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Originally Published  in The Spec

As they age, many people want to stay in the comfort of their own homes as long as possible. But Judy Shepalo, a seniors real estate specialist, thinks there are better options. A co-founder of Cohousing Hamilton, she and a number of other local residents are hoping to build the first “cohousing community” in the city — a neighbourhood where residents can live independently while pooling resources.

“This whole notion of aging in place, that’s what cohousing can provide much better  (than living alone),” said Shepalo, noting that cohousing communities allow for informal support systems because residents look after each other.

Cohousing is a concept which began in Denmark in the 1960s, but today there are more than 150 such communities in North America. Residents share ownership of the neighbourhood, help plan and design the community and are involved in its management and upkeep.

Cohousing Hamilton is a group that formed in December 2019 to establish the first such community in Hamilton.

A cohousing community tends to feature between10 and 35 households with a range of ages and family size. Residents usually live in their own independent households, but can come together to share resources and skills. There’s generally a “common house” with shared spaces, like a kitchen and dining room, guest rooms and laundry, for example.

The concept is different from “co-living,” where people share a house. With cohousing, residents will live in separate dwellings, but share meals, cars and other resources. Shepalo believes a cohousing community will help reduce costs for social services and health care, because the residents support each other.

“If someone gets sick or breaks a leg or whatever, I think that would just become a natural thing … that people would just rally and look after them as much as they can,” she said.

She noted the community is not just for seniors. It would include families from different generations, but it would not be a substitute for long-term care. Shepalo said the group has been speaking with city councilors about the project and they’ve been supportive.

“It’s a great idea, it’s been very successful in other jurisdictions, and it makes a lot of sense for people as they age to be able to share resources that they might not need on a daily basis,” said Ward 8 Councillor John Paul Danko, who is chair of the city’s public works committee, and vice-chair of the planning committee.

While Danko anticipated some “technical challenges” like special zoning provisions for the property, he said that the easiest way for Cohousing Hamilton to build a community would be to buy land that already meets the main zoning criteria — such as land which is zoned for townhomes   — and modify it according to their needs.

“The problem is,  all of that property in Hamilton that would be shovel-ready … has been bought off by developers for years and years,” Danko said. “The likelihood of them finding that is pretty low, unless they were able to work with a developer that already owns something.”

For now, the group is looking to recruit participants who would be interested in living in a  cohousing community. They hold monthly Zoom calls to discuss the project and in December, plan to hold a session for people to learn more. Shepalo hopes that by next year, the group will incorporate and be ready to find land.

Ellen Ryan, a Cohousing Hamilton member and professor emeritus in the health aging and society department at Mc- Master University, said cohousing is one way for people to plan ahead for their later years.

“A cohousing community will help anybody who wants to … feel like they belong in their neighbourhood,” said Ryan. “People who enjoy giving peo- ple a hand when they need it and can learn to enjoy asking for a hand when they need it.” The Cohousing101session will be held Dec. 5 from10:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. For details, contact Shepalo at 905-517-6494 or co- [email protected] The group is also on Facebook @CohousingHamilton.