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 will there be?
A cohousing community can’t be too small, or it won’t have enough variety, diversity, and opportunity for interaction. It can’t be too large either, or self-governance becomes unwieldy and impractical. Our community will allow for 19 units in a mix of one-, two-, and three-bedroom units.
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, quick hellos that lead to a “play date” for later, a chance for kids to be together in the kids room, serendipitous movie nights, etc. At Richmond Cohousing we will have both our ground floor common area and our roof deck. On the ground floor we’ll meet three times each week 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 three times a week 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 residents will participate in the governance and management and will make major decisions using modified consensus. Legally, we will be 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).
Who will be allowed or not allowed to live at Richmond Cohousing?
Anyone willing to be a participating member who signs up before our community is full can live in the Richmond Cohousing community. Membership brings the many privileges and satisfactions of community living, but also entails responsibilities such as attending meetings and participating on committees. Before you join, you’ll have ample opportunity to interact with other members so that you can make an informed decision about whether our cohousing community here in Richmond is right for you. We hope to have a diverse community, because we believe that life is richer when we have the benefit of many different viewpoints and experiences.
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! Formed communities have said this can be one of the most contentious agreements they have had to make, so we’ve already drafted a Pet Community Agreement. 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 agreement with you.
What is a “Common House?”
We’ll 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 will have 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 will also have a 2,000+ square foot rooftop deck. We will agree as a community on the design, function, and furnishings of these spaces.
How are shared facilities like the Common House paid for?
A portion of the cost of construction for shared facilities like the Common House will be 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 will decide 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 have shared meals at least once a week – some are potlucks, some are prepared by a team of volunteers at low-cost to those who eat. Most cohousing communities find that their shared meals are a huge advantage of, and a large contributor to, life in a warm and supportive community. We feel this an important part of establishing our community and rhythm, so we’ve already drafted a Common Meals Community Agreement that we’ll continue to revise and adapt as needed. Right now, we plan to have family style meals three times a week and a weekend brunch once per month. A priority will be placed on use of high quality, local, fresh, and organic ingredients.
Will we have shared activities besides meals?
Yes. Besides common meals, meetings, work parties and other regular gatherings, community members 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. The design of the community will make it easy to connect with other people who enjoy the same things as you. The whole community will probably celebrate some events together in the Common House or elsewhere on the property. Working together to garden, landscape, or maintain the Common House usually proves to be an excellent way to form and foster personal relationships.
How will homes be maintained?
Like a condo, members will be responsible for the maintenance of their individual units. Maintenance of the common areas, building exterior and grounds will be the shared responsibility of the community. We’ll 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?
We’ll be connected to public sewer and water systems, and to normal electricity, phone, cable lines, and the like; each residence will pay separately for its utility costs. Utilities for the common facilities will be paid from association fees.
Will there be childcare?
The community itself won’t start with a formal arrangement for childcare, but an advantage of a closely knit and mutually supportive neighborhood is that it’s usually easy to organize your own informal childcare exchanges. If the community wants to, of course, it can arrange more formal childcare programs if those seem needed and desired. Cohousing communities with older or retired people as well as young families can be a wonderful combination, because someone is frequently available to volunteer childcare.
Thanks to Jubilee Cohousing of Floyd, Virginia, for providing us with an initial set of FAQs, which we’ve edited to fit our particular needs. Any mistakes, typos, etc., are ours here at RC, not anybody else’s.