Frequently Asked Questions About Cohousing
People Who Live In Cohousing
Who lives in cohousing?
Is cohousing best for certain kinds of families?
Do cohousing groups have religious or political affiliations?
How can I get to know the people in the group?
Do I have to like everyone?
Forming a Community
What is the process for getting involved in cohousing?
How do I become a member of a forming community?
Can I see an existing cohousing community?
What will the community be like?
What is the decision making process?
How long does it take?
Who decides what will be included in the Common House, or the home designs, or anything else about the community?
What is a Common House?
Do members share meals together?
Would I have privacy?
What will be expected of me after the development is complete?
How much meeting time is involved?
Do I need to attend the meetings?
Do I get free day care, elder care or help if I get sick?
>> What is cohousing?
The term cohousing describes the process by which a group of people work together to create and maintain their own neighborhood. By participating in the planning and design of their housing development, residents form the bonds which are the basis of ongoing community. Cohousing emphasizes a supportive, inter-generational community, common facilities and participation by all members using a consensus process to make decisions. Its setting can be urban, suburban or rural, and can involve building houses or rehabilitating existing structures. The design can take a variety of forms, depending on the wishes of the group, however the homes are always self-contained, have access to shared facilities and the overall intention is to create opportunities for interaction among neighbors.
>> What is the purpose of creating a cohousing community?
Every group creates their own mission statement, however, in general the desire is to have a safe, friendly community where everyone feels welcome.
>> How did cohousing get started?
In the late 60’s a group of Danish families, dissatisfied with existing urban and suburban living options, decided to create their own resident developed neighborhood as an alternative to traditional housing models. They wanted a community where they would know their neighbors, that would be alive with adults talking and children playing, and that would be safer because people would look out for each other and strangers would be easily noticed. It would reduce the stress of their busy lives by easing day to day burdens such as child care and cooking. It would be a place where people could pursue their individual goals while living in a supportive community. They wanted to reduce their impact on the land and create communities that were environmentally sensitive and sustainable. They called their solution bofoellesskaber – literally translated as “living communities”. Today, 10% of all new housing construction in Denmark uses this model and the concept has been spreading to other parts of the world. It was introduced to North America by two architects in 1988 who created the name cohousing to refer to this style of development. There are more than 113 operating communities in the U.S. with many others in the planning phases.
People Who Live in Cohousing
>> Who lives in cohousing?
Based on the experience of past groups, the following generalization gives an overview of who is typically attracted to cohousing. They tend to be people who have thought about this idea of creating community long before they heard the term cohousing. They tend to be people seeking to improve their quality of life, people who are interested in the larger community around them and people who tend to think globally and act locally. To the best of their ability they take responsibility for themselves, for the world they experience, and for the world their children will inherit. People who choose to be a part of a cohousing community come from a variety of backgrounds, income levels, family types and beliefs. What they do have in common is a desire to have a say in how their neighborhood will be and a belief that having more connection with their neighbors will be good for them. You will see evidence of a more sensitive attitude towards the natural environment, reduced home size, sharing of resources and community recycling.
>> Is cohousing best for certain kinds of families?
Cohousing is for everybody who wants to participate in their community. Typically cohousing communities would like to include a diverse group ranging in age from babies to seniors, with couples, families, singles and single parents.
>> Do cohousing groups have religious or political affiliations?
Not generally. The goal of most cohousers is to have a community which is diverse in age, background and family type, that is sustainable both socially and environmentally. The emphasis is on quality of life, including the nurture of children, youth and elders. There is no social agenda beyond creating a friendly neighborhood where all residents feel accepted and comfortable.
>> How can I get to know the people in the group?
The best way for prospective members to meet the community is to attend the regularly held meetings. Community relationships are strengthened through discussion at meetings, working together on committees, socializing at community functions and through whatever other informal contacts people initiate. Through working and making decisions together a cohesive community is formed.
>> Do I have to like everyone?
As in any healthy community, people will be tolerant and respectful toward others. Since cohousing communities usually attract members through a process of networking, it is likely that a high degree of friendship will exist among members. Some people, of course, are very private individuals and may feel comfortable with only a few, whereas others will form friendships with everyone in the community. As in other areas of life, individuals will create their own experience.
>> Will I own my own home?
Cohousing communities in the U.S. typically rely on one of three existing legal forms of real estate ownership: individually titled houses with common areas owned by a homeowner association, condominiums or a housing co-operative. Condo ownership is most common because it fits financial institutions’ and cities’ models for multi-unit owner-occupied housing development. U.S. banks lend more readily on single-family homes and condominiums than housing cooperatives.
Cohousing differs from standard condominium development and master-planned subdivisions because the development is designed by, or with considerable input from, its future residents. The design process invariably emphasizes consciously fostering social relationships among its residents. Common facilities are based on the actual needs of the residents, rather than on what a developer thinks will help sell units. Turnover in cohousing developments is typically very low, and there is usually a waiting list for units to become available.
>> What is it going to cost?
To date cohousing is rarely subsidized. Participants are generally those who can afford to buy their own home and the cost is approximately market rate. There are exceptions however, and new models for financing and developing cohousing are constantly being explored in the attempt to create more affordability. Some communities have effectively created a number of “affordable” homes at a percentage below market rate for those who can qualify for this type of assistance. As well, investment returns can be offered to those who fund the equity portion of the development and this can substantially reduce the final purchase price of their home. With the help of their professional team, members of the group establish size, quality and cost guidelines for the project. Essentially, members determine what they want to pay, and the project is designed to match those identified needs, including unit prices.
