Cohousing creates communities by design
In Baltimore, Wolf says, a recently passed ordinance gives block residents the option to gate and green their alleyways if they choose. It is being used by cohousing advocates to spread retrofitted communities.
Retrofitting, says Wolf, removes the "huge financial burden and risk of development. When you tear your fences down and start sharing tools and lawn mowers, you save a lot of money and life is a lot richer."
Cost savings, says Okner, is an advantage in all cohousing communities.
"Because we do some of our own work and are self-managed," he says, "we have much lower homeowner association fees. And since sustainability is a goal, the homes are built to be energy-efficient. We compost; we recycle."
Insurance premiums may also be much lower than what a homeowner is used to, Okner says. "If you took all the cohousing communities in the country and tallied the number of burglaries and other crimes, you'd find they are significantly less than in the general population, and insurance companies are realizing that."
N Street Community's Wolf says homeowners in a retrofitted cohousing community don't have much trouble getting insurance.
"We had one insurance company say they couldn't insure us without fences between properties," he said. "We asked them to check with their branches in the Midwest, where many homes don't have fences. They came back and apologized for their mistake and gave the homeowner a new policy. We haven't seen any difference in prices, either."
The Common House is insured under a $1 million general liability policy, he said.
But cohousing communities are not for everyone. Someone considering the option needs to understand that they are not just buying a house, but a community.
While it can be argued that you always buy into a community, Rosalind Greenstein, senior fellow and chair of the Department of Economic and Community Development at the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy in Cambridge, Mass., says cohousing is a little different.
"It's a specialty product," says Greenstein. "There are people who love it, but for a lot of people, it's not the kind of thing they would want to do. For some people it's a plus, but for others it's like being at a party where someone stands too close for comfort. So you need to go and check it out."