I (Kris) toured Wolf Creek in California while in the area for a family gathering. It turns out that my sister Carol knows the person who replied to my email, Bob Miller, from a church they both attended in Grass Valley. He was away, but we were met by Magdalene, a 93 year old German woman, and Mike, who gave us a tour.
Wolf Creek is not specifically restricted to seniors, but is geared to that demographic, and has no kid-friendly elements. Age of current residents ranges from about 60 to 93. There are 30 units in total.
Grass Valley is a small city (13,000 people) in the Sierra foothills, about 60 miles from Sacramento. It has lots of parks and hiking trails, and is very close to major recreational attractions like Lake Tahoe – some residents still also own Tahoe area cabins. Wolf Creek is right next to small strip mall on one side, and on the other side, you can walk down a set of stairs to the creek. There are lots of arts, restaurants and activities in Grass Valley, and people spontaneously get together to attend events.
The did have difficulty when one woman developed Alzheimer’s, but otherwise feel that they have done co-care very well.
We didn’t get any real origin story – Chuck and Katie, the US cohousing gurus (who now live in Nevada City, just 4 miles away) were involved from the start, and presumably were instrumental in getting people together and moving things along. The site was supposed to include a senior community and an intergenerational one, as well as a few individual homes that would have some connection to the groups, but then the housing crisis of 2008 happened. Less people could commit, and only the one, merged group went forward.
Many (including Mike and his wife) were not local to the area; they had been looking at a number of options up and down the west coast and even out east, and liked this one best. Many came from the Bay area, but also further afield. This area would naturally draw people who want to leave Sacramento or the Bay area but not go too far – might this be similar for sites a few hours from Toronto?
Common meals are quite frequent, about 4-5 times a week. Most people just naturally participate; everyone is expected to do something once a month. There is a calendar and you pick a date and come up with a team of 2-4 people and a menu, which can be the same every time (Mike and his wife do grilled Ahi Tuna every month, and everyone loves it). Some people just do prep, clean or shop instead of cooking. Each team buys the ingredients and gets a credit for the amount spent, and that credit is reduced when they attend the other dinners. Perhaps because it is so frequent, they have no issue with lack of participation, although there are some people who rarely attend.
The building is three storeys, with open, wide, fully covered interior-facing walkways connecting all the units, in two angled wings surrounding the patio, with the common house occupying the central portion of the building on the ground floor. Along this walkway, everyone has individual, personalized sitting areas, in a recessed area off their kitchen. There are three sets of stairs – one at each end and one in the middle, as well as an elevator up from the common house in the middle.
Most units are 2 bedroom, one bath, with the second bedroom being quite small. They have an open concept kitchen, dining area and living area. You walk through from the bathroom to the walk-in closet to the master bedroom. Off the living room, there is a small private back balcony (but road noise from the mall makes at least some of these unappealing). Some are 2 bed 2 bath, especially the corner units. Some are one bedroom (which we didn’t see) but Mike and Magdalene felt that these are too small, especially for a couple. A few on the third floor are odd sizes.
The common house is nicely appointed. Once again though, there are folding tables; Mike didn’t want these but one member was insistent, and now he agrees – it gives the room much more flexibility. The tables seem of good quality, and fold up into a neat, easy to store package with handles for carrying. They try to make them nicer at dinner prep – they tried tablecloths but that required too much washing; so now they use placemats, and people bring their own cloth napkins (stored in their mail cubbies between meals).
Decorating can definitely make them more appealing. The folding chairs are black, fairly comfortable, and good quality – good for about 2 hours of sitting, Mike said. The overall appeal of the dining area is definitely enhanced by the wood floor, trim, counters, cupboards and ceiling framework, as well as the wall murals. Without the institutional surroundings, the tables did seem more tolerable.
There are barstools at the kitchen peninsula, which allows the early guests to hang out with the cooks. There is also a great side wall bench seating area and a coffee nook. Open top shelves, countertop appliances and pull-out drawers without doors allow cooks to see where everything is. Once again, the kitchen is equipped with a fast sanitizer rather than dishwasher – what is the advantage? Speed? They had a handy list of all of the supplies that are regularly stocked in the kitchen and guest rooms.
They have a nice lounge area, with a 2-way fireplace shared with the main (dining) room, a nice outdoor patio with seating, umbrellas, BBQs (available for personal use or used for the common dinners), and Petanque court. Across the patio from the main building is an outdoor (fenced-in) hot tub and covered garages. There is also underground parking and outside designated spots, presumably for varying costs.
They have a multi-purpose room with printer, etc; mostly for team meetings (and sewing). There is also a separate small office; both rooms are behind doors. The laundry room, surprisingly, has almost no conflict despite having only 2 washers and 2 dryers – people tend to pick a time that works for them and stick with that. They also have stick-on buttons with instructions on whether laundry can be moved to the dryer or basket, to speed the process along. Some units have hook-ups but almost no one has individual laundry facilities. But it is definitely not a social gathering spot – perhaps because there isn’t any comfortable hanging out area in the room.
There are 2 guest rooms and also a guest suite, which is good for families with kids, but can also become a caregiver suite if needed. The main floor guest room shares a bathroom with the common area, but it is accessed from inside the room, and the doors can be locked to prevent access from outside when occupied. The other guest rooms are on the second floor, and the hallway between them has been turned into an art gallery to display works either by residents or purchased art on loan from them.
All are handicap accessible, as are the units. Much of the furniture in the common house came from individual homes – there was a team who made the decisions, and you submitted photos of what you wanted to donate, and the team approved or rejected your donation and decided where to put things. What we saw was very nice, tasteful, matching and in good shape.
Current cost is around $350-400k. Only a few units have been put on the market, and there is a waiting list to get in.
It felt like a community that worked – everyone knew each other well, and they had seen very little turnover. These people liked doing things together, and had lots of common meals, and seemed to have a work participation system that functioned well. The common house and individual units were attractive and well laid-out, and the size and shape of the building seemed to work well.