Creating Community: Are you aging? Are you a Buddhist or a Unitarian Universalist? An old lefty? Maybe this is for you.

Creating Community: Are you aging? Are you a Buddhist or a Unitarian Universalist? An old lefty? Maybe this is for you. April 30, 2021




Are you aging? Are you a Buddhist or a Unitarian Universalist? An old lefty?

Do you wonder what the endgame should be looking like?

If so, perhaps this is worth a read.

It doesn’t mean I have a plan. But, I have some information. Whether it sparks plans, or is just helpful to you, or, hey, interesting is good enough, as well.

I mean for this post to capture some of my reflections and research regarding aging, retirement, and community. I write as someone involved in two spiritual communities, which for me have intertwined for good and ill: Buddhism (of the Zen sort) and Unitarian Universalism. I also write as an American with no children and whose familial ties are pretty much limited to those that come with my marriage.

Jan & I have a lifetime of concern with liberal religion, Zen practice, and social justice.

And dreams of community.

Thanks to becoming a Unitarian Universalist minister in my early forties, and my spouse become a librarian at about the same time, our resources are broadly middle class. In addition to our social security, we have savings, and we own a condo in Southern California.

What I’m looking at is how we, my spouse and I, face into the last phase of life.

We have happily embraced family obligations that keep us here in the LA area for now. But, what hangs is what happens when those obligations end?

I write here because I believe while the specifics of our situation are unique, there are some common concerns facing our many of our generation. I am interested in spiritual community, life care communities, cohousing and coliving, resident owned mobile home parks, and, maybe, Mexico. I’ve looked into each of these things in varying degree, and with varying intensity.

For those interested here are some thoughts and some pointers.

First, if you have the resources life care communities make a lot of sense. Life Care, sometimes called Continuing Care Residence Communities are professionally run, offering a range of supportive services for people at various stages of aging. While they’re open to people as young as fifty-five mostly people enter when they are at the cusp of eighty. There are both for profit Life Care Communities and nonprofit communities. For the life of me, I don’t know why anyone would consider putting themselves as they get increasingly vulnerable in the hands of people for whom they are a line item in a profit and loss statement. But, that’s me, an old lefty… There are lots of nonprofit Life Care Communities and many more are coming online, as it were. One needs to be conscious of their financial stability. And one needs to find a right fit.

And did I mention resources? There are many types of Life Care, the two that are most important, I feel are what are called Type A and Type B. Type A means after your buy in, the monthly assessment covers whatever needs you have. This is specifically about shifting from independent living to the various forms of care one might need on the way to death. In Type B these services are offered a la carte. If you have the money each have benefits.

Type A, the only ones I find actually interesting have a buy in that is most commonly about four to five hundred thousand dollars. I’ve seen a number where that buy in can be more than a million dollars. They look nice. It is possible to get a studio for a bit less than two hundred thousand dollars. With research one can find a one bedroom with a buy in of mid two hundred thousand dollars, although more commonly right around three hundred thousand. These are cash and they are up front. Some offer percentages back to the estate, but generally do that by charging more in the upfront. Then there’s the monthly. That seems to average about five to six thousand dollars per person. This number floats more, in my experience, than the buy in. I’ve seen some Life Care communities where the individual monthly is between three and four thousand.

As I said, good for those who can afford it.

The San Francisco Zen Center has aligned with a Quaker founded nonprofit provider to create Enso Village. If it fit my pocket book, I’d seriously consider it.

Here’s a very good essay on the pros and cons of Life Care communities. The same people provide a number of resources including a list of Life Care communities in California. Here’s a search engine for the whole country. The field is, as they say, a growth industry.

But, even though, as I said above, we’ve somehow, despite spending much of our lives on the spiritual path, landed middle class, Life Care Communities are pretty much beyond our reach.

Seven years ago when we started planning for the first stage of our retirement, and needed to be close to Los Angeles, I took an interest in three options. They don’t take you to death, but they can make a lot of sense. They are “villages,” mobile home parks, and Cohousing/coliving. Each offers an angle on maintaining connections, some sharing of resources, and ideally, shared vision.

The most value neutral is probably the Village model. Here people gather together to create neighborhoods in a classic sense of knowing your neighbors and looking out for each other. They are closely geographically defined, and create a network of mutual support. They cost money, but not a lot. They create affordable access to services from rides to home repair, to technology support. If you don’t know about them, you might want to. The Village to Village Network is their coordinating body.

The thing they’re most like is Cohousing. The difference for the Village is that the goal is independence, while Cohousing is reaching for interdependence. When we were looking to come back to California we looked particularly closely at Cohousing there was very little close in to Los Angeles, and we didn’t see a right fit for us of those few options.

