By Rachel Hemmingson, Consultant & Advocate for Aging Well

When I was first working with Home Equity Conversion Mortgages, a woman called me with great shame and fear. She’d come to realize she would run out of money well before the end of her expected life.

Her community was a sparse, international group of specially trained psychotherapists. A single woman, she’d moved to Portland in her 60s.

Now in her 70s, she’d never made any real friends here. She counseled clients from home over the phone. She saw her colleagues at conferences overseas. She lived in a house set back from a busy street and surrounded by tall hedges. She had sisters in California. She felt she had a community, but she had no eyes upon her.

I gently informed her that, if she fell, she could lay out in that backyard for a very, very long time. She ended up using equity to fund modifications to her house so she could rent part of it out while keeping her privacy.

So what is community? Is it people in an area? Or with shared perspective?

The value of exploring the questions about what is true about your community is that, in difficult times, having a strong, caring community can be a literal life-saver.

If you’ve lived in your home for many years, there may have been a time when you were part of a community of parents with kids playing outside and that common ground created relatedness.

You may have developed deep friendships watching the gardens, yards and trees along the street mature.

Neighborhoods, however, do what’s called “turning over.” There may be no one left from that time and you may have no obvious commonality with the new homeowners. So where is your community?

You may experience community at a church, in a gardening group or book club. Maybe it’s through staying in touch with old pals and family, on the phone or virtually.

We are all reading and seeing a lot about both the need to physically distance from each other due to COVID-19 and the need to be proactive against isolation, especially as older adults.

I encourage you to think about what you can do to nurture supportive relationships you have, explore creating new ones and consider whether your home adds to or diminishes a sense of community for you at this time.

If, in fact, you feel disconnected on your street and perhaps uncomfortably alone in a now-oversized house, here’s an idea. Like my client those years ago, perhaps there’s a way to put your house to work as part of the solution to the lack of “middle,” affordable housing. Renovate or add a space for others. The added income from rent could be great, but so might the security of proximity, the occasional sharing of time and enjoyment and the support of shared chores to keep plants and pets happy.

Chosen well, your new property-mate(s) and their circle of people could be the start of a lovely new community of your own with eyes on you.