Rural seniors face unique housing challenges. Despite high ownership rates, the housing stock in which most seniors live tends to be significantly older. Although housing costs in rural areas tend to be lower than in cities, many seniors have difficulty meeting even these lower housing costs. For a significant number of them, housing costs account for almost a third of their monthly income. For low income seniors who rent, the situation can be even worse.
For all seniors, the day will come when they have to decide how much longer they can maintain their homes and their independence. In most rural communities today, seniors who can no longer stay in their homes have limited choices: move in with family, which may mean leaving the community; move into rental housing, thereby depleting their equity; or, if any exist in the immediate area, go to an assisted living or nursing facility and begin to deplete their life savings.
If asked, many seniors still would have a strong preference to remain independent in their own homes as long as possible; however, many also would welcome an opportunity to give up the single family home if they felt they had an affordable better option that was different than traditional senior facilities. This is the group of seniors who would find cooperative housing an interesting option.
Cooperative housing that would be appropriate for Seniors
- It can be new construction, like the bulk of the cooperative housing that exists primarily in the upper Midwest. Nationwide, there are currently 60 senior housing cooperatives.
- In some communities, vacant or historic buildings can be converted to cooperative housing. That has happened in Lanesboro, a small town in southeastern MN that is experiencing a growth spurt due to a rapidly expanding tourism market. Northcountry Cooperative Development Fund, a Minneapolis-based, USDA-funded cooperative development center, went to work, secured local property tax breaks from the municipality and rehabilitated a landmark building that has been converted to a 21- unit housing cooperative.
- It could also take the form of conversion of rural rental property to cooperative ownership. Much attention is currently being given to the 15,000 properties in USDA’s 515 program. With 58% of the 400,000 plus units occupied by the elderly or disabled, this is certainly a current source of housing for many senior citizens. Whether or not this housing is suitable for cooperative conversion is still unclear. Most properties are small, making it difficult to achieve economies of scale. Most residents have an average annual income at roughly $9,000, and it’s doubtful that they would be able to live in the units, regardless of the structure, without rent subsidies. Some suggest that formation of mutual housing associations might at least provide residents with a voice in the management of the property.
- Another interesting source of cooperative housing results from the conversion of manufactured housing parks (formerly known as mobile home parks) to cooperative ownership. Most of this has been happening in Florida and New Hampshire, but it could be an option in other parts of the country. The leader in this work is the New Hampshire Community Loan Fund and, today, that state has 65 cooperative manufactured housing parks, representing 3,200 housing units, with an average of 5 to 8 co-op conversions each year. Many of the residents are senior citizens. The conversion to co-op not only helps owners gain control over the land and upgrades to the grounds, but the Fund also has a loan program that helps coop members upgrade to more energy efficient manufactured housing stock.