Realife Cooperative offers independent living with cooperative ownership

Residents (L to R) Barbara Keigan, Mary Ann Zinniel, Shari Hoffman, Linda Urbik, Annette Koring, Jean Symanietz , Jo-Ann Haggenmiller and Amy Schaefer enjoy a cup of coffee together on the patio near the flower gardens at Realife Cooperative at Mueller Gardens. Photo by Frank Lee

Residents at Realife Cooperative at Mueller Gardens in St. Cloud say it is as close to owning and living in your own home as you can get, but without the challenges of home upkeep.

“I was getting up to that age where we had to decide whether we were going to stay where we were at or what,” said Ed Zinniel, a resident. “Because we have no children at all, we thought that this was the best place for us.”

The independent senior living facility for those age 55 and older is nestled in a quiet, residential neighborhood off Veterans Drive and has all the creature comforts one would expect — plus the camaraderie of those with same shared life experiences.

“The reason I moved here was because my husband died real suddenly, and I did not want to be in the house alone, and I needed to be with people, so that’s why I’m here,” said Donna Rossman, a resident. “It’s a family; it’s my second family.”

Ed Zinniel, a resident at Realife Cooperative at Mueller Gardens in St. Cloud, carefully makes miniature replicas of houses, including a church, using the tools in the community workshop.
Photo by Frank Lee

Realife Cooperative at Mueller Gardens has 50 units in the three-story complex and offers 10 different floor plans of one-bedroom, two- bedroom, and two-bedroom plus den apartments, ranging from 700 to 1,450 square feet.

What separates it from other independent senior living facilities is the cooperative living part of the formula. Residents buy a 1/50th share of the cooperative to become joint owners, “which creates a great sense of pride among the residents,” officials say.

A housing cooperative is a form of multifamily homeownership and is its own not-for-profit corporation, which is owned and operated by the residents.

“Everybody cares about everybody else, and we share and we do everything together, and I love every day of it,” Rossman said of the cooperative.

Residents pay a monthly fee that covers the cost of operating and maintaining the coop, such as the mortgage, property tax, insurance, utilities, management and maintenance employees, and a repair replacement fund, part of which is tax deductible.

“We don’t have any upkeep,” Zinniel said. “About the only thing we maintain ourselves is our apartment and keep it clean.”

Residents pay for their own electricity and optional indoor heated parking spot (Internet, phone and cable are included.) The limited equity cooperative is designed to control the price of its units, so they don’t fluctuate with the real estate market.

Shari Hoffman gives a tour of her unit, which was designed with seniors in mind. Photo by Frank Lee

Residents, who are in effect their own landlords, have more control than people who rent because they elect a seven-member resident board of directors who govern the St. Cloud-based cooperative.

“We buy a share (in our common-interest corporation),” said June Berry, a Realife Coop resident. “There are 50 units, so there are 50 shares. We have all the advantages of the tax breaks with real estate taxes.”

The monthly fees cover mortgage principal, interest and insurance premiums, real estate taxes, gas heat, phone, Internet service and DirectTV, professional management, water, sewer, trash removal, recycling, grounds upkeep, snow removal and more.

Shari Hoffman’s unit includes a raised dishwasher, raised toilet, step-in shower, reinforced towel bars, and wide doors with level handles. Photo by Frank Lee

The cooperative rooms were designed with seniors in mind, with a raised dishwasher, raised toilet, step-in shower, reinforced towel bars, wide doors with level handles and 5-foot wide hallways with handrails. It is also a secure building.

Resident Jean Evans said she liked the safety bars in the bathrooms for those with balance challenges to grab onto to prevent serious injuries from falls.

“I like living here very much because there is a lot to do, and you can do as much as you want or as little as you want,” Jo-Ann Haggenmiller said of the card-playing, gardening, exercising, movies and more that take place at Realife Cooperative.

The facility has two elevators and common areas for member use, including a fully equipped great room, a library, activities room, fitness room, wood shop, fireside lounge, craft room and a guest room.

“I run the movies, I lead the exercises, and I am also on some other committees having to do with the marketing and the security,” said Linda Urbik, a Realife Coop resident. “And I generally like to socialize and take part in the potlucks.”

Residents Donna Rossman, Muriel Keil, Jean Evans and June Berry enjoy chatting in the common area of Realife Cooperative at Mueller Gardens, which is billed as St. Cloud-based “independent living for active adults 55 and better.’” Photo by Frank Lee

The cooperative offers independent living, not assisted living. Residents are able to bring in any services they may need, including home health care, cleaning service or Meals on Wheels.

“I’ve had one neighbor ring my bell because I didn’t come down for something, so she wanted to make sure that I was OK,” Urbik said. “When I had my broken wrist, I had lots of help, so I didn’t need home health care.”

If you would like to schedule a tour or learn more about cooperative living, contact Brenda at 320-258-3094 or email stcloudcoop@usfamily.net.

“It’s just so great. I mean how many times we’ve seen somebody get hurt and you help them, or you know what to do about it,” saidShari Hoffman, a Realife Coop resident. “It’s immediate help from neighbors.”

  Realife will hold an open house from 1-4 p.m. Oct. 6. Anyone interested in checking out the facility and learning more about cooperative living is encouraged to drop in.

  To learn more about Realife Cooperative at Mueller Gardens, visit their website at www.realifecoopmuellergardens.org.