>> What is the legal status of a typical community?
One of the simplest methods to set up the development is to incorporate as a standard corporation. This structure limits liability for members, is most flexible and is the most easily recognized by lending institutions. On completion of the development, the legal status will change to allow for individual home ownership.
>> What if I want to sell my home after completion?
Just like any other home that you may want to sell, members who want to leave need to find a buyer. Because of the collaborative nature of cohousing, opportunities exist for promoting cohousing in ways other than traditional real estate marketing methods.
Forming a Community
>> What is the process for getting involved in cohousing?
There are generally three ways that you can get involved:
- Purchase a home in an existing community.
- Become a member of a forming group.
- Initiate your own group in the neighborhood of your choice.
>> How do I become a member of a forming community?
Typically anyone may attend a meeting as a visitor. Most groups will have information meetings where they introduce the concept to the public and give information about their project. Check the directory of the Cohousing Association of the United States for more information about the different communities or to find out about a forming community in your area.
>> Can I see an existing cohousing community?
Many completed cohousing communities offer tours on a regular basis. Check the directory of the Cohousing Association of the United States to get the community’s contact information and ask about their next open house or tour.
>> What will the community be like?
The members will be actively involved in the design process and will work together with the architects and professional team to create a design that meets their needs and stated priorities. The optimum size for a cohousing community is between 15 – 35 households. Anything smaller puts too much pressure on the individual to participate in community activities. Anything larger does not allow for the development of a closely knit community.
>> What is the decision making process?
Decision making and responsibilities are shared by all members. Decisions are made using consensus. This puts everyone on an equal footing, avoids power struggles or political efforts to gain a majority, encourages everyone to participate by communicating openly and provides an opportunity for people to see a variety of points of view. It is a powerful dynamic for building and sustaining community. This model has been evolving for more than thirty years and has been used in the creation of hundreds of successful communities. There are systems in place which keep the process moving forward at a pace necessary to complete a real estate development.
>> How long does it take?
The timeline will vary with every development and is somewhat dependent on municipal requirements, however the main variable is the length of time that it takes to bring together a group of committed individuals who are financially capable of developing the project. A small group of households will typically start the process and continue to build membership as the development proceeds. Ideally, all the homes will be spoken for by the time the project has been completed. Once a core group has formed, cohousing development does not take any longer than traditional development when professionals are used in the process.
>> Who decides what will be included in the common house, or the home designs, or anything else about the community?
Members decide. The members sit on committees where they research issues and make recommendations to the full membership.
>> What is a common house?
Although the homes are always self contained and privately owned, the residents have access to shared facilities. The overall intention of the design is to create opportunities for interaction among neighbors. The shared facilities and physical design have proven to support and sustain community connection over time. The common house supplements the individual dwellings and is the heart of the community. It typically includes a kitchen and dining room, lounge, guest room, child care space, workshop, shared office space, and laundry area. The members will decide what is to be included.
>> Do members share meals together?
Although individual dwellings are self-sufficient and each has its own kitchen, there is typically a kitchen and dining room in the common area which is available for shared meals and celebrations as often as members want. The common facilities, and particularly the shared meals, are an important aspect of community life both for social and practical reasons, however shared activities are always optional. People always have the choice of eating in their own homes. In existing communities, shared meals can be available a few nights a month, to as many as 7 nights per week.
>> Would I have privacy?
Yes! Members value privacy as well as social contact, and it is important to members to have their own homes and private space. There is a common belief that the cohousing arrangement allows for less privacy than traditional development, however this does not in fact prove to be the case. A unique aspect of cohousing is that the future residents participate in a conscious process of creating a community which will reflect their values. Privacy is valued by most people in our culture, so the design always reflects the desire to provide a balance of privacy and community. The following statement was taken from a CMHC study in 1997 called, “Planning Cohousing”, which addressed this particular concern: “While the shared amenities are integral to cohousing, some believe privacy is more respected in cohousing communities than elsewhere. The idea of a shared kitchen and dining facilities does not stem from a notion that meals should be communal, but a recognition that sometimes communal meals are desirable and benefit everyone.” There can actually be more privacy in cohousing because the amenity areas provide meeting places, play areas, party room, guest space, etc. while the individual dwelling is a place of privacy and retreat.
>> What will be expected of me after the development is complete?
When the homes are built and the community is complete, members will work together to organize upkeep duties. There will be a monthly maintenance fee that each owner will be expected to pay and there will continue to be periodic meetings concerning the running of the community and further decision making.
>> How much meeting time is involved?
Regular business meetings and committee meetings are scheduled as needed for member input for decisions. This involves a good deal of time during the development phase. Members participate in meetings to whatever extent they are able and/or are needed.
>> Do I need to attend the meetings?
Someone does. The whole reason for meetings is to provide an opportunity for the group to work together to define what it wants, and then to find a way to make those dreams come true.
>> Do I get free day care, elder care or help if I get sick?
As among any friends and neighbors, people help each other in informal ways and cohousing is envisioned as a community in which people are friendly and supportive to each other, especially in times of need. Ongoing group care arrangements will be decided by the membership and any particular ongoing care for individuals would be arranged privately.
>> Are there any books about cohousing?
Cohousing: A Contemporary Approach to Housing Ourselves by Kathryn McCamant and Charles Durrett is an excellent book to get an overall view of what cohousing is about. The Cohousing Handbook by Chris Hanson is a wonderful companion to the cohousing process of building community. More book recommendations are listed here.
>> How do I get my questions answered or find out about communities in my area?
Our contact page provides ways to get in touch with us by email, telephone and facebook.