What Does it Cost to Live in Cohousing? (Dowds, Lazar, Villines, and Sanguinetti)

Presented by Philip Dowds, Peter Lazar, Sharon Villines and Angela Sanguinetti

Session Description

Cohousing is sometimes represented as an inexpensive or economical way to live, but — is it true? The cost of developing cohousing is much analyzed, but the cost of living in cohousing is less well documented. Coho/US is conducting a research program intended to come up with some specific numbers, and a better understanding of how different communities collect and spend common funds. Panel presentations will rely in part on this recent research conducted jointly by Coho/US and the Cohousing Research Network (CRN); time will be managed to allow explorations of questions from the floor. The panel will be moderated by Angela Sanguinetti PhD, Director of CRN.

Pay Now (Philip Dowds • Cornerstone Village, Cambridge, MA). Like other condos and HOAs, cohousing will have a program of annual fees and expenditures. From one community to the next, the per-unit cost of this annual budget can vary by a factor of five or more. Phil will look at the factors that can drive the annual budget up or down, and provide some real-life numbers and budget options that can help all communities plan and manage their operating costs.

Pay Forward (Sharon Villines • Takoma Village, Washington, DC). Cohousing communities own an extensive commons requiring, at irregular intervals, major re-investments — everything from fire alarm upgrades and roof replacement, to re-surfacing the driveway. Expenses like these often add up to thousands of dollars for each unit. Figuring out when these capital replacements will occur, and what they’ll cost, is part of the challenge; deciding how (or if) to save ahead, accumulating money in a capital replacement reserve savings account, is the other part.

Pay Less (Peter Lazar • Shadowlake Village, Blacksburg, VA). Cohousing is not your grandfather’s condo. Intentional community provides opportunities for sharing and collaboration that can and do offer significant benefits for the finances of member households.

About the Presenters

Angela Sanguinetti is an environmental psychologist, and a postdoctoral researcher at University of California, Davis, where she leads the Consumer Energy Interfaces Lab. Dr. Sanguinetti is a pioneering member of the Cohousing Research Network (CRN) and has published academic research about cohousing and intentional communities. She is interested in creative ways to bring the spirit of cohousing to the mainstream. Her research has identified common activities that are critical to achieving the personal, social, and environmental benefits of cohousing; examined accessibility of retrofit cohousing; and experimented to determine influences of message-framing on perceptions of and attitudes toward the concept of cohousing. Personally, she aspires to create and live in a retrofit cohousing community.

Sharon Villines lives at Takoma Village Cohousing in Washington DC where she served on the facilities team for ~10 years, using studies to manage the facilities and long term planning. She is involved in the reserve study process in her community and has done extensive reading and research. While teaching at SUNY Empire State College, Sharon served on the President's Council on Budget and Planning and in the process of designing several new facilities.

Peter Lazar is President of Coho/US and active in the cohousing movement, giving talks on the subject and leading tours. He and his wife, Molly, are founders of Emerson Commons Cohousing, which is working to build a 26 home cohousing neighborhood near Charlottesville, Virginia. For the past 11 years, Peter, his wife, and their two daughters, aged 12 and 14, have lived in Shadowlake Village Cohousing in Blacksburg, Virginia. On the work-front, Peter is an award-winning technology entrepreneur, and has been involved in the Web since its inception. He received an MS in Computer Science from the University of Virginia in 1993.

Philip Dowds is an off-the-clock architect, recently specialized in healthcare and eldercare design. In 2007, he and his wife Susan moved to Cornerstone Village Cohousing (Cambridge, MA; 32 units; opened in 2001), where they each remain active participants in many aspects of community life. He believes that community life runs better when approached in a more businesslike manner, and understands that his view is a minority one. Phil also serves as Treasurer of the Board of Coho/US.