June Berry had no intention of moving when she received a card in the mail advertising an open house for a senior cooperative housing complex.
Curious, she and her husband decided to take a look around. During the visit, they met another couple from England who invited them in for tea and cookies.
After a follow-up visit, the Berrys decided to sell their house and are now residents of Realife Cooperative at Mueller Gardens here. "It was the best move we've ever made," June Berry said. "It's friendly. We always know there's someone here who will help us if we need any help."
The cooperative, one of a growing number, primarily in the Midwest, offers seniors independent living in a community setting. Unlike assisted-living facilities or other common forms of senior housing, members own the cooperative collectively, enjoy tax and financial benefits as homeowners and have control over decisions affecting the community.
The first senior cooperative was developed in 1978 in Edina, Minn. Over the past 30 years, it's remained largely a Midwestern phenomenon. Of the roughly 102 senior cooperatives nationwide, almost 90 are in Minnesota and Iowa, mainly due to local developers and financial lenders who have embraced the concept, said Dennis Johnson, board chairman of the Senior Cooperative Foundation in St. Paul, Minn.
But with the anticipated wave of baby boomers reaching retirement age, cooperatives could offer an alternative housing choice for seniors seeking independent, maintenance-free living and social interaction, said Keith Jans, president of Real Estate Equities Development based in St. Paul.
"I think there's great potential for where this can go," Jans said.
•Jans' company has built 11 senior cooperatives under the name Village Cooperative and is averaging four new projects each year, mainly in Iowa. The company is looking at expanding to South Dakota, Nebraska and Missouri, Jans said.
•Silver Glen in Bellevue, Wash., is a 155-resident cooperative for seniors 55 and older that's unusual on the West Coast. Property manager Laura Hargitt said there's a waiting list.
•Applewood Pointe has seven cooperatives in the Twin Cities that are home to about 1,000 residents. Brian Carey, senior vice president of development, said he believes the cooperative model will see a lot of growth in the future. "It's really the Baby Boomers who are fueling the demand for this type of housing," he said.
Cooperatives are targeted for active seniors who are able to live independently but want to be in a social setting among their peers, Carey said.
Most senior cooperatives are three- or four-story buildings with one- or two-bedroom units. Many have community rooms, gardens and space for activities from woodworking to poker.
Mueller Gardens residents joke that this is their "senior dorm." Activities abound, including Scrabble and card games, potlucks, Saturday night movies, poetry readings and speakers. Ben Poepping, a retired postal worker, and his wife, Mary Ann, recently celebrated their 60th wedding anniversary in the common great room.
"Of all the places we've seen, this most appealed to us," Ben Poepping said. "Financially and everything else, it just suited our needs."
Cooperatives offer financial advantages, since residents can deduct their mortgage interest and real estate taxes just like single-family homeowners, Carey said. Also, in a limited-equity cooperative, the value of a membership increases by a preset amount for every year they remain in the building, Johnson said.
Despite the rocky real estate market the last few years, senior cooperatives have tended to hold their value relatively well, Jans said. One disadvantage is that when a resident moves out or passes away, the family must continue to pay the monthly fee until the membership is sold. The slow housing market can make that a little challenging, but most developers have waiting lists and are able to fill the units, Carey said.