Cohousing - New Concept?

Cohousing - New Concept?

Remember all those old shows with multiple generations of the same family living in the same house? Frasier, for instance, featured a father who shared a large apartment with his son because he was having difficulty caring for himself. Take it back further, and you have close-knit neighborhoods that share parks and even co-op gardens. Take it back more, and you find that towns used to have common spaces, park like fields where everyone's cattle had the right to graze and duties for care were distributed equally throughout the citizenry. This is the forerunner to the "modern" notion of cohousing: a neighborhood sharing a common space to save money and build a sense of community.

Throughout the history of America until just recently, and even now in most parts of the world, cohousing is typical. Homes are built around a common area, maintained in common by the community through formal or informal practices. This is a not-uncommon design for many military housing areas, where the sense of camaraderie is strong. It's a growing solution for baby boomers and others interested in having a home where they are not isolated, but still maintain a sense of complete independence.

Cohousing is a solution for a number of different problems: high housing costs, caring for a semi-independent elder, finding a small-neighborhood feel in a large city, or simply having your own green space that you share with only a few others. As baby boomers age and retire, it's likely that we will see a rise in concepts like cohousing. This brings new opportunities to the real estate world.

Even in modern America, cohousing is not a new concept. It's a throwback to the 1960s commune, where everyone shared duties and spaces, everyone felt linked together in a family, and the group became stronger than all the individuals taken separately. Today's version of cohousing is a little different. There's much more privacy, for instance; people who share the community own or rent their own homes, and only share duties for the commonly held garden or yard or community center. You don't have the ubiquitous Aquarian water pipe; the participants in a cohousing project are likely to have well-dressed children and BMWs.

There are some very specific things to consider when designating an area as a cohousing project:

1. A cohousing area is a participatory project. Residents and potential residents should be in on at least a portion of the neighborhood design. When things are redesigned, residents should be actively involved.

2. The design of the cohousing area is such that it promotes the sense of a small community. In many, houses are designed to face in toward a small courtyard or park like area, with cars parked along the periphery. If there is a common house, it should be in view of all the other houses. The idea is to get the whole neighborhood to look inward, toward one another, for support.

3. There is a common area that may consist of a park and/or garden, playground, and a common house that contains common sitting areas, a kitchen, laundry, storage, and even things like exercise rooms, crafts rooms, classrooms, and guest rooms. The common area is for all to use, with agreement from the rest of the community if the use excludes others from it.

4. Residents manage and maintain their own neighborhoods, and have regular meetings to determine where to go with problems. Everyone is expected to participate.

5. No one wears the mantle of leadership; everything is decided communally, or by vote if necessary.

6. Residents do not profit from the shared facilities.

In many ways, a cohousing community is a blessing. Housing costs and many living costs are reduced, as less space is needed to develop homes with a shared front yard and shared and donated work can take care of many daily issues. It also makes a great way to create an old-fashioned neighborhood feel for the kids, so that they can benefit from a village's worth of people of all ages and, often, ethnic and social backgrounds. Boomers love the idea, as it solves many of their problems and also changes the world in a way that they envisioned changing it back in the 1960s.

Is this a way to go with real estate development? Perhaps. It's not hard to design neighborhoods on a cohousing theme, and in many ways it's both cheaper and creates selling points. Think about it: fifteen houses built around a central point, with small backyards around which the street flows. Instead of the street being the center of the cul-de-sac, a garden or pool or park is. Children play in front of the houses, away from streets and in easy view of all the adults.

Elders are welcomed in cohousing developments. They provide a point of view not all children have, and they are benefited by being in a stimulating environment where people are aware of their comings and goings, enabling them to have a sense of privacy while knowing that if something happens, someone will look out for them.

Even if cohousing turns out to be a short-lived fad, homes built around that cul-de-sac plan have a real advantage. You may have to arrange for maintenance of the park, but homes with this kind of guaranteed safety for children while they look over a lovely view will sell well. If you have a clubhouse of sorts there, all the better.

If cohousing catches on, it could transform America. Instead of cities filled with lonely individuals, they could become filled with small villages of friends, all bound together by how and where they live instead of by race or class. Theft in these little communities would be unheard of - too many people watching each house. And lifelong friendships could develop, lifting the sense of community in the cohousing project to the next level.

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