Let's take a new and careful look at cooperatives--from the perspectives ofseniors, those who study aging, and American public policy.
America's Senior Boom: Where Will They Live?
President and CEO
NCB Development Corporation
Housing cooperatives are the option of choice for many seniors wishing toremain independent. Several studies, including USDA's, have found anastonishing 98% approval rating by surveyed senior co-op owners.Approximately 70 senior co-ops exist in at least 10 states, ranging fromten units in rural towns to several thousand units in urban centers. Mostwere developed in the last 20 years, have long waiting lists, and theirnumbers are growing rapidly. Why are they so popular?
Indeed, cooperatives seem almost perfectly designed for independentseniors. In 1981 testimony before the President's Housing Commission,gerontologist Gerald Glaser concluded:
- More than almost anything, older people want to remain in control, andgerontologists agree that those who do are healthier. Cooperatives arecreated for the very purpose of empowering their members.
- Gerontologists also agree that seniors who remain socially active arehappier and healthier. The structure of cooperatives creates opportunitiesfor social interaction and support that are almost impossible to duplicatein other housing options.
- Economic security is a primary concern of seniors. Co-op ownerspreserve their resources through lower operating costs, growth of equity,and tax advantages. They decide what services they need and what they willpay."...the essential benefit of the cooperative is that it provides an economic structure and social framework that fosters self-reliance, self-control and determination, interdependence and cooperation among the resident members...factors (that) contribute directly to continued independent living, successful aging and the enhancement of longer life."We need to look at this far more seriously, as individuals, as co-opleaders, and as policymakers. For decades, we have tended to stereotypeolder people as dependent on assistance, usually financial or medical, whenin reality only a small minority of seniors qualify for subsidy or needsupportive services; 5% of those age 65+ live in assisted living or skilledcare facilities.
Dr. Judith Rodin, a prominent gerontologist and president of the Universityof Pennsylvania, believes the tendency to assume elders will becomedependent "...represents a pernicious, systemic reality throughout thehealth care industry and relevant American public policy, as well."Carroll Estes, in his book The Long Term Care Crisis, agrees: "(Americansociety) has simultaneously financed and institutionalized themedicalization of care...and fostered the dependency of elders."
Of course we cannot abandon the many older individuals who need support,and we must now also look realistically at who America's many new seniorsare and what they really want. We need to carry the message-- that thevast majority of seniors are homeowners, want to remain homeowners (albeitwith fewer maintenance tasks), and do not qualify for nor want subsidiesand extensive services. And we need to catalyze further development byeducating and providing support to potential consumers, project sponsorsand developers.
In his testimony Mr. Glaser also stated, "Aging is a minority as distant asour parents and as personal as our own lives and children." This is notjust an important policy issue. Co-ops can be our parents' homes--ourhomes. As we look to the mounting number of older people in this countryand ask, "Where will they live?" we need look no further than thecooperative model we know so well.
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