Frequently Asked Questions
Contents generously provided by the Canadian Cohousing Network
What is the legal status of a typical community?
One of the simplest methods to set up the development is to incorporate as a standard corporation. This structure limits liability for members, is most flexible and is the most easily recognized by lending institutions. Upon completion of the development, the legal status will change to allow for individual home ownership.
What about safety and security?
In a cohousing community where everyone knows each other, there’s a robust, built-in neighbourhood watch system. People know when a stranger walks into the neighbourhood. A child who scrapes her knee or falls off his bike always has someone there to pick them up and dust them off.
If you’re away for a vacation or business trip, someone will always be keeping an eye on your home. Someone alwayshas your back.
How do common meals work in cohousing?
Cohousing communities usually prepare between two and five meals per week in their common house. They are usually prepared by a team of two to four persons for whoever has signed up for the meal. Common meals is always voluntary, though usually members are required to do their share of cooking and cleaning, usually every four or five weeks.
There are many different ways to structure meal preparation. Members pay for the cost of the meals, but only for those they take part in. Vegetarian or vegan preferences are typically accommodated, as are special food requirements whenever practicable.
Many cohousers feel that common meals are the glue that holds communities together. They may offer the only time in a busy week when people can get together for a real conversation with their neighbors. And if there’s little extra time for after-dinner coffee or drinks and conversation, so much the better.
If residents maintain the neighborhood, are there chores?
Each cohousing group has figured out different ways to divvy up the work. Sometimes teams oversee particular areas of work like maintenance or landscaping, or perform regular tasks such as snow removal, dishwashing after shared meals, cleaning the common house, or gardening.
Cohousers usually spend about four to eight hours each month on shared tasks. Larger projects usually call on members to devote an evening or a weekend to get the job done.
Of course, allowances are always made for members with limited physical capabilities, and there’s always a need for helping with planning, purchasing supplies, watching kids, or providing refreshments to those doing the heavy lifting.
I'm an introvert – will I get time to myself in cohousing?
Some of us prefer to socialize a little less than others, and in cohousing there’s no expectation to be social at all times. Each member can choose when to take part in group activities or hang out with neighbours, and when to withdraw to the privacy of their own home or to a quiet nook in the common house.
Some cohousers even create their own signs to let their neighbors know they prefer not to engage at the moment. And though it seems counter-intuitive, cohousing is actually very popular with introverts. There’s no “work” required to socialize; it just happens organically.
Are there advantages to joining right away?
Yes! By joining early, you get to:
Become part of, and help shape, your community’s culture
Establish seniority for home and site selection, which is usually determined by date of membership
Have a voice in deciding how we will live as neighbors, which means setting such things as pet policy, common amenities, landscape design, etc.
Where did cohousing get its start?
In the late 1960’s a group of Danish families set out to find an alternative to their less-than-satisfactory urban way of life. They sought a community where they knew their neighbours. They wanted a safe neighbourhood in which people talked to each other, and looked out for them – a neighbourhood where kids knew every adult and could trust them.
Younger families yearned for ways to ease their lives by creating a supportive community in which the day-to-day stress of child care, careers, and getting ahead could be shared. Their neighbourhood would be a place where each person could pursue their individual goals while reducing their environmental footprint.
Older people wanted a home where they could age in place. They were looking for a neighbourhood where they could maintain their autonomy and self-reliance, and that staved off loneliness and isolation.
The neighbourhoods that these far-seeing Danes created were called bofoellesskaber – living communities. Today, ten percent of all new housing in Denmark follow this model, and the concept is spreading to other parts of the world.
It was introduced to North America by two architects – Katie McCamant and Charles Durrett – in 1988. They came up with the term cohousing, and they have helped build dozens of such communities in the U.S. and Canada. Many more are being build every year.
What is cohousing?
In cohousing, people work together to create their own neighbourhood. Residents are intimately involved in planning and design their housing development, which helps to form the bonds that are the foundation of a community.
Members of a cohousing community share common facilities and participate in every aspect of decision-making. Cohousing can be urban, suburban, or rural. Communities can build new homes, or rehabilitate an existing structure.
Designs are limited only by the desires and means of the group. Each home is self-contained with ready access to shared facilities, and the design of the neighbourhood encourages interaction with neighbours.
How often are meetings held?
Business and committee meetings are held at least once a month to manage every phase of the cohousing project and to keep it moving forward. Plenty of things need to be managed – everything from community-building to design and development – and everyone has a role to play.
Do I need to attend the meetings?
The short answer: “yes”.
A well-founded cohousing community belongs to everyone, and it requires each person to play their part in building and sustaining their community. This includes designing the layout of their home and of the common facilities, and deciding on the protocols and procedures to manage the community.
Will I have privacy in my home?
Yes! Privacy is every bit as important socializing, and every members has private space in their own homes. And yes, every private home has its own kitchen.
Cohousing is not a commune or cult. While members are encouraged and expected to play an active role in the community, each one can decide on what activities they want to participate in, and how often. The beauty of cohousing is that its amenities include meeting places, play areas, craft rooms and workshops, while individual homes are a place of privacy and retreat.
A 1997 study released by the Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation noted that “While the shared amenities are integral to cohousing, privacy is more respected in cohousing communities than elsewhere. The idea of shared kitchen and dining facilities arises not from the idea that meals should be communal, but that sometimes communal meals benefit everyone.”
What’s expected of me once we’ve built our community?
Each member will contribute their fair share of time and effort to keep the community going. This includes chores, maintenance, upkeep, as well as attending regular meetings to oversee the well-being of the neighbourhood. Members are usually required to pay a monthly maintenance fee as well.
What is a Common House?
