Affordable co-living for women

Women standing together

By Toni Massari

“Only two things are certain in life, death and taxes.”

Well … not quite, actually. Long before death, most of us will (hopefully) experience that other certainty: old age.

Now, for those who have been fortunate enough to live secure, structured and relatively affluent lives, nestled in the arms of an extended family, old age should not hold any great terrors – illness and disabilities notwithstanding. Family, friends and colleagues, religious communities, neighbours and acquaintances may form a community in which to age gracefully, loved and comforted by the care and company of others.

But life isn’t so kind to everyone, and some people will have experienced isolation, low paid work, even homelessness that led to financial hardship at crucial stages in life, preventing them from building a nest egg for old age, back in the days when employers weren’t obliged to set up a pension scheme. Those of us who are women may face additional obstacles; it’s more common for women to have lower-paid jobs, be a single parent and care for elderly parents. I speak from personal experience – a range of tragedies and setbacks over the years simply made it impossible for me to get onto the property ladder at any point in time. Being from another country and lesbian added another hurdle to fit in with more traditional communities.

Men and women alike, there are many reasons for why people can end up feeling isolated as they get older, and that’s something we need to change. I recall a day at work in a contact centre when an elderly lady called and opened with: “Luv, just talk to me, please! I have not heard a human voice for two weeks and I am going mad!”

I agreed to stay on the line and get back to her between calls, chatting to her about her life, memories and all sorts. I discovered she had been a volunteer during the war, a land army lass, and it broke my heart that her dedication was met with utter neglect. Her story was that of many others: no kids, widowed in old age, her neighbours and friends had passed away or were long gone from the area.

Now, some will say that retirement properties can get around this problem. They can, but they are certainly not within everyone’s financial reach, and even then, it’s not an appealing prospect for many of us. For as long as we can, why not stay active and enjoy life, surrounded by people who think alike.

So, what’s the alternative?

Well, how about Intentional Communities to live in as we get older? That is: forming a cooperative group to acquire property, perhaps with a housing association, that provides rentals, shared ownership and rent-to-buy apartments that are managed by their members.

The idea of coming together and forming cohesive, intentional communities is not new but is still associated with alternative lifestyles, hippies, or more recently, young digital nomads.

It would entail forming a group of people with shared values who could initially just get to know one another, form smaller sub-groups, each in charge of exploring an aspect of forming the co-op, such as looking at the cost of properties, speaking with housing associations and developers, writing out a constitution, exploring government and local authority funding opportunities, as well as charitable and ethical sources of finance.

But how do we achieve such a goal? Well, first of all we would find a way to network and meet, even if just virtually. Then, Covid permitting, progress to meet-ups in person, outings and picnics in our local area, to get to know one another better and form cohesive communities that work well together and build-up their skill sets for the tasks that lie ahead.

With time, the hope and intention would be to progress to smaller groups, to explore the options and possibilities, polling members for their aspirations, getting into conversations with the local authority, about the possibility to rent properties, or work with developers and housing associations to create ‘affordable co-living nests’.

It would be great to meet up with people interested in the idea in Bristol where I’d like to live, near my daughter and grandchildren. Anyone up for it? Send me a message via my profile, I’d love to hear from you! Thank you for reading. Toni



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