So what is cohousing?
Before talking about what cohousing IS, it is important to be very clear about what it ISN’T. Cohousing is NOT a 21st century name for a commune or a kibbutz or a student share house or whatever concept might spring unbidden to your mind’s eye. Nup. Let’s be clear up front. Unlike a commune or sometimes a co-op structure, cohousing community members do not share personal income as part of the model. It’s not a shared economy in that sense.
Cohousing describes a housing model (as in ‘a type of place where people live’, like freestanding houses, adjoined houses, apartments, duplexes, units etc etc) where a group of people intentionally agree to work together to create a place where they can all live close to one another – independently in their own separate ‘homes’ – but sharing certain things as part of a broader community venture.
The key element is that the parties agree to (and actively want) to share certain aspects of their lives. They want to provide friendship and support – that’s a given – but they also want to do things like share meals together a couple of times a week, participate in some social activities and share some of the chores.
A cohousing project would always include a communal kitchen and dining space for those shared meals but it might also incorporate a shared garden, including the growing of fruit and vegetables; or a shared laundry; shared tools and equipment like lawn mowers, hedge trimmers or even a large screen tv in a shared media room. Where there are a number of people with similar work, health or hobby interests, there might be things like a shared music room, workshop, art studio, gym or yoga room. There might be extensive storage space for sporting equipment; shared office space; meeting rooms or even a swimming pool. Because one of the principles of cohousing is collaborative design, the options can be as many and varied as the members would like… and can afford!
It’s co-housing if…
- There is genuine ‘co-design’ – the future residents of the cohousing community participate – together with the architect and other professionals – in the design to ensure it meets their particular needs and has the features they want.
- There are lots of common facilities, designed to be shared, which are always supplemental to private residences. Participating in the community is always optional, not required.
- The physical design promotes positive community interaction at a number of levels – while enabling individual privacy for all residents.
- The residents are in charge of managing the community themselves. They meet regularly to solve problems and develop policies for the community, usually over a shared meal!
- Consensus rules! There is no hierarchical structure in the decision making. Naturally there are leadership roles in cohousing communities, however no one person (or persons) has authority over others. [Click here to understand more about how this works.]
- There is no shared economy. The community is not a source of income for its members. Occasionally, a cohousing community will pay one of its residents to do a specific (usually time-limited) task, but more typically the work will be considered that member’s contribution to the shared responsibilities.