What is Co Housing?
Though there are precedents (the cooperative apartment buildings of 1920s New York), the current concept of co-housing originated in Denmark. A journalist named Bodil Graae wrote an article on parenting - "Children Should Have 100 Parents." It prompted a group of 50 families to plan and build Saettedammen, the modern world's first intentional neighborhood. Architects Kathryn McCamant and Charles Durrett saw the beauty of it and introduced the idea to North America.
Co-housing communities can be urban, suburban, or rural. They can be new developments built to sustainable standards or conversions of farms, mansions, and abandoned buildings.
All of the communities combine private ownership with communal living. All have common characteristics. Future residents take part in planning. Each has a say in housing, neighborhood design, space for gardening, play, grass, and trees. Each helps answer communal questions - Should the development be mixed-use? Should there be home-office buildings? Should cars be relegated to the edge of the neighborhood?
All co-housing communities share a "common house" where a communal meal is prepared and served. None of the communities have management companies. There are no political officers - no mayors, aldermen, no city council members. All residents share responsibilities, taking part in maintenance and dinner preparation. All participate in decision-making. Many co-housing communities even rely on the messy business of consensus building. The one thing neighbors don't share is an economy. No neighbor can rely on the community for a living.
The intent is to promote a sense of support and place, of knowing and caring for your neighbors. Traditionally, co-housing communities have been inter-generational. There is, however, a new kid on the block. That kid is called senior co-housing. There are currently senior co-housing communities in California, Virginia, Colorado, and New Mexico. Fifteen more are in the planning stages.
American culture often sidelines and trivializes aging adults. Retirement communities are businesses that don't always take a senior's voice into account. That's not so with senior co-housing. The aging adult takes control and center stage. His or her voice comes first, as do the voices of his or her neighbors. They set the policies, hire the architect, design the houses, consider the issues of comfort and accessibility.
Senior co-housing has emotional and social advantages. When children have moved away and partners have passed away, co-housing provides a new support network. Community collaboration provides a sense of purpose and emotional well-being. Neighbors learn to help each other live as independently as possible for as long as possible.
There are economic advantages, too. Most co-housing residences are small, energy efficient, and easy to maintain. Sharing resources lowers the cost of living. Residents may share a van or a ride. The community may also decide to cooperatively hire expensive long-term care.
Want to know more? Cohousing offers workshops as well as legal and financial tips. Senior Cohousing provides links and books. The website for architects McCamant and Durrett has study guides at CoHousing.
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