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Is Co-Housing for You?

by Betty Soldz

Have you ever wished that you didn't have to live where you seldom saw your neighbors or interacted with them? Have you thought that it would be great to have other people around when you wanted or needed them? Did you ever wish you could share meals with others? Perhaps co-housing is an alternative you may want to consider.

What is co-housing? It is a type of collaborative housing that attempts to overcome the alienation some of us encounter in today's modern communities. Each individual or family owns a private living space and they own in common facilities to be used and enjoyed by all. Co-housing is a way to bring back the old-time neighborhood where people from all generations knew, trusted and helped each other. It is for people of all ages who may enjoy living among a diverse group which can encompass children as well as adults. It may be a practical solution for some of us. Living cooperatively, by sharing tasks such as gardening, cooking and property management creates a sense of security and belonging.

Co-housing is for people of all ages, but seniors in particular like it because there is always someone around. This makes them feel safer and prevents the sense of isolation and detachment that may be experienced by those who live alone. The common house that these communities normally share is the center of the community, designed to be a place where all can enjoy meeting and socializing. It will house a community kitchen where those who desire can share cooking and meals (usually two or three times a week). Other rooms you might typically find in the common house are dining room, living and meeting rooms, perhaps guest rooms, laundry room and space for children to play. Some common houses also have workshops, craft studios and office space. Outdoor space may include flower and vegetable gardens.

Your privately owned dwelling could be one of several types of home, such as a multistory structure, an attached unit or even a single family home. Normally, many of the units are accessible for those with disabilities. A typical co-housing community has 20 to 30 homes which are clustered around a common courtyard and community building. The people who join together to create these communities for themselves decide what they can afford and the type of homes they would like to build. The community is not only designed by the residents but also managed by them. In Emeryville, California, for example, a group of people, both single and couples, are converting a large warehouse into co-housing.

Those who choose to join together to design and live in co-housing do so because they are committed to living as a community. Although they design their units to respect autonomy and privacy, they also strive to foster positive and supportive relationships and to be part of the greater community around them. Co-housing is designed to promote both physical and emotional health, safety and security of all the members. All common areas are designed to be accessible to elders and those with disabilities. Most housing of this type is built within walking distance of transportation.

Co-housing began in Denmark in the late 1960s and in North American in the l980's. There are now over 77 such communities under construction or completed in North America with at least another 130 in the planning stages.

The advantage of this type of living is that being a member of such a community adds to your security and may even give you a surrogate family. Single mothers have found this a secure environment to raise children and single retired women love the security of such a community. A successful community often encompasses traditional and nontraditional families.

The main disadvantage is the length of time involved in designing, building and financing the housing. Prospective residents usually meet together frequently in the planning stages to forge joint decisions about the project and spend enough time enough time together to be sure they are compatible.

Co-housing projects are often started by a group of like-minded individuals but could be started by a social agency, fraternal group or even local city government.

This is just one of our housing alternatives. It works well for some but may not be the answer to everyone's housing needs.

Resources and examples of communities:
The Co-Housing Company
Co-Housing Resources
Canadian Co-Housing Network
Proximity Co-Housing (12 miles north of Leesburg, Virginia)
Sunward Co-Housing, Ann Arbor, Michigan
Songaia Co-Housing, near Bothell, Washington
Cambridge Co-Housing, Cambridge, Massachusetts
Pioneer Valley Co-Housing, Amherst, Massachusetts
Takoma Village Co-Housing, Washington, DC
Co-Housing website, Australia and South Australia's site
Blueberry Hill Co-Housing, Vienna, Virginia
Jackson Place Co-Housing, Seattle, Washington
Cob Hill Co-Housing, Hartland, Vermont


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