Cohousing

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Definition

From the Wikipedia:

"A cohousing community is a type of intentional community composed of private homes with full kitchens, supplemented by extensive common facilities. A cohousing community is planned, owned and managed by the residents, groups of people who want more interaction with their neighbours. Common facilities vary but usually include a large kitchen and dining room where residents can take turns cooking for the community. Other facilities may include a laundry, pool, child care facilities, offices, internet access, guest rooms, game room, TV room, tool room or a gym. Through spatial design and shared social and management activities, cohousing facilitates intergenerational interaction among neighbors, for the social and practical benefits. There are also economic and environmental benefits to sharing resources, space and items." (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Co-housing)


Description

CHRIS COLIN:

"“What is co-housing?”

The Cohousing Association of the United States has been answering that question quite frequently as more people sign up for its tours: The communities consist of individual houses whose residents share some common space, a few communal dinners a week and a commitment to green living.

The movement has been gaining momentum here since it first arrived from Denmark two decades ago. But passengers on the bus tours describe the general climate of uncertainty as setting off more urgent waves of reappraisal: Is this how I want to raise my family? Spend my remaining years? Is there a better option — a more stable community?

Judy Pope, a consultant in Oakland, Calif., who joined the East Bay tour, described a practical interest in co-housing.

“I had a pretty robust portfolio of investments that I was going to retire on,” Ms. Pope said. “Now I’m feeling the financial pressure to live with people. I can’t continue to live in my big old house.”

In some cases, the closeness of these communities offers bulwarks against a lousy economy. Residents speak of lending money to one another when necessary or, say, pitching in to build a wheelchair ramp when insurance might not cover it. Then there is the savings associated with a more efficiently designed home, and shared upkeep costs. But strictly speaking, a home in a co-housing community doesn’t necessarily cost less than a traditional home. As advocates describe it, the benefits are of the added-value variety.

“You just get more bang for your buck,” said Laura Fitch, a 15-year co-houser who led a recent tour in Massachusetts. “You can have entertainment next door rather than going to the movies, and if you’re a parent, you don’t have to drive to all those play dates, or even buy as many toys because your kids are more entertained.”

She added that the price of co-housing often included a common house with guest rooms, a party space, a children’s play area and the security of people watching out for one another.

Jason Reichert, who works at a shipyard in Maine and joined a New England tour, said he liked the idea of weathering the country’s economic and environmental crises with a group.

“My grandparents’ community got through the Depression by being very close-knit,” Mr. Reichert said, “with one family knowing how to farm, for example, and another knowing how to raise poultry. We’ve lost that. But co-housing is accomplishing something similar.”

Craig Ragland, the executive director of the Cohousing Association, said: “Some people are looking at these communities as a lifeboat. The thinking is, if I’m surrounded by people who care about me, I’m less likely to crash and burn.”

More than 115 rural, urban and suburban co-housing communities exist across the country, consisting of 2,675 units, according to the association. There are 3 to 67 homes in each, on tiny city lots and 550-acre parcels. Some are “retrofit” communities, in which existing side-by-side homes are purchased and then converted. Others start with a piece of land and build units from scratch. In both, residents own their homes outright, but agree to participate in the communal arrangement." (http://www.nytimes.com/2009/06/11/garden/11cohousing.html?)


Status

"In cohousing, a circle of people come together in order to cultivate a commons. Many of them consist of private homes that share public spaces, resources, and responsibilities; in others, people share the same building.

The forms vary, but the number of cohousing communities is expanding rapidly. The Cohousing Association added 37 communities between 2001 and 2005, and by 2008 its roster boasted 113 across the country, from Alaska to Ohio to Texas to Oklahoma to Indiana. This year, the Cohousing Association directory lists 231 communities. But if you widen the net to include any kind of "intentional community," where people live together in search of a common vision, you’ll find 1,600 in the U.S.—all manifestations of some kind of cooperative living project." (http://shareable.net/blog/happy-together)


Discussion

A. Allen Butcher:

"As introduced on the website of the Cohousing Association of the United States, "Cohousing communities balance the traditional advantages of home ownership with the benefits of shared common facilities and ongoing connections with your neighbors. These cooperative neighborhoods, both intergenerational and for elders, are among the most promising solutions to many of today's most challenging social and environmental concerns." The cohousing movement began in Denmark, spread through Europe and North America, and today in the US there is an estimated one hundred cohousing communities in existence or under development. (See: http:// www.cohousing.org)

It is the cohousing movement that provides the best example of the desire for community resulting in opportunities for the for-profit sector of the economy.

