d never pictured myself in that setting. So, I just stopped thinking about it. Then, a friend asked if I’d heard about a meeting to discuss an alternative, Stillwater Senior Cohousing, now Oakcreek Community, at 1806 N. Husband. I attended the meeting and joined several months later. It was an emotional decision, as many life decisions are. However, it turned out to be a very good financial decision. The costs are the purchase of a private home (4 sizes from $151,000 to $267,000), the price of which includes 1/24 of the common house and 1/24 of the 7.5 acres, and HOA dues of about $200 - $300 a month — that’s it. Heating and cooling is efficient geothermal, insurance on our homes will essentially be renter’s insurance [actually condo insurance]. The experience of living in cohousing reduces or eliminates the necessity of ever having to move into assisted living or other institutional living arrangements, since residents know each other well, assist each other as needed, and share the normal tasks of gardening, landscaping, shopping, cooking frequent shared meals, and other elements of community living. I can picture myself living on the 7.5 acres with other people who want to stay connected to life by staying connected to the people and the environment there. There’s no dollar value that can be placed on having fun with friends, and because the financials are good too, I feel like I’ve made a very good decision to last the rest of my life.
Amid the clamor for more oil, more refinery capacity and more fracking, do you hear the voice of Nature calling upon us to be more respectful of the environment and to leave a smaller carbon footprint on Mother Earth? One group of Stillwater residents is heeding that admonition by utilizing geothermal heating and cooling systems for their new homes in Oakcreek Community, now under construction at 1806 N. Husband. Geothermal systems do not emit gases that contribute to environmental air pollution. They reduce the demand for foreign oil while encouraging energy production in the U.S. The city of Stillwater offers a rebate program for the use of ground source heat pumps, and the federal government has a renewable energy tax credit of 30% of the installed cost of a geothermal home comfort system. A geothermal system can also save homeowners from 40%-70% on their monthly utility bills. The EPA has acknowledged geothermal systems as the most energy-efficient, environmentally clean, and cost-effective space conditioning systems available. I encourage more local residents to consider this cost-effective alternative to heating and cooling. An investment in a geothermal system has immediate and long-term benefits for the environment as well as the homeowner.
Benefits of Living in Community – particularly Cohousing
Five years ago, my husband and I moved into the first cohousing community in Oklahoma. Three ideas drew our attention to cohousing: 1) the advantage of downsizing in order to live more simply (although we have always lived as “light” on this earth as possible); 2) the security of living in community, as we were planning to spend time doing medical work in Guatemala AS we had done in our younger years; and 3) the idea of being more connected to our neighbors.
When we first heard about plans to build a cohousing community in Stillwater, Oklahoma, where we were currently living, the concept of “living in community” sounded good. Once it was completed and we have lived here for five years we can attest to the fact that living in community really does have many benefits.
Cohousing is unlike most neighborhoods that generally have “Genie Door” neighbors; you can count the seconds it takes for them to enter the driveway, then the garage, and finally to close the garage door. They are friendly if you happen to make a chance encounter, but are not really interested in involvement with you beyond that.
In cohousing you can really know your neighbors. As a community, you share tasks and share fun as well with scheduled and unscheduled (spontaneous) events. These interactions help you to get to know each other better. When I pass a neighbor on the interconnecting sidewalks that join the buildings of our community, there is genuine connection. We greet one another by name and actually talk with one another in a non “chit-chat” fashion. Also, when we return from a trip, the members of our community are always happy to see us and warmly welcome us home. For those who have no family near-by, there is “family” available right here in our community. This is quite evident during times of illness or distress, when cards, home-made soup, and encouraging words are normal experiences.
In community, we share skills and talents, each one contributing what he/she can for the good of the community—mechanical skills, gardening, music, cooking, and organizing, to name a few. I especially enjoy being able to “network” with my neighbors. If I need something for a certain project or even the “how to” knowledge to get it done, I can find a neighbor who can help me. The skills and talents shared with the community are appreciated. Someone will usually notice what you have done and thank you verbally or with perhaps a small token of appreciation.
In a cohousing community, it is easy to “drop-over” to visit your neighbors. In our community, everyone has a front porch to encourage this. If a neighbor is not wanting visits for one reason or another, the blinds of their home will be drawn to inform you of this.
A cohousing community functions in the way I think a neighborhood ideally should function. It’s give-and-take, compromise, and thinking in terms of what’s best for the community, not just what’s best for me. It’s like being part of a good marriage or part of a strong family. It’s worth the risk to step out and experience it first hand.