Sometimes life imitates art, and such was the case for a trio of Ottawa ladies who embraced the idea of co-housing.
Remember the TV show The Golden Girls? It was a 1980s sitcom about four mature women who moved in together to share their golden years, sometimes with zany results. Ottawa’s version was much more amicable – yet just as rewarding – and worked wonderfully for 16 years for the three women involved.
Jo Wood, Barbara Riley and Virginia Carver were close friends long before they decided to move in together in 2001 and that’s a big part of why they were such good roommates: they knew what to expect from each other. And they didn’t rush into it.
Co-housing is a great option that’s not limited to seniors, although it’s often seen as being of particular benefit to them.
It offers companionship, support and a pooling of resources to reduce household costs, while letting seniors maintain their independence. Although there are different types of co-housing, they share the attributes of combining the autonomy of private space with the advantages of community living.
Ms. Wood, Ms. Riley and Ms. Carver, who were all single, researched various options both locally and in Toronto.
“That was very helpful to see what we might want and, more importantly, what we might not want,” says Ms. Riley.
Ultimately, what worked for them was an arrangement in which they lived much as a family would in a large single-family home in the Glebe.
“We all had our individual space, which is good, but we also shared the whole downstairs, the kitchen, living room, dining room – and to do it that way you’re really committing to kind of live like a family,” says Ms. Wood. That’s why it’s so important to really know the people you’re thinking of moving in with, she adds. Just as important is that they shared values, which was key to how they got along so well.
And they made sure they had everything regarding the house in writing, a binding legal contract. “That put us on a very concrete footing to have that,” says Ms. Wood. “You don’t want to do it on a handshake.”
The contract covered big things, like what the options would be if one of them wanted to leave or passed away, and the little things, like what would determine whether or not they would put a birdbath in the backyard (a simple majority).
Having the contract made it comforting to know the options when Ms. Carver’s health failed. Sadly, she passed away in June, prompting Ms. Wood and Ms. Riley to sell the home. They could have brought in another roommate, “but we thought this was probably the time to downsize,” says Ms. Riley.
Now well into their 70s – and missing their friend terribly – they have shifted to renting, moving from the five-bedroom, 2.5-bath home into a three-bedroom, one-bath semi-detached that’s still in the Glebe.
“We just didn’t see the point of taking on those kinds of worries anymore,” says Ms. Wood. “It seemed like a good idea to be able to call somebody up if something broke and not have to worry about it.”
But their 16-year adventure was a definite success.
“We made the most of it,” says Ms. Riley. “We got to know each other’s families, each other’s circle of friends, and were able to do much more just because there were three of us to do it together … and we really enjoyed the house. It was a great house and the family that’s going to move in is going to love it.”