WHAT IS COHOUSING?
The term cohousing describes the process by which a group of people work together to create and maintain their own neighbourhood. 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 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 neighbours.
Cohousing is not a commune, a co-op, just another new place to live, a condo with a nice common room, below market or subsidized housing.
WHAT WILL THIS COHOUSING BUILDING LOOK LIKE?
We aren’t going to proceed with design until we have a enough members to move forward with the process. Generally, we’re looking at twenty or so fully self-contained units with attached common area. As with all cohousing developments, that common area will contain a variety of amenities like a living room/meeting area, kitchen, dining hall for shared meals and other facilities.
IF I LIVE IN COHOUSING, WILL I HAVE MY OWN KITCHEN?
Yes. 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 once a week or so. Each unit has their own full kitchen for household meeting preparation.
WHAT IS COMMON AREA OR 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 neighbours. The shared facilities and physical design have proven to support and sustain community connection over time. The Common Area supplements the individual dwellings and is the heart of the community. It typically includes a kitchen and dining room, lounge, guest room, workshop, shared office space, and laundry area. The members will decide what’s to be included.
WHAT IF I’M AN INTROVERT – WILL I HAVE PRIVATE TIME IN COHOUSING?
Very few of us feel like socializing all of the time. In cohousing, there’s no expectation to be social at any particular time. Cohousing offers the choice of enjoying the privacy of your own home (and in common areas that aren’t being used by others), or enjoying whatever happens to be going on in the neighborhood. How much you socialize is up to you. Many cohousers in other places create their own signs or symbols to let their neighbors know if they would prefer not to talk at the moment. Of course, those of us who choose to live here do so because in general, we enjoy getting to know one another. Cohousing is actually very popular with introverts, because there’s no “work” required to socialize; it’s “built in” and happens naturally.
YOU SAY RESIDENTS WILL MAINTAIN THE NEIGHBORHOOD. ARE THERE “CHORES?”
Different cohousing groups have figured out different ways to divide the work. Sometimes teams are created to either oversee particular areas of work (e.g., maintenance or landscaping), or to perform regular tasks (e.g., snow removal, dishwashing after shared meals, cleaning the common house, or organizing reservations for the guest rooms). Typically, cohousers spend about 4-8 hours per month doing work (remember, you already do a lot of work around your current home). For larger projects, occasional, longer weekend workdays have proven successful in other cohousing neighborhoods. Residents with fewer physical capabilities help with planning, purchasing supplies, providing drink and food to those doing the heavy lifting, putting tools away afterward, etc.
HOW DO COMMON MEALS WORK IN COHOUSING?
Cohousing communities decide among their group members how many meals will be shared in their common house. The meals are usually prepared by a team of 2-4 persons for however many members sign up for the meal in advance. Eating common meals is always voluntary.
Many of us feel that common meals 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. If we are lucky enough to have a little extra time for some after-dinner coffee or tea and conversation outside if the weather is fine, so much the better.
HOW WILL 20+ HOUSEHOLDS MAKE DECISIONS TOGETHER?
Most cohousing decisions are delegated to smaller teams, who then create proposals that the larger group either approves or sends back for modification. From animal policy to landscaping choices, consensus is the most common decision-making method. Consensus decision-making requires that all voices are heard, which often results in more information being considered. It also creates more buy-in to the final decision.
Consensus is not necessarily unanimity. A consensus decision is one that everyone can live with — it often includes modifications made by those who didn’t agree with the original proposal. These collaborative solutions can have an elegance and creativity that is only possible through collective wisdom. Consensus decision-making allows any member to block a proposal, but only when a member sincerely feels that a proposal violates the stated core values of the group, or won’t be good for the group in the long term.
Read our blog about consensus decision making.
ARE THERE ADVANTAGES TO JOINING RIGHT AWAY?
Yes there are! You will:
Become part of, and help shape, the culture of our community
Establish your seniority for home and site selection. The date of membership determines the order of unit selection, so earlier members have the most choices
Have a voice in deciding how we will live as neighbours (pet policy, common amenities chosen, landscape design, etc.)
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, party room, guest space, etc. while the individual dwelling is a place of privacy and retreat.
HOW LARGE ARE THESE COMMUNITIES AND WHAT KINDS OF HOUSEHOLDS LIVE THERE?
Cohousing communities in North America range in size from 9 to 44 households. 20 to 35 units best balances development economies and social dynamics. Communities of this size are small enough so that you know all your neighbors by wave, but large enough to accommodate a diversity of people. Cohousing attracts a wide range of household types: couples married or in partnership, and single people.
Our group is looking to attract twenty individual households and will be a welcoming community for all.
HOW DOES COHOUSING DIFFER FROM OTHER KINDS OF SHARED LIVING OR FROM OTHER “INTENTIONAL COMMUNITIES?”
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 of 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 bathrooms are shared. So in those situations, residents probably cannot paint walls their favourite colours, play their favourite music loud in the living room, or have a late night party without imposing on others who share their space.
HOW DID COHOUSING GET ITS NAME?
Kathryn McCamant & Charles Durrett met at the University of Copenhagen in Denmark. While studying there, they discovered bofællesskaber (cohousing). In Denmark they decided to call these communities ‘cohousing’ instead of this lovely but oh-so-long Danish word. The phrase is now listed in the Oxford English dictionary.
HOW IS HOME OWNERSHIP LEGALLY STRUCTURED IN COHOUSING COMMUNITIES?
Although one or two cohousing communities in the U.S. and Canada are organized as limited equity cooperatives, most are structured as condominiums or planned unit developments.
WHAT IF I WANT TO OR HAVE TO MOVE OUT OF THE COMMUNITY AND SELL MY UNIT?
In a condominium 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.
As with all major decisions affecting our development, this will be decided by our initial planning group.
DO YOU HAVE PROPERTY?
We don’t have land yet, but we are actively looking to find some suitable property.
WHEN ARE YOU BUILDING?
We estimate that by the time we pull together a committed group, find property, design the building and complete construction that the process will have taken three to four years.
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. In Sudbury we estimate the homes to be approximately $400,000. Cohousing homes typically cost the same as or slightly more than other new condos or townhomes, for several reasons:
Cohousing neighborhoods offer generous common facilities that are unheard of in traditional attached housing developments. Cohousing projects typically incorporate environmentally sustainable features that cost more in the short run, although they often pay off over time. Cohousing neighborhoods are built on a smaller, more intimate scale than most new neighborhoods today.
FOR MORE INFORMATION
A quick search on “What is Cohousing,” or “Cohousing Frequently Asked Questions” will also yield a wealth of information.