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Cohousing creates communities by design

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"There are several elder cohousing communities in the U.S., but no one else like us," Okner says. "Without turning anyone away, we gently try to maintain a certain percentage of families with children. We've built a huge play structure to encourage young families. We need children. The separation of generations in this country is horrible."

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A total of 36 homes will eventually be built on the 12-acre site. Okner says 34 of the lots have been sold, and the homes are being built at intervals as future residents sell their existing homes or reach retirement.

Original lot owners pay a one-time membership fee of $1,000 per household and chip in to finance the Common House, a central feature of cohousing communities where residents gather for shared meals, group activities and community meetings. Homeowner association dues are $140 per month.

It's the high cost of procuring land and custom-building a community that raises the specter of elitism, a charge cohousing advocates are anxious to dispel.

Some owners at Manzanitas Village provide homes or apartments for rent. Okner says his home, which is still under construction, will include a 1,200-square-foot ground-floor apartment he intends to rent to a single mother at moderate cost.

Common space and community pursuits  
 
 
SLIDESHOW:  |   

Community environmentalism, activism
Parsons and his family recently moved into Bartimaeus Cohousing Community in Bremerton, Wash., a 25-unit community consisting of one single-family home and four condominium buildings on seven acres.

Although the group used a Realtor to assist with the land purchase, he says, Bartimaeus, like Manzanitas Village, was self-developed.

"Physical designs that facilitate interaction are foreign to most developers," he says. "We didn't want our buildings built in parallel lines, but at angles with big porches facing each other and mini social areas."

The site also contains wetlands and protected environmental areas, Parsons says, including a salmon stream, and the county would only allow development at one end. That was fine with the residents, who are removing non-native plants in an effort to restore the wetlands.

Bartimaeus homeowners purchase units outright. Association dues are $135 to $231 a month. Common amenities include gardens, playing fields, a play area, walking trails, a workshop and a 2,600-square-foot Common House. Rentals are available.

"We decided from the beginning that those who could afford an extra unit would provide rental options," Parsons says. "One unit is owned by a nonprofit and set aside for a family in transition. They can live there for six to 12 months at a reduced rent. People in the community can help with finding jobs and getting them back on their feet."

Developmental help
The shift from talking about building your own utopia to actually doing it is monumental. Most groups need professional help. Cohousing Resources has assisted more than 35 communities with financing and development.

"The financing is no different than for any real estate development," says Kelly Scotthanson, co-author with her husband Chris of "The Cohousing Handbook: Building A Place For Community." "Once you have 20 percent in and spent, there's no problem getting the other 80 percent financed.

 
 
Next: " ... one person can stall a project indefinitely ... "
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