The common house is the heart of the cohousing community. It’s where residents come together to break bread, enjoy each other’s company, celebrate milestones and accomplishments, and to meet to make decisions that have an impact on the entire community.
The common house is the centrepiece of the neighbourhood’s shared facilities. It can include everything from a kitchen and dining room, lounge, party room, and laundry facilities, to child care space, workshops and craft rooms, guest rooms, and office space.
Who designs the Common House, amenities, and individual homes?
Members decide. They sit on committees where they analyze issues, research options, and make recommendations to the full membership.
Do members share meals together?
Although each private home is fully self-sufficient, the common house includes a kitchen and dining room for members to share meals. Some communities decide to share meals once a day; others weekly or even monthly.
These shared meals, and common facilities, are an important element in the life of the community, but they are always optional, and members have most of their meals in their own dwellings.
What if I get sick, or have an accident, or there’s an emergency and I need help?
As with any closely knit community, you live among friends and neighbours. People look out for each other – they help each other in many small and informal ways, and when things get really tough, there’s always someone there to lend a helping hand or a comforting word.
Many cohousing communities provide space in their common house for personal care workers to stay when they’re on their rounds. Ongoing care arrangements can also be arranged, either formally by the community, or informally amongst individual members.
How long does it take to build a cohousing community?
Many things need to fall into place – everything from recruiting members, negotiating the purchase of the land, and sorting out municipal bylaws and regulations, to finding professionals to design the neighbourhood and get it built, and developing processes to govern daily life in the community.
Most cohousing projects are typically launched by a small group of friends – “burning souls” who are fully committed to building their dream community. It can take anywhere from a few months to several years to bring enough people together to get it built, but once a core group has formed, a site has been found, and shovels are in the ground, getting it built takes no longer than any other development being built by the right professionals.
What is the decision-making process?
Every member is responsible for guiding their community. Everyone shares in decision making, and most cohousing communities rely on some form of consensus-building to make their decisions. This puts everyone on an equal footing, and forestalls power struggles and petty politics.
Most cohousing decisions are delegated to smaller teams, who then create proposals that the larger group either approves or sends back for modification. Everything from animal policy to landscaping choices are decided through consensus. This means that all voices are heard, preventing the poor decisions for which many condo boards are notorious. It also creates more buy-in to the final decision.
Consensus is not necessarily unanimity. A consensus decision is one that everyone can live with, and is often modified by those who didn’t agree with the original proposal. These collaborative solutions can have an elegance and creativity that is only possible through collective wisdom.
Collaborative consensus also encourages everyone to communicate openly and honestly with each other, and to make sincere efforts to see things from their neighbour’s point of view. This model has been evolving over several decades, and has sustained the creation of hundreds of successful communities.
What will the community be like?
The members of each cohousing project are actively involved in designing their community – the common facilities, site layout, and private homes. They are assisted in every phase by professional architects, designers, and developers to come up with a neighbourhood that meets their needs and priorities.
The optimum size for a cohousing community is 15 to 35 households. Fewer than 15 households puts too much pressure on too few people to participate in community activities; anymore than 35 makes it too difficult to create a closely knit community.
How do I join a cohousing community?
Cohousing communities make a point of being open and welcoming. Anyone may attend a meeting as a guest. Most groups hold orientation sessions beforehand to bring their visitors up to speed on basic cohousing concepts and the progress the group has made so far.
A cohousing group will also ask prospective members to meet their requirements for joining the group and for contributing to the progress of the project. Members will also have to have the financial resources to build their home and their share of the common facilities in their new neighbourhood.
The easiest way to get involved is to buy a home in an existing community. You can also join a forming group - or start your own if there isn't one in your city or town.
How do I find out more about cohousing?
There are plenty of ways to learn more – a good place to start is at our More Resources page.
Will I own my own home?
Yes. The method of ownership can vary, but it is most common to use the condominium ownership structure. In this model each household owns its own home together with a share of the common facilities. As a matter of financing convenience, most cohousing communities in the U.S. and Canada have chosen this structure.
Do I have to like everyone?
Not necessarily. Cohousing communities are like any other, in that they have a vibrant mix of personalities, each with their own experiences and views. In a neighbourhood with as many as 35 households, not everyone will become your close friend.
Some of us are more outgoing, and readily develop friendships. Some of us are more private and prefer just one or two close friends. However, as with any healthy community, people are expected to be tolerant and respectful toward others, and cohousing communities have developed ways to encourage each member to understand, respect, and even cherish each other’s point of view.
How can I get to know everyone in the group?
The best way is for prospective members to meet the community by attending the regular meetings and social events. Bonds are built and relationships strengthened by taking part in deliberations at meetings, working together on committees, socializing at community events, and through the many informal contacts that people initiate.
Do cohousing groups have religious or political affiliations?
Not generally. There is no agenda beyond creating a friendly neighbourhood where all residents feel accepted, comfortable, and secure. Most cohousers prefer a community diverse in age and background and is sustainable both socially and environmentally. So long as they don’t interfere with community relationships, everyone is welcome to their own creeds and convictions.
Who lives in cohousing?
Lots of people. They have given some thought about taking part in a sustainable and open community, and are invariably attracted to the concept of cohousing. They’re people that seek to improve their quality of life and to be engaged in activities that connect them with like-minded individuals.
Cohousers often think globally and act locally. They believe in taking responsibility for themselves and in leaving a better world for their children. People who choose to build a cohousing community come from many different backgrounds, family types, and beliefs.
What they do have in common is a desire to have a say in the shape their neighbourhood will take, and to have strong connections with their neighbours. Many cohousing communities believe in living lightly on the earth, and seek to reduce their use of resources and live in closer harmony with the natural world.