Old Ottawa South Community Association

Illustration by Bess Fraser.
Illustration by Bess Fraser.

Seniors Co-housing: Rethinking Retirement

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After 30 years of living comfortably in OOS, I’m reluctantly looking around. There’s another “retirement residence” being built not far away. Maybe that’s a good thing. As part of the demographic bulge that includes baby boomers, I do wonder about how long we can comfortably live in a detached house that inevitably needs maintenance, has two sets of stairs and is really a bit bigger than we need. But is a “retirement residence” the only solution?

Cohousing arose in Denmark in the late '60s, with families sharing facilities in addition to their private living space. Laundry, larger dining and kitchen areas are shared inside, while parking, gardens, and walkways are shared outside. This promotes social interaction to form an “intentional neighbourhood.” Cohousing is now common in Europe, especially in the Netherlands, where there are over 70 mixed-generation and some 200 senior cohousing developments.

The idea was promoted in North America by Charles Durrett and Katherine McCamant (their books are available from the Ottawa library), and today there are multiple cohousing communities from California to Washington, DC. In Canada, we have active cohousing units in BC, Alberta, Ontario, Quebec, and Saskatchewan. Many in OOS will be familiar with Terra Firma, a successful cohousing arrangement that has been flourishing on Drummond Street for 20 years.

Terra Firma was formed by young families; other cohousing is designed for that “demographic bulge” – over 50s! It’s certainly a different approach to retirement living for healthy seniors, one where residents share responsibilities and costs as well as enjoying social interaction. Most senior cohousing approaches are multiunit buildings where each resident has a complete apartment and enjoys common space with others in the form of communal kitchens, gardens and workspaces. And there is a group in Ottawa currently planning one.

Convivium Cohousing for Seniors has existed for almost two years and is actively looking for a piece of land in central Ottawa on which to build. Because there is a strong desire among members to remain in Centretown, it is expected that the cost of units will reflect the current market. However, operating costs (and those condo fees can be high!) will be lower, as members share responsibility for the actual functioning of their building. They are currently recruiting new members.

If the idea is appealing, there’s lots of information available. For general background, the Canadian Cohousing Network (cohousing.ca) provides an overview. As well, Convivium has a website (conviviumcohousing.ca) that details their situation, including notices of occasional information sessions. They are happy to respond to questions at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Originally published in the June 2018 OSCAR.


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