#2. Community. We hunger for the sense of community that has disintegrated since our parents’ time. In his book Bowling Alone, Robert Putnam laments the deficits we suffer as neighborhoods change, friends move away and we enclose our porches, build fences around our property and communicate mainly through social media, leaving seniors alone and isolated.
Co-housing projects are called Intentional Communities, to emphasize that design, structure, management and operation are planned to support the purpose and values of the residents…to form self-determined communities.
There are community responsibilities and expectations for each resident/owner. “Jobs” can include meal preparation and service, transportation, housekeeping, maintenance and caregiving. Besides giving individuals a sense of purpose and the satisfaction of contributing to the community, individual obligations also allow residents to rapidly become deeply connected to and accepted by those in the community.
Critical to acceptance into the community is the proper attitude and a general feeling of comradery. Contrarily, people may move away from intentional communities if they feel that the values and goals of others don’t match theirs.
The cost and design of co-housing take many forms. Some co-housing looks like a traditional over-55 community, offering leisure amenities that range from square dance space and horse-riding facilities to a private theatre. Others are simple two-family homes that two couples might buy or rent to share amenities and provides services for each other.
The Urban Cohousing Association lists communities such as Capitol Hill Urban Cohousing in Seattle. Capitol Hill is a nine-apartment intergenerational building, with residents that include people in their 60s and younger families with children. It is designed for long-term rental, not ownership. Yes, it is owned by the landlord, but the rights and responsibilities are with the renters.
By contrast, Santa Fe’s Sand River Community boasts 28 single-family homes, restricted to 55+ owners who pay around $285,000 to purchase a 1,085-square foot two-bedroom one-bathroom stand-alone home.
Co-housing communities are as varied as anyone can imagine, including location, size, amenities, cost, community personality and more. You can research co-housing communities throughout the US and read their profiles at Foundation for Intentional Communities.
Or you can build a community yourself. A general contractor friend of mine is working with six families who bought six individual homes on a gentrifying block. They will create their own operating agreement, which requires 100% consensus to change the rules. Everyone, regardless of how much they paid for a home, gets an equal vote. Contrast this to a co-op or condo board that gets elected and dictates the rules…or an HOA where buyers are handed a book of rules to which they must adhere.
In addition to governance, there are other distinctions and similarities between co-housing and other purpose-built retirement communities…
- Co-planned by residents versus developed by a builder such as Toll Brothers or Del Webb. If you move in after the agreements are set, you must abide by them, but you have an equal vote when rule change issues come up.
- Co-designed by residents versus design based on the developer’s and builder’s brand.
- Co-organized by residents versus organized by professional management.
- Common elements are chosen and operated by residents versus the builder’s/developer’s choice.
- Resident-managed versus professionally managed.
- No decision-making hierarchy versus an elected board or HOA that makes decisions.
- Increased social interaction.
- Residents are economically independent. Neither co-housing nor retirement communities are communes. Neither pools residents’ funds or shares personal income They all pay an equal HOA-type fee for upkeep, taxes and maintenance.
- Designed for community interaction, as also found in many traditional developments.
Is Co-Housing Right for You?
- Would I like living in a community where consensus is required and I must spend my time and efforts to run the operation?
- Do I want someone to share maintenance tasks if it means that I must share responsibilities, too?
- Am I willing to trade a degree of privacy for ready companionship?
- Am I prepared for a group rather than independent decisions on design, lifestyle and amenities?
- Do I want to live with neighbors who agree with my principles, life goals and political views and values?
- Do I like the cost savings and value of sharing “things” of communal living? For example, there often is one car, one communal TV and/or one garden for the community.
What’s Next for Co-Housing?
As co-housing evolves and grows, it very likely may track the innovations of assisted-living and even nursing homes, which are pulling away from feeling like medical facilities to feeling more like a gracious hotel with wellness and lifestyle programs. The newest focus of co-housing includes…
- Age tech. Sharing the cost of computing systems such as See-You-Link services for brain games, medication management, personal safety, fall alerts response systems, blood pressure monitoring, robots, and digital health systems that integrate individual health statistics with a medical office.
- Cooperative buying. Accessible van, cooperative food buying, delivery services, buying clubs for reduced rates in services like at-home massage, rolfing, yoga classes and Pilates.
- Green building. Although green is a trend with many types of building today, it often is more complete in co-housing. For example, residents may require materials be not only green in themselves but created in green environments.
- Entrepreneurship and shared office space for those residents who are still working and have their own businesses.
If you have been thinking of these unique and evolving residential styles, consider joining Cohousing.org to keep up with advancements, communities and issues. You can also start by reading some of the numerous books on co-housing. And bring a book to your book group to share your thoughts.