Maison des Babayagas: the ‘Anti-Retirement Home’

20 March 2024

In the heart of the lively Parisian suburb of Montreuil stands the Maison des Babayagas. A self-managed ‘anti-retirement home’ for older women, the Babayagas community stands for solidarity, autonomy, community, and feminism. Our Ageing Topic Group recently met with the leaders of the Babayagas Association to find out more about this alternative living initiative.

Retirement: A new beginning

The Babayagas, drawing their name from the witch-like figures of folklore, want to revolutionise common perceptions of ageing. Their motto: “Ageing old is good, ageing well is better.” Rejecting society’s often negative view of ageing and the infantilisation of older people, Flora Fernandez, resident and President of the Babayagas Association, emphasised that retirement should be a new chapter of growth, learning, and achievement.

Breaking the mould

Before opening in 2013, the house was co-designed with future residents. There was a clear demand from the start: the house must not look like a traditional retirement home at all. “When selecting the architect, our intention was to break away from everything that had been done before,” explained Fernandez.

Today, the house has 21 apartments available for women aged 60 and over. The units are self-contained, offering everybody their own space and autonomy. However, community life is key to the Babayagas ethos. Common areas host a range of activities, involving both residents and the wider community. Often, these serve as a gateway for prospective tenants.

The importance of history

Central to the house’s identity are the values of feminism. It was founded by French feminist activist Thérèse Clerc, a trailblazing advocate for women’s rights. The history of the house clearly holds an important place in the hearts of those who live there. “Women often live longer than men, but they also often have access to less pension,” explained Fernandez. The Maison des Babayagas aims to help redress the balance, reserving apartments exclusively for older women. Nevertheless, there are also four additional apartments available for any person under 30.

Community life

The Association has a strong collaboration with the local housing association Est Ensemble Habitat to support its mission. However, self-management is a firm value. Decisions concerning the house are made collectively by the residents.

How does community life function on a day-to-day basis? Are there disagreements. “Of course,” stated Catherine V., resident and Secretary of the Maison des Babayagas Association. “Like in any group of people, we sometimes have our difficulties. But what you will see in all our residents is a sense of solidarity.” The value of solidarity is reflected in the way that residents care for each other when someone is in need, as well as in the costs of the housing. Rent is determined on individual means, ensuring that people are not excluded based on their income.

Our Ageing Topic Group was so pleased to learn more about this community initiative which reimagines homes for older people. We certainly gained lots of insights and inspiration to bring back to our own organisations. We would like to express our gratitude to our kind hosts at Maison des Babayagas and to Est Ensemble Habitat and DELPHIS for facilitating this visit.  

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