While the idea is community, there are limits. Jan reminded me of a conversation she had with members of one community. One of their number had crossed into his early eighties, and he found himself needing increasing levels of support. People were willing to go into his apartment and install grab bars. They were willing to do extra shopping for him. But, it was glaringly obvious that soon they would be passing the level of mutual care that they felt they’d signed on for.

So, for most of these communities we’re not talking about a conscious commitment to a group and from a group unto death.

Among the problems with Cohousing is that it tends to be pretty expensive. There are exceptions, but for the most part buying in is going to be at or a bit above local market rate.

That said they are lively and offer a great deal for many needs. If you’re interested in Cohousing here’s a very good directory.

I am all about affordability. And with that I’ve stumbled on to the mobile home community world. While technically affordable for many, mobile home parks have largely become traps for people. You may own the home, but you don’t own the dirt upon which your home sits. And while the word mobile is still in use, these are not in fact mobile homes, but rather manufactured homes.

In recent years two things have begun too happen. One is the purchase of mobile home parks by nonprofits dedicated to affordable housing. The one I know about, and which strongly tempted us when we were shopping to move, is Millennium Housing. If there’d been a unit available in the park we were considering we might well have ended up there. For something for the sunbirds among you, you should look at their park in Palm Springs. As charming as charming can be.

The other thing and it is becoming a serious thing are Resident Owned Parks, ROPs. The homeowner either owns the actual dirt upon which their unit rests, or they have a share in the park’s ownership. Functionally there’s little difference. They’re governed by a state’s condominium laws. When we were looking finding ROPs was hit or miss. Now there are directories. Here’s one for California. And here’s a directory that covers much of the rest of the United States.

Many of these are quite small, and some rarely have an opening.

In my fantasy life I thought of purchasing a unit in a large enough park, and then to try and lure people of similar spiritual/political interests to create a community within the community. The ROP we were looking at also was within the geographical bounds of a Village. So… Lots of ways to engage.

And all have problems. Many don’t actually cover a community to live in now and within which to die thing. At least not without some financial resources for bumps toward the end.

Last there’s Mexico. The upfront downside is how you can read a lot of articles declaring Mexico a failed state. Or, if not failing, falling. They are not lying. Mexico has serious problems. And, that noted, there are many parts of Mexico that could make a very good and safe enough home for aging spiritual types looking for affordable community. For the locals folk coming from up North do bring some downside. Obviously a large Expat community can drive prices up around them. But mostly those raised prices are focused on the immigrants who mainly bring money. And on balance immigrants bringing retirement money are good for the community at large. And even with those raised prices life can be affordable for Americans with little more than social security.

This matters to me as I think of the bulk of those in my actual cohort, who have largely not acquired any significant savings along the way. This can be a way to maximize resources while doing good for others.

Here my Unitarian Universalist life opens some interesting doors. There are two real UU congregations in Mexico, one in San Miguel de Allende and the other in Ajijic. Both of these are areas with substantial American and Canadian retiree communities, where you can live with a minimum of Spanish language fluency. San Miguel is the fancier of the places, a world heritage site, with serious arts and culture cred. Ajijic and Lake Chapala is by all accounts astonishingly beautiful. And more affordable.

Health care is the major issue. For most things it really appears out of pocket is going to be fine. For more serious or chronic illnesses, think cancer, retaining some connection to the States and one’s medicare benefits make a lot of sense. If one’s finances reach into middle class, the occasional trip to the US for medical treatment of that more serious sort is probably affordable. And as for the end game, long term care and memory unit care is less than half, often much less, than what it would be in the US.

People are considering ways tot make a go of it in more collaborative ways. My friend Kerri Moon is creating a seriously affordable community aimed at people with a Buddhist interest, called Bodhi Village. If you’re looking for something right now, it may be something worth checking out.

In addition to SMDA & Ajijic I personally think about Ensenada in Baja and its close proximity to San Diego.

Anyway. In the moment Mexico is most on my mind. Not for now. But perhaps in a few years…

Or. The truth is where we are is pretty good. A lovely condo walking distance from the beach, coffee shops, and farmer’s markets. Could do a lot worse. Want to move to a lovely (if expensive) city and see what informal Village might grow up?

Thoughts. Mind bubbles.

At least for now.

If you have your thoughts on this subject, schemes, or plots, feel free to write me: jamesishmaelford @

"James, thank you for this fresh breeze of truth. On Holy Saturday, all pretense is ..."

The Zen of Holy Saturday: A ..."
"Thanks for this. Putting Amato and O'Brien in my queue. And so glad you included ..."

The Short Course in Zen: Five ..."

Browse Our Archives

error: Content is protected !!