What is Cohousing?

Cohousing is an intentional community of private homes clustered around shared space. Each attached or single family home has traditional amenities, including a private kitchen. Shared spaces typically feature a common house, which may include a large kitchen and dining area, laundry, and recreational spaces. Shared outdoor space may include parking, walkways, open space, and gardens. Neighbors also share resources like tools and lawnmowers.

Households have independent incomes and private lives, but neighbors collaboratively plan and manage community activities and shared spaces. The legal structure is typically an HOA, Condo Association, or Housing Cooperative. Community activities feature regularly-scheduled shared meals, meetings, and workdays. Neighbors gather for parties, games, movies, or other events. Cohousing makes it easy to form clubs, organize child and elder care, and carpool.

Common Characteristics

Relationships

  • Neighbors commit to being part of a community for everyone’s mutual benefit.
  • Cohousing cultivates a culture of sharing and caring.
  • Design features and neighborhood size (typically 20-40 homes) promote frequent interaction and close relationships.

Balancing Privacy and Community

  • Cohousing neighborhoods are designed for privacy as well as community.
  • Residents balance privacy and community by choosing their own level of engagement.

Participation

  • Decision making is participatory and often based on consensus.
  • Self-management empowers residents, builds community, and saves money.

Shared Values

  • Cohousing communities support residents in actualizing shared values.
  • Cohousing communities typically adopt green approaches to living.

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Cohousing Glossary

GlossaryAffordable housing: As with any kind of housing development, affordability will vary considerably based on location, design, site requirements, common amenities, and availability of public or private subsidies. Many cohousing communities actively seek ways to make more of their units affordable. Some states or municipalities require developers of multi-family housing, including cohousing developments, to have a percentage of units meet a standard for “affordability.”

Coho/US: Coho/US is a national non-profit organization dedicated to raising awareness of the benefits of cohousing and supporting the development of cohousing communities nationwide. We serve as a connector and clearinghouse to grow and nurture cohousing. Visit http://www.cohousing.org/cohous.

Cohousing professionals: Businesses and/or individuals who primarily serve cohousing groups. These professionals include developers, architects and other consultants that provide specialized services for cohousing communities, including marketing, media relations and group process. Visit http://www.cohousing.org/professionals.

Common facilities: Facilities designed, managed and shared by a cohousing community (supplemental to private residences). Shared facilities typically feature a common house, which may include a large kitchen and dining area, laundry, and recreational spaces. Shared outdoor space may include parking, walkways, open space, and gardens. Since homes are typically clustered, larger sites may retain many acres of undeveloped shared open space.

Common house: A shared facility, often but not always a stand-alone building, that is owned and managed by the community. It typically includes a kitchen, dining area/great room, sitting area, children's playroom and laundry, and also may contain a workshop, library, exercise room, crafts room and guest room(s).

Common meals: Cohousing residents often share regularly scheduled meals in a common house, including meals prepared by community members, and pot luck meals. Each community determines what works best.

Community liaison: Serves as the contact person to keep Coho/US abreast of new developments within his or her cohousing community, and conveys information and support to the community from the Association. Contact us at http://www.cohousing.org/contact.

Consensus: A decision-making process in which an agreement is made by all members of a group, rather than by a majority or a select group of representatives. Essential elements include a degree of trust among members, a common purpose, time to understand the question carefully, a belief that each person has the right to be heard, and attention to the process used for arriving at decisions. A consensus decision represents a reasonable decision that all members of the group can accept though it might not be the optimal decision for every individual every time.

Eco Cohousing: A type of cohousing that can be formed through the retrofit or built from scratch processes of standard cohousing but has an emphasis of creating sustainable characteristics usually involving the growing of food and the low use of water and energy.

Group process: Refers to the behavior, communication or decision-making process of people in groups. Examples in cohousing might be, say, the way a site search committee goes about developing a list of criteria for suitable land, or how the community acting as a whole responds to a proposed action or policy. A trained facilitator can help a group toward accomplishing its goal by assessing how the group functions and the way individuals interact with each other in decision-making settings.

Intentional community: A planned residential community designed from the start to have a high degree of social cohesion and teamwork, with shared responsibilities and resources. In addition to cohousing, intentional communities include collective households, ecovillages, communes, ashrams, and housing cooperatives. While "intentional communities" frequently connotes a shared religious, political, environmental or social ideology, cohousing focuses on a strong sense of community with neighbors.

Repurpose Cohousing: A type of cohousing in which members buy and transform an existing building or neighborhood, remodel it and then, rebuild it all at once. Repurpose cohousing has the potential to be ecologically sound and provide opportunities to live in the dense parts of existing cities.

Resident management: Residents manage their cohousing community and may perform much of the work to maintain the property. Resident management allows groups to keep their maintenance fees low while making the community a satisfying a place to live and enhancing personal relationships through working together.

Retrofit cohousing: A type of cohousing in which neighbors transform an existing neighborhood over time rather than building from the ground up and all at once. Retrofit cohousing has the potential to be more cost effective than developing a brand-new community and can allow for more opportunities for rental housing in the community .

Right of first refusal: Some cohousing communities have a policy that the seller of a cohousing unit must offer his or her home for purchase to the community or to an individual or individuals within the community before putting it on the open market.

Senior Cohousing: A type of cohousing that is similar to standard cohousing except that it is designed by and for seniors who would prefer to live without the excitement of young families and with designs that assist them living independently for as long as possible.

Sustaining Communities: Cohousing communities who contribute $300 or more annually to support the programs and services of Coho/US. Visit http://www.cohousing.org/sustaining

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Imagine Cohousing....

