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How Did Cohousing Get its Name?

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 the United States, 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. 

What are the defining characteristics of cohousing?

  • Participatory process

  • Neighborhood design

  • Common facilities

  • Resident managment

  • Non-hierarchical structure of decision making

  • No shared community economy

Defining Characteristics

What do you mean by 'green building'?

Our homes were intelligently designed to minimize our impact on the environment, from the super-insulation in the walls to the low-VOC recycled paint on the walls. Our community, our architect, our project manager, and our builder have all given environmental impact first priority.  Windows and overhangs prevent direct sunlight from heating the interiors while still allowing for plentiful indirect natural light. Radiant barriers, highly efficient windows and doors, advanced framing techniques, Energy Star appliances, community-wide solar power, and low-water fixtures all contribute to a home that minimizes our use of resources and our impact on the planet.​

Green Building

Is there a difference between cohousing and a condominium?

From a technical real estate ownership and financing stand point here is no difference. Just like any other condominium development, a cohousing community will have a homeowners’ association, shared grounds and common facilities. But unlike typical condominium developments, cohousing is designed specifically to foster a sense of community. By giving careful consideration to the placement of residences, parking spaces, walkways, play and garden areas, open spaces, and the common house, cohousing maximizes opportunities for neighbors to cross paths throughout the day. Cohousers often will eat dinner together in the common house several times a week. The homeowners’ association requirements may include community participation expectations as well as the usual membership fees. Cohousing is also different from ordinary condominium developments in that the residents have come together for the express purpose of building and living in a community together. From its inception, each cohousing development is characterized by this commitment to community.​


What 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.


Who owns the land?

Each owner in our project owns his/her unit (sometimes referred to as “paint in”) plus an undivided interest in the land on which the buiding in which his/her unit is located. The overall Common Areas are owned by the homeowners’ association (to which each owner belongs).


How does cohousing provide for residents of different economic needs?

In some states, counties or municipalities, housing 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 high.

Different Economic Needs

What determines the price of cohousing units?

Cohousing communities are typically new construction and have extensive common facilities relative to their size. The homes are usually priced based on the cost to purchase the site and develop the project.  Although you may be living in a smaller space than competing new home developments offer in a similar location, remember that you are getting an intentionally designed custom built community with extensive shared common space. Most communities also have a desire to build as "green" as possible, and these money saving environmentally sound materials and building techniques can add to the initial price of the home.​

Price Cohousing

How much does cohousing cost?

Cohousing homes typically cost 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.

  • In addition to energy savings that cohousers experience after moving in, cohousers often find that common meals and other shared costs help reduce their daily living expenses.

Cohousing Cost

How large are the communities and what kinds of households live there?

Cohousing communities in North America range in size from 9 to 44 households. We feel that 25 to 35 units 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: single people of all ages, couples and single parents of infants, toddlers and school-aged children, couples whose children are grown, young couples without children.

Community Size

I can't afford (or don't want) to buy into cohousing. Are rentals available?

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.


What if I want (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 re-sales, experience has shown that homes in cohousing have held their value or have appreciated faster than the market as a whole.​


How is homeownership 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 cohousing.


What are common meals?

Cohousing communities usually prepare between two and five 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 clean-up 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​

Common Meals

How does cohousing differ from other kinds of shared living or 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.

Different From Shared Living

If 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, private kitchen. Really.​


Will 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 neighborhoods, however, this is not true. A unique aspect of cohousing is that the future residents participate in a conscious process of creating a community which will reflect their values. The Fresno cohousing community members value privacy. Our neighborhood design reflects our desire to respect each others' need for privacy.​


Do I have to like everyone?

As in any healthy community, people will be tolerant and respectful toward others. Since cohousing communities usually attract members through a process of networking, it is likely that a high degree of friendship will exist among members. Some people, of course, are very private individuals and may feel comfortable with only a few friends, whereas others will form friendships with everyone in the community. As in other areas of life, individuals will create their own balance between privacy and interaction.​

Like Everyone
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