What is Co-Housing ?
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
Cohousing is a form of
collaborative housing that offers residents an old-fashioned sense of
neighborhood. In cohousing, residents know their neighbors very well and
there is a strong sense of community that is absent in contemporary
cities and suburbs.
Cohousing communities consist of
private, fully-equipped dwellings and extensive common amenities
including a common house and recreation areas. They are designed and
managed by the residents who have chosen to live in a close-knit
neighborhood that seeks a healthy blend of privacy and community.
I live in cohousing, will I have my own kitchen?
You may well wonder why we have put
this seemingly insignificant question so close to the top of our list.
Frankly, because it is the single question most frequently asked of
cohousing enthusiasts. Yes, every cohousing community does have a common
kitchen, but community meals are usually prepared and served in the
common house only two or three times each week. Can you imagine 25 or
more households each trying to separately prepare 18 or 19 meals a week
in one kitchen? That would be well nigh impossible. So yes, each
residence has a fully equipped--and usually spanking new--private
are the Defining Characteristics of Cohousing?
residents participate in the design of the community so that it
meets their needs. Some cohousing communities are initiated or
driven by a developer, which may actually make it easier for more
future residents to participate. However, a well-designed,
pedestrian-oriented community without resident participation in the
planning may be "cohousing-inspired," but it is not a
DESIGN. The physical
layout and orientation of the buildings (the site plan) encourages a
sense of community. For example, the private residences are
clustered on the site leaving more shared open space, the dwellings
typically face each other across a pedestrian street or courtyard,
and/or cars are parked on the periphery. The common house is often
visible from the front door of every dwelling. But more important
than any of these specifics is that the intent is to create a strong
sense of community with design as one of the facilitators.
facilities are designed for daily use, are an integral part of the
community, and are always supplemental to the private residences.
The common house typically includes a common kitchen, dining area,
sitting area, children's playroom and laundry and may also have a
workshop, library, exercise room, crafts room and/or one or two
guest rooms. Except on very tight urban sites, cohousing communities
often have playground equipment, lawns, and gardens as well. Since
the buildings are clustered, larger sites may retain several or many
acres of undeveloped shared open space.
communities are managed by their residents. Residents also do most
of the work required to maintain the property, participate in the
preparation of common meals and meet regularly to develop policies
and do problem-solving for the community.
STRUCTURE AND DECISION-MAKING. In
cohousing communities there are leadership roles, but no one person
or persons who has authority over others. Most groups start with one
or two "burning souls" but as people join the group, each
person takes on one or more roles consistent with his or her skills,
abilities or interests. Most cohousing groups make all of their
decisions by consensus, and although many groups have a policy for
voting if consensus cannot be reached after a number of attempts, it
is very rarely or never necessary to resort to voting.
COMMUNITY ECONOMY. The
community is not a source of income for its members. Occasionally, a
cohousing community will pay one of its own members to do a specific
(usually time limited) task, but more typically the task will simply
be considered to be that member's contribution to the shared
does cohousing differ from other kinds of shared living or from other
Some people involved with cohousing
like to describe their communities as "intentional
neighborhoods," rather than "intentional communities."
This is probably because the term "intentional community"
frequently connotes a shared religious, political or social ideology
rather than simply the desire to have much more of a sense of community
with their neighbors, some of whom might be quite different from
themselves. There are places where groups of families jointly own land
on which several have them have built homes, but usually there are no
common facilities. In many other shared living situations, individuals
don't have a lot of privacy or space where they can do whatever they
want because the kitchen, living-dining, and perhaps bathroom(s) are
shared. So in those situations, residents probably cannot paint walls
their favorite colors, play their favorite music loud in the living
room, or have a late night party without imposing on others who share
like to live in a cohousing group just with people who are already our
friends. We want to live in a cohousing community that's all
vegan/Christian/gay/women/older people/artists/single moms....
Well, then you'd have to find 15 or
20 more people like that who also:
are financially able and
emotionally prepared to buy a home,
are able and willing to take
risks and can spend a good deal of time, money and energy well
before the community is ready to move into,
really want to live in
want to live in the same area
that you and others in your core group do.
Also, most people who are
attracted to cohousing are actively seeking diversity in the communities
they are planning; they want to live in a community with others who are
not quite so much like themselves.
tell me about common meals.
Cohousing communities usually
prepare between two and four meals per week in their common house. The
meals are prepared by a team of 2-4 persons for however many eaters sign
up for the meal in advance. Eating common meals is always voluntary. In
a few communities cooking is also voluntary, but in most cases it is
not. However, there is a good deal of variation in the way the cooking
(and cleanup) responsibilities are structured. Typically, however each
adult is involved in meal preparation and/or cleanup once every 4 or 5
weeks. There is also variation in how the common meals are paid for, but
one only pays for the meals one eats, Common dinner prices typically
range from $2.50 to $3.75.
Many of us feel that common meals (even if some people's schedules
permit them to attend only irregularly) are the glue that holds
cohousing communities together. A common meal may be the only time in a
busy week when we get to have a real conversation with our neighbors.
And if we are lucky enough to have a little extra time for some
after-dinner coffee or tea and conversation, while the kids romp around
in the playroom or outside if the weather is fine, so much the better.
Many communities encourage their cooks to provide a vegetarian option at
most meals, and special food requirements are respected, although not
every one of them will be necessarily be accommodated at every meal.
are people selected to be members of a particular cohousing group?
