“Cohousing is a type of collaborative housing in which residents actively participate in the design and operation of their own neighborhoods. Cohousing residents are consciously committed to living as a community. The physical design encourages both social contact and individual space. Private homes contain all the features of conventional homes, but residents also have access to extensive common facilities such as open space, courtyards, a playground, and a common house with a large kitchen and dining room/meeting room and other facilities.”
These characteristics serve to distinguish cohousing from other types of collaborative housing:
Non-hierarchical governance structure and decision-making
Cohousing is an intentional community of friends who live in private homes clustered around shared common spaces, including a large common house. The living units are like any other home, private and with complete facilities. Unique to cohousing, however, is that ownership includes use of relatively large shared spaces: typically a common house with a large kitchen and dining area and other rooms such as laundry, office, workshop, and recreational spaces. Each community chooses the rooms they need.
Shared outdoor space usually includes a central green, parking, walkways, and gardens. Cars are parked around the outside of the community. Neighbors also share resources such as tools, landscaping equipment, coffee grinders, etc.
Members collaboratively plan and manage community facilities and activities but households have independent incomes and privately owned homes. The legal structure is typically a homeowners association, condominium association, or housing cooperative. See this webpage for a more visual representation of cohousing.
What Do They Look Like?
Cohousing communities are individually designed in many styles: free standing houses, attached multiplexes, apartment buildings, and many combinations. Most have a central green, interior walkways, parking along the perimeter, and some windows that overlook the community. This is a gallery of communities across America. Click on each photograph to see a a descriptive caption. In the slide show view, click on each photo to move to the next.
Examples of Cohousing Communities. Roll over the image to see the description.
Community activities feature regularly scheduled shared meals, celebrations, meetings, and workdays. Members and guests gather for parties, games, movies, canning tomatoes, water balloon fights — any event a member would like to organize. Cohousing makes it easy to follow common interests, organize child care, run errands for each other, carpool, and find the missing ingredient when cooking dinner.
Community Relationships & Expectations
Communities expect members to participate in the community by:
Cultivating a culture of sharing and caring
Interacting with other community members
Supporting other households with occasional meals for the sick and child care for emergencies
Respecting privacy and personal preference while also encouraging an inclusive community for all members
Taking responsibility for facilities maintenance and social event tasks, and participating in governance teams and membership meetings.
Cohousing communities are child-friendly. Even senior cohousing communities for adults over 50 or 55 normally welcome visiting children. Communities typically include a playground outdoors and a playroom inside the common house. This might also include a tot lot for the toddler stage and other play facilities for adults and children.
The age range is typically from newborns to octogenarians. Households include singles and partners in all their variations.
Decision-making is transparent and participatory; usually based on one of the forms of consensus.
Self-management is central because it empowers residents, builds community, and saves money. While cohousing is not necessarily less expensive, it offers a much richer experience.
Shared Values, Not Ideologies
Cohousing communities typically adopt green approaches to living, and design facilities to be energy efficient. The quality of the foundations and what is inside the walls is considered more important than the latest fashion in kitchens—although members can upgrade their interiors to their own preferences after move-in.
While individual members are active in the community, volunteering in schools, and working on social issues, communities as a whole do not generally adopt positions on social or political issues.
There is also an email discussion list: Cohousing-L. Discussions include all aspects of cohousing — development, design, move-in, organizing work, community life, conflicts, governance, finances, legal questions, etc. Many cohousing veterans, professional consultants, and those developing new communities participate in the discussion. Questions and requests receive almost immediate response with information unavailable elsewhere. For twenty plus years, Cohousing-L has played an essential role in the growth of cohousing. To subscribe go to Cohousing-L and fill in your name and email address. (Scroll to the bottom of the page.)