What is cohousing?
In a nutshell, “cohousing” (sometimes spelled “co-housing”) is an intentional neighborhood in which residents actively participate in the design and operation of their own community. It’s a marvelous and exciting concept and we’ve got a whole page of additional information that lists the common characteristics of cohousing communities to help you understand what the idea is all about.
How many residences are there?
Our community has 19 units in a mix of one-, two-, and three-bedroom units.
Are rentals available?
We are primarily set up as an owner-occupied community, however some rental opportunities may be available if members look to rent a room or their entire unit for various circumstances. If available, rental and purchase opportunities will be posted on our website.
How is this different from a traditional condo building?
In short, it’s intent, opportunity, and expectations. In cohousing, one lives with spaces designed with the intent that residents will come there to gather on a frequent basis. The design (with lots of user friendly spaces) and the location (right by your entrance) make it likely that everyone will stop by leading to a chat when you stop by after work, crossword puzzles together on Sunday morning, serendipitous movie nights, etc. At Richmond Cohousing, we have common spaces on the ground floor and our roof deck.
On the ground floor we meet for common meals, and while it’s voluntary a lot of us suspect we’ll be at most of them (imagine not having to cook but still having a healthy, low cost dinner with friends!) And the roof deck, where you might go to get some sun, is also where you can have some fun in our community garden. And if you are not a gardener, that’s ok – you don’t have to take it on all by yourself but instead share the work with friends (some that are really great gardeners). These are all typical amenities in cohousing and are designed to give a space for planned and unplanned interaction.
In contrast are most of the apartment buildings our members have lived in – those buildings have beautifully decorated common spaces but that sat empty all the time. Given the lack of intent neighbors would likely find it odd if you sat in the lobby reading a book as in these buildings the lobby is not a communal gathering space but a pretty entrance to private spaces. These buildings might have a BBQ area near the parking area where neighbors might stop and chat, while cooking or coming to and from and it that moment it has a bit of a cohousing “feel”. But the difference is, you would stop to chat but rarely sat down as everyone cooking out there was making their own meal – not a communal meal. It’s lacking the intent, opportunity, and expectations of a cohousing community.
How will the community be governed?
All resident members participate in the governance and management and will make major decisions using modified consensus. Legally, we are structured as a condo association.
What do you mean by “consensus”?
A good explanation for consensus comes from a British site called Seeds for Change, which says that “consensus decision-making is a creative and dynamic way of reaching agreement between all members of a group. Instead of simply voting for an item and having the majority of the group get their way, a group using consensus is committed to finding solutions that everyone actively supports, or at least can live with”. We have a blog post that explains the modified model that we use in our decision making process.
How is cohousing different from a commune?
We’re not a commune. Participants in a cohousing community own their own dwellings individually and do not share their incomes (or any particular ideology).
What will I own?
Your home and your equal portion of the Common House and land. Unit ownership and any future sale will be conventional and primarily the responsibility of the homeowner. Cohousing communities typically have excellent re-sale values with a waiting list of interested future buyers.
Will I be able to have a pet?
Yes! In general, we agree to uphold Richmond City ordinances, only allow service animals within indoor common areas, encourage cats to remain indoors. If you feel strongly about the issue, we’re happy to share our full Pet Agreement with you.
What is a “Common House?”
We have a Common House to serve as the central social space for the cohousing community; a Common House is really the heart of a cohousing community. Our common house has a large kitchen and dining area suitable for shared meals. We also have space dedicated for a children’s play room, a lounge/meeting area, a guest room and a workshop. We also have a 2,000+ square foot rooftop deck.
How are shared facilities like the Common House paid for?
A portion of the cost of construction for shared facilities like the Common House was included in the cost of each individual unit. On-going maintenance costs will be covered by a cohousing association fee, very much the way many neighborhoods have a home owner fee to cover common maintenance tasks. As with other aspects of cohousing life, the community decides what maintenance tasks need to be accomplished and the best way (e.g., by relying on volunteers, or by hiring outside maintenance personnel, etc.) to accomplish them.
How are shared meals handled?
Most cohousing communities find that shared meals are a large contributor to life in a warm and supportive community. We feel this an important part of establishing our community and rhythm. Interestingly, we moved into our building June 2020 during the Covid-19 pandemic and had to suspend our meals in the common space, but we were able to gather on the roof top for potlucks while maintaining safety protocols. Today, Common meals are optional and there’s no obligation to come but most of our community chooses to participate as their schedule allows. We have cooking/cleaning teams which means you cook/clean every so often, but you actually sit down/eat more than you cook/clean. So, on balance it is a fun thing to do and it’s a night off from cooking/cleaning more than it is nights on of cooking and cleaning! And we make great meals!
Are there shared activities besides meals?
Yes. Besides common meals, there are work group meetings, work parties and other regular gatherings. Community members do find that it’s easy to become part of a group who decides to do something spontaneous together, such as go to a movie, go for a hike, or on a bike ride. These groups emerge organically based on whoever decides to initiate it. One that we instituted and quickly became a favorite was Easy Start Saturdays. This is a 2-hour Saturday morning coffee with spontaneous discussion around whatever topic pops up. You can come for the whole two hours or just a portion of the time—whatever works for you. Sometimes it’s a whole group discussion depending on the topic but then it can also break out into smaller discussion groups of just 2 or 3. We just let it flow from Saturday to Saturday. The design of the community makes it easy to connect with other people who enjoy the same things as you.
How are homes maintained?
Like a condo, members will be responsible for the maintenance of their individual units. Maintenance of the common areas, building exterior, and grounds are the shared responsibility of the community. We decide by consensus how to organize doing the work together. We may choose to hire out some of the work, which would be paid for with association fees.
What about paying for utilities?
The condo association facilitates building-wide internet, compost, trash, and water. Each residence is responsible for their own electricity bill. Utilities for the common facilities are paid from association fees.