For the most part, groups require
attendance at an orientation, several regular meetings, and perhaps some
involvement with a committee before a household can apply for
membership. Some groups have associate memberships that require little
in the way of a financial contribution, but do give potential full
members the chance to participate fully in the planning process, and to
get to know others in the group. A full membership usually requires an
equity investment, part or all of which is eventually credited toward
the final price of your house. This investment can range from a few
thousand dollars up to 15% of the final cost of your home.
Occasionally, a group will
"hold" spaces in their community for a limited time period
while they market to a particular segment of the population (such as
parents with young children). This is done very infrequently, and most
cohousing professionals advise against it, opting instead for pure self-
selection on a first-come, first-serve basis. The disadvantage of
joining a group early is that your cohome may take a long time, not to
mention energy and money, to materialize. The advantages are that the
earlier you come into the group, the more opportunity you have to be a
part of the design and planning. And you get an earlier place in the
order in which units will be selected. Also, in many groups there is a
financial incentive for joining the group early in the way of a discount
applied to your final house price.
is home ownership legally structured in cohousing communities?
Although one or two cohousing
communities in the U.S. are organized as limited equity cooperatives,
most are structured as condominiums or planned unit developments. In
what is called the "lot development model," members jointly
own the common property and facilities, and are the sole owners of the
lot on which they build their own single family house. Sometimes they
own just the land directly under their homes (the footprint), or that
plus a small back or front "private" yard. In
"retrofit" cohousing, existing buildings are used or renovated
so that certain spaces can be used by the whole community for its common
activities. The ownership structure varies considerably in retrofit
if I want to or have to move out of the community and sell my unit?
Except in a cooperative, any
household leaving the community can legally sell their property to
anyone they choose, but some communities maintain a "right of first
refusal" which means that the seller must offer his or her unit for
purchase by the community or to an individual or individuals within the
community before putting it on the open market. In other communities,
residents sign a voluntary agreement that they will not lease or sell
their unit to a person or persons who do not wish to participate fully
in the community. Some communities maintain a waiting list of persons
interested in being informed if a unit becomes available and it is to
the benefit of the seller and to the rest of the community if everyone
lends a hand in finding new owners. When it comes to resales, experience
has shown that homes in cohousing have held their value or have
appreciated faster than the market as a whole.
can't afford to (or don't want to) buy into cohousing. Are rental units
In some cohousing communities, a
few individual households own homes with attached "granny"
apartments that are available for rent. And from time to time, a
homeowner may rent their unit for an extended period during which he or
she is unable to occupy it. A few communities have (or are planning) one
or more units which might be shared by two or more individuals or
households. In this situation the unit might be held by more than one
person as joint tenants or tenants-in-common. Alternatively, one person
or household could own the unit and others sharing the home would be
renters. At the present time, there is no community in which the
homeowner's association owns a unit and rents it out.
Renting residents usually have all the same rights and responsibilities
as owners, except in matters relating to expenditure of money.
Typically, renters are welcome to attend meetings and participate fully
in discussions of community matters, but usually they cannot block
large are these communities and what kinds of households live there?
Cohousing communities in North
America range in size from 9 to 44 households. There are those who feel
that cohousing works best with 25 to 35 households. But communities that
are considerably smaller and considerably larger than that have certain
advantages over those that are in the range of what has been thought to
be "ideal." For example, in a smaller community, you can be
sure that you will know every person quite well if you choose to. And a
larger community usually has enough resources to support more extensive
common facilities, and enough people to create a greater variety of
Cohousing attracts a wide range of household types: single people of all
ages, couples and single parents of infants, toddlers and school-aged
children, couples whose children are grown, young couples without
is cohousing so expensive?
The simple answer to this question
is first, that most cohousing communities are new construction and
second, that cohousing communities have very extensive common facilities
considering their small size relative to conventional housing complexes.
Also, remember that although you are not getting a custom-built
individual residence, as a group you are getting a custom-built
community for your money. Many cohousers are getting an opportunity to
work more closely with the architect(s) designing their future home(s)
than they ever imagined they would have. Given these factors, it is
remarkable that, in most areas cohousing units do not cost any more than
other market rate housing.
So why do costs keep going up during the development phase?
Despite dire warnings from cohousing professionals about the cost of
customization, there is a tendency in every group for people to plan too
much customization of the private homes. Even if only some households
want to customize their homes a great deal, it raises the costs for
everyone. In addition, many groups have a desire to build as
"green" as possible, and they are often surprised at how much
additional these environmentally sound materials and building techniques
does cohousing provide for residents of different economic means?
In some states, counties or
municipalities, developers of multi-family housing are required by law
to have a certain percentage of the new units meet a standard for
"affordability." People in cohousing usually welcome this, and
as a matter of fact often wish they could make even more than the
required percentage affordable. Unfortunately, unless the developer can
get public or private subsidies or grants, there is a limit to how many
affordable units can be built without driving everyone else's costs sky
about safety and security?
Because we know all our neighbors,
we have an excellent neighborhood watch system built in to our
communities, as someone who does not belong in the community is very
easily recognized. If your child falls off a swing when he or she is out
of your immediate sight line, another adult will surely pick him or her
up. Then there's more than one person to watch out for the property of
an absent resident. "All eyes on the common areas" means that
even in quite an urban area, many cohousers will feel comfortable
leaving their front door unlocked when they go to the common house to
pick up laundry, and will not require that their community be accessible
only thorough a locked gate.