Monday, March 9, 2009

How much nest with the nestegg?

Here's an interesting article from Alternet that asks whether, with the collapse of housing prices and people's retirement funds, there will be a rethinking among baby boomers of the one-house-per-family paradigm. To make housing costs more affordable and to stretch those entitlement funds (that are in many cases - more than we thought a couple of years ago - going to be the main means of support for many of tomorrow's seniors), people will be thinking about such "new" arrangements as co-housing, boarders, group homes and more.
“In the last few months we've experienced explosive growth in interest by homeowners age 50-plus to find rooms and roommates,” says Jacqueline Grossmann, Chicago coordinator for the National Shared Housing Resource Center, "The trend now is getting younger and younger. People in their 50s and 60s are losing their nest eggs and increasingly willing to give up their privacy in exchange for rents of $500, $600 a month.”
The article goes on to ask if this might not be one of those silver-lining opportunities of our current financial situation.
As more and more boomers scale down their retirement plans and consider alternative living arrangements, it's worth asking: Is shared housing such a bad thing for aging boomers? Does a return to the Communal idea, borne of economic necessity, also have emotional, social, and environmental benefits? Why wait for the retirement home or hospice to live with other people? With the nation full of worthless, ridiculously large, and mostly empty houses, why not fill them with the newly penurious and like-minded boomers in need of housing?
When Joe Rodriguez of Your Money or Your Life fame retired from Wall Street at the age of 30, he had investments that guaranteed him an income of $6,000 per year, and that was before the massive inflation of the 70s reset the value of the dollar. One of the main mechanisms I remember him mentioning as to how he made this arrangement work was the sharing of housing and housing costs.

In addition to the savings, as the article mentions, there are advantages in terms of environmental impact (more people in fewer houses means fewer homes to be heated and cooled) and social connectedness (as people form families-of-choice, they are emotionally invested in others' lives in a way that aging grandparents miles away from their kids rarely are). Not to mention that a more communal lifestyle will counter a lot of the YOYO (your on your own) propaganda of the past 30 years, which sees any social connectedness beyond blood and church as invasive. Is it any wonder Americans are so neurotic?

Our current financial mess can be useful if it causes us to rethink our goals, both individually and as a society. Rather than just Humpty Dumpty back together again, it may be time to move past the failed models of recent years and toward a way of living that is less focused on acquisition and economic growth, and more focused on sustainability and the sharing of resources.

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