Cohousing: a modern take on communal living

Joan Fieldstone

April 5, 2016

By: Joan Fieldstone, Home Improv Advocate


About 8 years ago I stumbled on a concept that reminded me of the communes that were popular in the '60s and '70s, without the negative stereotypes those Utopian experiments might bring to mind for some of you. This, however, is not the communal living sometimes associated with the free-loving hippy movement back in the day. In spite of, or in some cases maybe because of that association, cohousing appeals to Boomers, most of whom, however, shed their bell bottoms and tie-dye shirts decades ago. It also speaks to modern young families, singles, and single parents who want to live in small, manageable communities where residents are committed to ideals such as cooperation and sustainable living.

The cohousing community: What exactly is it?

This type of communal living blends and balances independent and shared living. Homes (typically numbering between 20 and 40, sometimes more, sometimes less) are private as are family incomes. Houses are clustered around a common house designed for communal activities and gatherings such as game and movie nights, and club meetings for residents with shared interests. Certain resources such as laundry facilities and landscaping equipment may also be shared. Each home has its own kitchen, but the common house also has a kitchen facility to accommodate residents pitching in to prepare regularly scheduled community meals, a typical feature of cohousing.

Cooperation and the cohousing concept

The community is conceived, designed, planned, and built expressly for, and with the input and agreement of, like-minded future homeowners. For older residents, this can mean homes designed for aging in place and neighbors who are familiar enough with you in case you need a helping hand or have an emergency. Some cohousing senior-friendly communities and those strictly for active seniors have plans for healthcare strategies as their residents age. In multi-generational cohousing, residents may carpool and share child- and elder-care.

Rules are flexible. Staff and hierarchy are non-existent in cohousing. For those who prefer leaders, regimentation, and someone else to do the dirty work, this type of life could be uncomfortable. While everyone has to pitch in to keep common areas maintained, in the spirit of cooperation residents must make allowances for those whose personal lives take priority at certain times.

Who makes decisions?

Legally, cohousing is structured as an HOA, Condo Association or Housing Cooperative, but resident participation in community affairs is encouraged and seems to be a key feature for making this all work. Many cohousing communities start with a mission statement to which all members of the community are committed from the outset.

Decisions about community matters require that homeowners communicate their views and, typically, that they come to consensus. Collaboration - give-and-take -- is an essential element of avoiding or resolving conflicts. Because most communities are small and you may have actively been part of planning and bringing the cohousing development to fruition, you already know your neighbors - a refreshing change from the isolation most of us have learned to feel in other communities.

If you're interested in learning more about cohousing, read Creating Cohousing: Building Sustainable Communities by Kathryn McCamant and Charles Durrett, the go-to resource. Online you can find directories and information at the Fellowship for Intentional Community (FIC) and the Cohousing Association of the United States (CohoUS) about existing cohousing communities as well as those presently under development.


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