“Imagine that you live in a place where you know all your neighbors and they all look out for you. You often encounter a friend as you walk to or from your car. You are invited, daily, to join others for a meal or a fun visit. When you go on vacation everyone watches your house and it’s easy to find someone to water the plants or feed the cat. When you need a little extra help, you have friends and neighbors ready to pitch in. You have community support that enables elders to age-in-place and prolong the amount of time they can live at home. Children grow up free range with next door playmates and a safe place to roam.

“It’s called cohousing, also known as an intentional community. It is a small neighborhood where everyone who lives there agrees to be a good neighbor. You know your neighbors and you all agree to look out for each other. Design and Community make cohousing neighborhoods different from typical tract home developments. Almost all homes today are designed around the automobile. You pull into and out of your garage and rarely see your neighbor. People in today’s society do not know their neighbor and have little social interaction. Most homes have empty guest rooms and a garage full of equipment that rarely gets used. Living in a big cluttered house in isolation is expensive, unhealthy and a lot of work.

“Cohousing is designed so you have maximum opportunity to interact with your neighbors. Homes with front porches face each other and are grouped around common areas. You can see what is going on from your front window and you cross paths with neighbors as you walk to and from common shared amenities or parking. This type of design encourages community living with social gatherings and activities where you get to know your neighbor. Your home is private with a full kitchen and features similar to any other typical home. If you want solitude, your home is your private domain. If you want community, step outside. Participation is not mandatory; your level of community involvement is up to you.

“Cohousing involves shared resources. There is a common house, which has a kitchen where group meals can be prepared, storage sheds with equipment like step ladders and garden tools that you use when needed, but don’t have to store. Because of access to shared amenities, you can keep a smaller house with less clutter, less work and less expense. The people who live in community decide how to operate and manage themselves. There are no managers or rules imposed upon you. This is an environment where people have come together who are in agreement to be cooperative and a good neighbor. When there is conflict neighbors work together to resolve issues in a healthy way.”

Ty Albright Project Management
Little Red Hen LLC
214-336-7952
tmalbright [at] verizon [dot] net
www.linkedin.com/in/tmalbright

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Slideshow: What is Cohousing?

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Chinese: What is Cohousing?

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Qu'est ce que le cohousing (french) 2014

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Que es cohousing (spanish) 2014

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Why are People Choosing Cohousing?

Why are People Choosing Cohousing?
Interest in cohousing has surged in recent years, a trend driven by baby boomers seeking a downsized, community-oriented and environmentally-friendly lifestyle. Cohousing is also gaining traction among millennials as they search for a better way to raise their children.

Community
As social scientists confirm, we’re happier, healthier, longer living people with daily social interactions and connections. A recent UCLA study suggests that loneliness is a health hazard. “A wonderful aspect of cohousing is that you can enjoy your privacy and individuality, but you can simply walk outside to enjoy the connections all around you” explains Peter Lazar, a member of Shadowlake Village Cohousing in Blacksburg, Virginia. “It’s nice not feeling like another face behind a door backing out of the carport, but a person who’s relied upon, and who can rely upon others nearby when necessary,” shares Carolyn Kroll, a member of Durham Cohousing in North Carolina.

Sustainable
Cohousing allows residents to pool efforts and resources for occasional shared meals and child and elder care. Shared gardens, and environmentally-friendly structures contribute to lower carbon footprints. “The intention is for communities to come together and share resources rather than pulling into your garage and closing the doors and never knowing your neighbors,” says Shawn Mulligan, who lives at Stone Curves in Tucson, a community that recently celebrated its tenth anniversary. Sharon Cluster-Boggess, a member of Jubilee Cohousing shares, "I really do believe the ability to work together in a community is what is going to save the planet."

Life Enhancing
Cohousing offers a feeling of security, both physical and financially. Common values usually encompass living a healthy lifestyle, respect for the environment, lifelong learning, personal growth and positive contributions to society. Steve Chiasson, a member of Belfast Cohousing & Ecovillage in Maine, said the experience of helping create the community he lives in, the responsibility of shaping it going forward in the company of thoughtful, values-driven neighbors "helps me feel more relevant and engaged," he said. "And we all know that staying active, physically and mentally, keeps us healthier as we age."

Cohousing a Successful Model

Research conducted by Coho/US in 2011 confirms that cohousing is good for children, parents, singles, seniors, the neighborhoods around them, and the environment. Cohousing as a model has been highly success in terms of member happiness and life satisfaction, and reduced energy use and resource conservation. This success has given rise to some interesting spin-offs in affordable and supportive housing projects for veterans, special need groups, and others, that physically look and act like cohousing – evidence that others have learned and benefited from the pioneering work of cohousing.

The loss of neighborliness and social connection over past decades and the resulting negative psychological and physical health impacts have been extensively profiled in recent years. Cohousing communities are an innovative and sustainable response to today’s challenge of social connection.

From David Wann, author of Reinventing Community, and a member of Harmony Village in Golden, Colorado

I believe the mini-movement of cohousing is partly a response to a perceived loss of trust and individual control that’s becoming pervasive in our world. People gravitate toward do-it-ourselves communities because they sense they can be better heard and understood in a place that strives for cooperation and support. They can be neighbors with others who want to help put the pieces back together.....The world is sorely in need of focused, nonpartisan cooperation right now. Why not deliberately create neighborhoods that are safer, friendlier, and healthier? Is there a downside to this?

The reason cohousing fuels my own burning soul is that many of its experiments are extremely valuable to a society so distracted by materialism and so shell-shocked by the frantic American lifestyle. What kind of experiments am I talking about? Consensus decision-making; participatory design; alternative sources of energy; alternative sources of information; shared resources and designs that reduce each person’s ecological footprint; aging gracefully and vigorously; neighborhood activism in surrounding towns and communities; and collaborative management of neighborhood resources, to name just a few. In general, residents of cohousing are living actively rather than passively.

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