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11+ Steps of Planning a Senior Living Community

Published: November 7, 2022

Homegrown retirement communities are becoming all the rage, and with good reason! Unlike assisted living facilities and nursing homes, retirement communities offer plenty of independence, flexibility, and face-to-face interactions. Ready to hit the ground running on your own co-housing project? We’re here to walk you through all the logistics of organizing and building your own community, so you can make informed decisions along the way.

1. Organize a core group to found the community.

Both friends and acquaintances are possible candidates. Many people have found fellowship and community in a Golden Girls-type setup with their friends.[1] Other people have started their communities from scratch by holding public interest meetings, where interested households meet up and plan their co-housing arrangement together.[2] Ultimately, reach out to people who you would feel comfortable and happy to see on a regular basis.[3] Here are few ways you might pitch the idea:

  • “I’ve been thinking about downgrading my current living situation, but I’m not quite ready to join a retirement home yet. Would you be interested in building a retirement community with me?”
  • “I’m thinking about taking the plunge and developing my own co-housing community. Any chance that you’d be interested in joining me?”
  • “I know that this is a big ask, but I’m thinking about starting a new chapter in my life and creating my own retirement community. Would you like to join?”

2. Choose where to set up the retirement community.

Decide if you want to use an old property or build a new property from scratch. If your current home or property is large enough, you can subdivide your property into smaller homes. You can also buy a large, existing property to transform into a retirement community, like an old apartment building. If you have the time and resources, you can even build a brand-new community from the ground up by creating your own LLC and taking out construction loans.

  • “Subdivision” is a technical term for legally breaking up your property into smaller lots. Subdivision laws vary by state, so be sure to check with your local government office to see what the rules and regulations are.
  • If you’re building your community from scratch, you and your neighbors will work with architects to settle on an overall design for your community. This will probably include buildings that everyone can use, like a common house or dining area. All community members will chip in for these buildings. Think about building extra housing for a caregiver, too—they can provide really valuable support, and make everyone’s day-to-day lives a little easier.

3. Create a financial plan for all members of the community.

Outline how bills and other costs will be divided between you and your neighbors. Property taxes tend to be every household-for-themselves if each community member lives in their own home, while some utility bills may be divided up between everyone. Some homegrown communities ask for members to pay a monthly fee, too—chat with your fellow neighbors to make sure everyone is on the same page.[10] Here are some ways you might divide up your bills:

  • Individual: Utility bills for individual homes, monthly fee, property tax
  • Communal: Utility costs for common spaces, caretaker salary, communal equipment

4. Form a board of directors with fellow home-owners.

Meet on a weekly basis to iron out any organizational issues or conflicts. Chances are, you’ll probably run into a fair share of bumps in the road as your retirement community gets underway. To keep everything fair, schedule weekly meetings to discuss any major decisions about your community. Look for opportunities to compromise, so each neighbor feels like their opinions are heard and valued.

  • If some community members have an issue with pets, you might set up a strict leash law for anyone with a dog.
  • If someone uses all the washers and dryers at once, you could set up a sign-up sheet system.
  • If a household makes too much noise at night, you could set a “quiet time” at a certain point in the evening.

5. Set clear guidelines for the community.

A homegrown retirement community is similar to a homeowner’s association. While each household has a lot of autonomy, they still need to follow some basic rules to keep the community running smoothly. Feel free to touch on topics like:

  • Trash and recycling collection
  • Clean-up procedures for communal spaces
  • Pet policies
  • Move-in/move-out regulations

6. Develop a chore schedule.

Delegate different chores to every member of your retirement community. Some people might be assigned to tidy up the shrubs and flowers around the property, while others might be asked to mow the lawn or deep-clean a communal building. Whatever schedule you decide on, make sure that everyone knows what they have to do and when they have to do it by.

  • Your chore schedule doesn’t necessarily have to revolve around physical tasks! Feel free to assign less heavy-duty jobs (like event planning) to people with mobility issues.
  • Designate certain days to be “workdays,” where all your neighbors can focus on their community service tasks. This is a great way to save money in the long run!
  • You may need to call in a professional to help with certain tasks, like fixing some faulty wiring, repairing a leaky pipe, or clearing snow out of the communal parking lot.

7. Schedule communal time together.

Companionship is one of the biggest perks of a homegrown retirement community! Organize weekly or monthly events where all households can meet up and spend some quality time together. Here are a few ideas to get you started:

  • Potluck dinner
  • Bingo night
  • Movie night
  • Birthday or holiday party

8. Lend each other a helping hand when needed.

Ride sharing and meal prep are just a few ways to make a neighbor’s life easier. Check-in with your neighbors frequently and see how their week is going. Ask if there’s anything that you can do to help, whether it’s running an errand, pet-sitting their dog, or letting in the cable guy while they’re away from the house. Small, helpful gestures are what really make a community special. Here are a few other ideas on how to lend a helping hand:

  • Offering a ride to an appointment
  • Bringing them dinner when they’re feeling sick
  • Doing their laundry for them

9. Help new households transition into your community.

Provide helpful information for anyone interested in moving in. You might take your potential neighbors on a tour of the community and even treat them to a meal in your communal dining hall, if you have one. Before they make any commitments, encourage them to do a little research on cohousing so they can decide if community-style living is a good fit for them.

  • Talk with your founding community members about performing background checks on potential members before approving them into your community.


Housing of the Future


Co-authored by Justin Barnes and Janice Tieperman

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