COHOUSING (Source: May/June 1991 Utne Reader)
(Source: May/June 1991 Utne Reader)
The era of Americans idealizing the isolated, self-contained home
may be coming to an end. Cohousing, a European community housing
model, is rapidly gaining popularity in the U.S. According to
Kathryn McCamant of The Cohousing Company, a design and consulting
firm in Berkeley, more than 70 cohousing groups have formed across
the country. Many are still in the preliminary planning stages, but
several on the West Coast have acquired land and even broken ground.
Cohousing fosters community and cooperation by providing common
facilities along with individual dwellings. Units, typically
designed in an attached townhouse style, are smaller than standard
homes, usually ranging between 750 and 1500 square feet. The reduced
amount of space is made up for by the common facilities, which
usually include a dining hall, children's playroom, workshops, guest
rooms, and a laundry. Some cohousing developments are even designed
with gardens and orchards. Although each unit has its own kitchen,
cohousing residents typically agree to prepare group meals together
several nights a week. Some also share child care services, and all
share yard work. The result for residents is that they have more
free time-- time previously spend on routine maintenance. Another
benefit is having a group of friends available without making
complicated arrangements to get together.
Other amenities typical of cohousing developments, according to New
Age Journal (Nov/Dec 1990) include plenty of open spaces for
recreation, "car-free zones to encourage walking, socializing, and
safe play," and management by group members who have also helped
plan and build the facility.
The first U.S. cohousing project broke ground in Davis CA, last
fall, according to New Age and McCamant. The 26 units, ranging in
price from $96,000 to $150,000 should be completed by early this
summer. Meanwhile, a cohousing group in Winslow, WA, near Seattle,
will start construction this spring reports The New York Times (Sept
27, 1990), and land has been acquired for two San Francisco Bay area
projects--one small-town and one urban--where prices will range from
$122,000 to $300,000.
Although these prices may sound high to Southerners and
Midwesterners, McCamant is careful to add that they "are really
representative of the area. It's important to keep in mind that
cohousing prices will be comparable to the prices of other similar
housing in the area." It follows then that a group in Sacramento
hopes to keep their prices between $49,000 and $133,000 and the
Seattle group hopes to between $56,000 and $170,000. Sometimes, as
was true in Davis, low-cost city financing is available to buyers.
Cohousing groups are also forming in Denver, Minneapolis,St. Paul,
Santa Fe, Boston and Rochester, NY, reports the newsletter
"Cohousing" (summer 1990), which is published by Innovative Housing,
a Bay Area non-profit organization. McCamant says groups should
expect to the process to take two to four years from initial
planning to moving day.
Although developing cohousing communities of necessity involves
numerous meetings, and thus can be a long and frustrating process
(decisions usually made by consensus rather than by majority,
range from how often to serve group meals to whether to allow nude
sunbathing), cohousing members usually find it's worth the effort.
Says one Washington cohousing member in The New York Times, "The
meetings are arduous but not without purpose. They are laying the
foundation for how I am going to live."