In our current political climate here in the US, many Americans are perpetually searching for a feeling of connection and meaning in their personal communities. Since housing is most successful when it provides and promotes a sense of community and belonging, it makes sense that the concept of cohousing has slowly been gaining traction in the US.
According to the Cohousing Association of the United States, “Cohousing is an intentional community of private homes clustered around shared space. Each attached or single family home has traditional amenities, including a private kitchen. Shared spaces typically feature a common house, which may include a large kitchen and dining area, laundry, and recreational spaces. Shared outdoor space may include parking, walkways, open space, and gardens. Neighbors also share resources like tools and lawnmowers.”
This kind of living arrangement has gained more traction in Europe than in the US, but nevertheless remains an attractive and creative solution for a certain population who are seeking out a new way to live more sustainably and affordably. Though housing costs themselves may vary from community to community, the ability to share meals, activities and services such as babysitting and elder care support can ease a major burden that many families feel.
What does Successful Cohousing Look Like?
An excellent example of where this is done extremely well is in Saettedammen, a co-housing community 45 minutes outside Denmark’s capital of Copenhagen. This housing community includes 71 people living in 28 houses, creating what amounts to a small village. The community includes a common house, laundry facilities, shared tools and a playground.
This close-knit community includes people of all ages, from working families to elderly couples. This is an especially good solution to address the problem of social isolation; it provides a much needed connection to the younger generation for older people, and provides childcare solutions for young working parents. This article on Saettedammen gives a lot of information about how to make this kind of community work. Check out this fun video to learn more about what they are doing there.
Benefits of Cohousing
This lifestyle is certainly not for everyone. For those who make the choice to purchase a home in a cohousing development, certain benefits are carefully assessed prior to any purchase. For some, those benefits are a huge motivator in their decision making process. Chuck Durrett of McCamant & Durrett Architects, often credited with bringing cohousing into the United States, claims that the “relationships between people—older teaching younger generations, parents helping parents—it’s all extremely villagelike.”
According to a 2016 report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 61.1% of today’s two parent families have two working parents, compared to 31% in 1970. Modern families often have complicated lives, balancing parenting with work, childcare and also trying spend quality time with their kids. With our complex modern lives, families with two working parents often struggle to manage childcare costs, babysitting and arranging playdates and extracurricular activities for their kids. In a cohousing community, children and their parents benefit from an enormously flexible culture where there are far more options for childcare support, activities and play. Most cohousing communities also have restricted automobile access and a centralized parking area, which allows children to play safely outside and move more freely than they can in urban neighborhoods.
Meal prep companies, like “Blue Apron” that deliver boxes with ready to combine ingredients and a recipe attached have had a great deal of investment put into them, but are failing to gain traction. I can understand why. When dual working couples come home at the end of the day, the last thing that they feel like doing is opening up a box and starting to assemble a meal. Food prep is another area of modern life where families feel exhausted and unmotivated at the end of a long day. Cohousing communities offer shared meals for those who want to participate, so long as you are willing to cook for the group once in a while. How wonderful to share meal responsibilities and have the option to eat a communal meal where no prep is needed. For many, shared meals are a huge advantage to living in a cohousing community.
One of the main advantages of cohousing is economical. In addition to childcare and meal prep cost savings, cohousing also allows for sharing of larger items like lawnmowers and other garden equipment, appliances, electronics and toys. Some communities opt to purchase even larger amenities like a swimming pool or play structure, which they would otherwise not be able to afford.
It should be noted that there is not always an economic advantages to cohousing; depending on the individual community, the required dues may be high and therefore prohibitive, though with the added advantages, it may well even out in the long run.
Ultimately, the choice to live in a cohousing community is completely personal. The culture within the individual community is a major factor, along with the location and other associated costs. A certain finesse and lack of ego may also be requirements for living in a cohousing community. The success or failure of such a venture lies solely on those who live there, and how much they value the benefits of the arrangement.
To learn more about cohousing communities in your area, visit the Cohousing Association of the United States Directory.