Nouma’s first project is guiding a group of six women in building their own co-housing, dubbed ‘Beienhaus’
Photo: Jan Hanrion/Maison Moderne
When The Beatles sang about ageing in ‘When I’m 64’ in 1967, life expectancy in Luxembourg was 70. Today people are expected to live to 82. How to enjoy those twilight years is being addressed by senior citizens-supported co-housing project Nouma.
Emma Zimer founded Nouma in 2016 after a career in the social sector. She felt that there was a lack of choice in existing accommodation for the elderly. “It shouldn’t just be the choice between staying at home or moving into a care home,” she said.
Add to that the wealth of evidence showing a connection between loneliness and an increased risk of premature death, Zimer created a solution through participatory co-housing, where senior citizens live in a building, whose construction they could project manage and finance.
“The idea is everyone has their own flat. There are communal areas: a living room or kitchen, which could be used by the community or rented out. It could be a café or crèche, for example,” Zimer explained.
Determining their futures
Nouma’s first project is guiding a group of six women in building their own co-housing, dubbed ‘Beienhaus’. “These people are over 60 and live autonomously at home. They want to create something positive for when they are older,” the entrepreneur said.
The group’s main challenge has been finding land. After months of searching, they appear to be close--Beienhaus was short-listed in a tendering process for land in Belair on a leasehold arrangement.
Another challenge is finding people to participate. The target community is not easy to reach and people in Luxembourg are attached to traditional housing models. Zimer added that with no concrete example to show them, it can be a hard sell.
But the six trailblazers are set in their resolve they do not want to live alone during the last part of their lives and see Beienhaus as a smart alternative to a retirement home. “It will be a huge step outside my comfort zone--a real challenge,” 64-year-old retiree Astrid admitted.
67-year-old Marie-France agreed it was a big challenge as “cohabitation like this is very new in our country but we still have the energy to do it”. She said what was important for her about the project was spending the last part of her life together in one place with people who have similar ideas and respect one another.
Cohabiting projects have existed abroad for several years, but their success comes often because they are cheap. “Here it is less the case. People are motivated by not wanting to live alone,” Zimer said. And what sets Beienhaus apart from existing assisted living facilities, is that residents essentially choose who they live with, increasing their chances of living fulfilled later lives.
“A co-location project for seniors does not yet exist in Luxembourg. I am sure once it is set up and the group has moved in, there will be followers,” Astrid said.
Given that over-65s are set to account for a fifth of the country’s population by 2030, and a quarter by 2060, according to Statec, Astrid’s forecast may be spot on.
This article was first published in the April 2018 edition of Delano Magazine.