There are hundreds of cohousing communities in the United
States and Canada. Cohousing is often thought of as "cooperative
neighborhood," and it typically contains 15 to 30 households, give or
take. In cohousing, each household usually owns a complete dwelling unit and
shares ownership of extensive common facilities, such as a large
commercial-scale kitchen for shared meals, dining and living areas, a guest
house, storage for shared household goods, and specialized rooms such as a
workshop, music room, hobby room, or kids' play room. Cohousing is typically
designed to feel like a neighborhood, focused around common areas and
community-oriented outdoor spaces. Residents usually take part in many shared
activities, including mealsharing, gardening, game nights, and more.
Characteristics of Cohousing
"Cohousing" is a word brought to the United States
in the early 1980s by architects Kathryn McCamant and Charles Durrett, and was
inspired by shared housing communities in Denmark. According to McCamant and Durrett,
cohousing has these characteristics:
participate in community design. Most cohousing communities are
planned, designed, and built by the residents.
neighborhood design. Although each household has its own space,
cohousing intentionally creates community through a centralized design,
which often puts parking at the periphery of the properties, and
incorporates inviting landscapes and pedestrian pathways.
common facilities. Residents often share extensive outdoor areas,
and a common house that usually has a large kitchen, dining area, and
community living space.
resident management. While many condo and apartment complexes are
managed by outside companies, cohousing groups manage their own community,
typically by forming committees to oversee things like maintenance and
repair, landscaping, new resident recruitment, group activities, meals,
and environmentally sustainable practices.
Others would add two more defining characteristics to the
structure. Typically residents make decisions as a group, by
consensus. According to cohousing architect and pioneer Charles Durrett,
"the single most important attribute in the creation of a cohousing
community is a coherent, fair, thoughtful group process."
shared economy. Cohousing residents have their own jobs and
earnings; they don't share income.
Forming a Cohousing Community
It can take years to form a cohousing community, especially
if you are building from the ground up. Typically, groups follow these basic
steps in some form:
a group of people interested in forming a cohousing community.
initial planning by meeting, getting to know each other, and discussing
hopes, desires, needs, and concerns.
- Form a
legal entity, such as an LLC, so your
group can sign contracts. (This also ensures member commitment and
investment during the planning and building stages.)
for a location; typically, a large, undeveloped piece of land, zoned to
allow high-density housing with some open space.
partnering with a developer that specializes in cohousing, such as Cohousing
Partners or Wonderland
Hill Development Company. The
developer will consult at every stage of the process, and make the
development affordable by sharing the investment and risk with your
financing to buy the land and build; this may come from many sources,
including future residents, the developer, loans, and grants.
a community design with an architect and contractor.
all zoning and building approvals and start building.
with experts, such as a lawyer, who will help you choose and form an
ownership structure (typically, condominiums).
additional residents, if necessary.
completion, each household obtains an individual mortgage and purchases a
in and thrive!
Resources on Cohousing
Check out the Cohousing Association of the United States
for detailed information on various communities and lots of great articles and
links on cohousing.
A useful book is Creating Cohousing: Building Sustainable
Communities, by Kathryn
McCamant and Charles
Durrett (New Society Publishers).