Coliving for the older generations


When people hear the buzzword of ‘coliving,’ generally a picture of young millennial's living together in a big shared apartment block comes to mind. But what about the opportunities coliving can offer for older generations? 

Coliving could be a solution addressing two of the upcoming problems of aging in the 21st century — firstly, offering access to safe and affordable housing for seniors, and secondly, combating elderly loneliness. 

Steve Lindsey is the CEO of Garden Spot Village, a retirement housing area in New Holland, Philadelphia, America. Having heard of the idea of coliving, and liking the idea of space-sharing with lower costs, Lindsey wondered if it could be applied in his Village. And so Thistledown, a coliving space for the elderly was created. 


It is a 4,000 square-foot space with private bedrooms and bathrooms for five people, with large communal areas, such as a kitchen, a spacious living room, and a meeting room. Thistledown was built by a community of volunteers, making the space even more special. For example, Franklin and Marshall College sent over a few busloads of first-years to help with the build. Many residents of Garden Spot also helped out. Because of this volunteer support, Thistledown cost $300,000, rather than the price of $600,000.

Thistledown provides middle class and low-income earning seniors with a place to call home and a community. The five women in their 70's who first moved in, now call each other “sisters.” They often cook together and share responsibilities to keep the house clean. Sharing their living expenses, the residents also have access to the larger retirement community of Garden Spot. Within the larger Garden Spot Village community, apartments, and small free-standing houses are offered to around 1000 people, all with assisted care, skilled nursing and onsite healthcare available. There are many amenities available such as restaurants, and beautifully maintained gardens. Exercise areas, equipment and group activities are also provided.

The Health Affairs journal, recently published a report on housing affordability for those entering older ages. It found that by 2029, 7.8 million Americans over the age of 75 would be unable to afford assisted living. There is thus a clear need for cheaper options, such as the coliving space of Thistledown, to address the “middle market’s” needs. Through creating the coliving space Thistledown, Lindsey has enabled greater socioeconomic diversity within Garden Spot, helping those with lessor incomes to access the enriching community.


Furthermore, loneliness and isolation is already a large epidemic facing older generations, and it is especially accelerated by poverty, with the health risks shortening one’s life. Coliving spaces provide a ready-made community for its residents — addressing the issue of loneliness in elderly. Older generations will also be able feel happy and safer in these community spaces.

Lindsey said that, “We believe firmly that we’re all created to live in community … that we are our best selves when we’re living in healthy relationship with other people.” Many elderly people are tired of living alone, and coliving provides an easy solution to this. 

Clearly, Thistledown is a housing model with great potential. It won a design award this year from Senior Housing News. The local University — Kansas State also provides a grant enabling architecture students to study the space.

Have you ever thought about the coliving model working for older generations?

Samantha Mythen