Typically, because cohousing communities generally use the condominium or planned unit development legal design (i.e., community association law) they are able to secure funding through traditional developer financing, banks and mortgage companies. With the increasing number of cohousing communities there is developing a range of other market opportunities for entrepreneurs who see the potential for capitalizing upon the desire among those who are willing to pay extra to acquire community as an optional feature with their housing. Real estate agents, mortgage brokers, lawyers, developers, architects, engineers, and consultants for interior design, energy conservation and sustainability, lowtoxin and green building, and even interpersonal and group process facilitators are all finding opportunities in the cohousing market. And it is precisely the availability of these professionals to cohousing developments that assures that the movement itself will continue to grow and develop.


See the following.

• Community Association Institute: www.caisecure.net/index.mv?c=LR

• Wonderland Hill Development Company: www.whdc.com/completed_communities.htm

• The Cohousing Company: www.cohousingco.com

• Cohousing Resources: www.cohousingresources.com

• Abraham Paiss & Associates: www.abrahampaiss.com/index2.htm

• Karen Hester and Diane Ohlsson: www.hesternet.net/house.htm

• CANBRIDGE Consulting and Facilitation: www.ic.org/canbridge

• Tree Bressen: www.treegroup.info)

At the 1994 conference of the Rocky Mountain Cohousing Association, Stella Tarnay wrote in the minutes of the "Professionals in Cohousing" meeting, "... we began to realize that we are in the midst of developing a new kind of relationship between clients and professionals through the CoHousing (sic.) process. ... It is not unlike the Total Quality Management (TQM) revolution in business which is creating a new paradigm for working together in organizations. ... We are doing no less than creating a new way of working together to develop housing." Clearly, it is more than mere housing that is being developed by the cohousing movement, it is community as an industry, and as Stella affirms, there are parallels in the increasing focus in communications within business organizations and the need for good communication processes in creating and maintaining community.

The problem in community organizations has always been maintaining the ideal of "intentional community" within a monolithic culture of "circumstantial community."

This is a challenge in cohousing, recognized by those offering group process trainings to members of cohousing communities.

The success of cohousing can be explained by its ability to clearly illustrate to the public that community can be an asset which enhances real estate value.

This statement then easily translates to the concept that social capital becomes a market commodity in cohousing communities. With that assertion squarely nailed, the challenge becomes in finding ways to extend the dynamic beyond the practice of cohousing as we know it to utilizing social capital as a market commodity in other forms of community, preferably forms that are more accessible to more people, which would require at least that they be less expensive and perhaps also require less time for their creation. Currently one of the best examples we have of utilizing the dynamic of housing development based upon the market commodity of social capital in community is the design called "retro-fit cohousing," which takes existing single-family or multi-family housing stock and overlays the cohousing design upon it, creating the common kitchen-dining space out of an existing structure, and the pedestrian-oriented street and village commons from the existing outdoor space.

The second example is the typical redesign of a multifamily structure such as a duplex or triplex into a collective household occupied by more than one family or a group of single individuals. Other such community retro-fits have renovated warehouse and other large structures, sometimes including businesses, shops or other non-residential functions.

The Walnut Street Cooperative presented earlier is an excellent example of this model, another is the "Ecovillage Loan Fund" (ELF) of the Los Angeles EcoVillage (see: www.ic.org/laev/elf.html). In both cases the residents of the community themselves leveraged their collective rental resources for the successful marketing of their community as a form of socially and/or ecologically responsible investment opportunity, enabling them to purchase the property they were renting or that they desired to purchase. This model of community organization and development, in which a group of people work together through processes of building social capital to where they can market their community as a viable investment opportunity for non-residents, represents opportunities for expanding the community-organizing industry beyond cohousing." (https://we.riseup.net/assets/4969/ELAN.pdf)