New thoughts on congregate senior living

congregate senior living

Congregate senior living is a housing concept that offers seniors a setting in which they live in separate apartments but share some common spaces — such as kitchens, dining rooms, and activity areas — with other residents.

Although not for everyone — particularly those who need ongoing, on-site assistance with activities of daily living — congregate housing is becoming an alternative to more traditional options and could be part of the solution to the coming senior housing crunch. A group in Chattanooga is creating a new congregate model for those seniors who want to live independently within a support community.

Chattanooga Collaborative Senior Housing is a handful of aging boomers who want to build a small, eight-unit development that would have both private condominiums and shared community space. They see this as a simple way to retain their independence while downsizing their current living spaces, gaining the economic advantage of shared resources and creating a safe, convenient setting in which to enjoy life and social interaction.

"There are many people who want to retire in an urban environment where they have plenty of access to events and the arts," CCSH member Anne Curtis said in a prepared statement. "We also feel many are looking for a housing solution that is economical and sustainable." 

Each condo would be between 400 and 1,000 square feet, with one or two bedrooms, a kitchenette, a bathroom and a balcony. Shared space would include a bigger kitchen for community dinners, extra bathrooms, bedrooms, a laundry room, activity areas, sitting rooms and a library. This enables residents to maintain privacy within their own apartments and share the resources not needed on a daily basis. For security reasons and so that residents will be able to stay in contact with each other, there will be central, rather than private, entrances.

There are also environmental benefits the community could provide, including building with sustainable materials, sharing cars and having a community garden and landscaping. 

This is an interesting experiment that, if successful, may help create a model for building future senior living environments. Will it work for assisted living? There will be a health care services challenge as the population ages. In-home care may address that, but building communities of this type in proximity to medical services, or within larger senior living settings that include health care, may be a better course of action. 

And, of course, this community is being paid for with private funds. But could this model be part of the solution to the affordable senior housing crisis? If an economic, standardized model could be created and replicated across the country, and supported by a combination of private and public funding, this may be a good beginning.