Washington's Only Senior Co-op
Adrian Cole | Jul 29, 2011, 1:38 p.m.
Of the People, By the People, For the People:
Residents sit down to share their Silver Glen experience
Of the myriad types of community housing options retirees have to choose from, one that doesn't get much exposure is the senior cooperative, commonly called a co-op.This may be due to a couple of reasons. First, there is only one in the Puget Sound region—indeed; only one senior co-op exists on the entire West Coast. Second, just like the co-op apartments frequently located in places like New York or Seattle's Capitol Hill, the way they operate isn't always fully understood. Whereas other kinds of retirement communities have for-profit or non-profit marketing budgets to inform the public, nobody speaks for senior co-ops but the seniors themselves.Several residents of Silver Glen in Bellevue, the region's only senior co-op, were more than eager to sit down with Northwest Prime Time and talk about the benefits and attractions of senior co-op living. Since it opened in 1994, Silver Glen has sustained itself primarily by word-of-mouth referrals. Not surprisingly, the people who live in a co-op are the ones most likely to sing its praises. What is credible about this is that a co-op is successful only if its residents make it so. The governance and daily operation of any senior co-op is down to the folks that live there.But let's back up a little and explore the history of co-ops in general before we return to the particulars of a senior co-op like Silver Glen. Cooperative housing got its start in New York City at the beginning of the last century. Laborers, such as members of the Ladies Garment Workers Union, developed union or co-op housing as an affordable alternative to renting or ownership.This basic principle sustains co-ops to this day. Residents don't own their dwelling in the traditional sense. The members of a co-op own their residences collectively. As a result, co-op housing is generally more affordable. The extra steps (limited financing options, membership approval, etc.) required to buy and sell a co-op dwelling keeps the price in check. An equivalent apartment or residence usually commands a higher price on the open market than it does when structured as a co-op.It is precisely the appeal of increased value and affordability that drew Fred Jaffe to Silver Glen. Fred was one of the founding members (residents deliberately refer to themselves as members) of Silver Glen when it opened in 1994. Fred explained that Silver Glen got its start as the brainchild of the Senior Caucus at Group Health Cooperative. Although no longer officially connected with Group Health, Silver Glen's organizing members were able to secure financing, land, an architect, and a contractor. As Fred observes, putting all the pieces in place to develop a senior co-op from the ground up is no small feat, and may explain why they are such a rarity.The exception is the Midwest, specifically the area around Minneapolis, which boasts scores of senior co-ops. Senior co-ops are well understood there and have had tremendous momentum in that part of the country since the late 1970s.