Cohousing communities: What they are and considerations to make

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The average household spends 32 percent of their budget on housing, according to the U.S. Labor Department. This cost not only includes rent or mortgage payments, but also home maintenance, furnishings, utilities and more.

Sharing this expense in a cohousing community can help reduce your overall housing cost. Let’s take a look at this special type of living arrangement, and how sharing your space might work for you.

What is a cohousing community?

Cohousing communities generally consist of a shared space surrounded by private homes. The shared space might include a dining area, recreational areas and even a large kitchen.

The aims of cohousing communities, sometimes called intentional communities, include fostering connection among neighbors through shared meals and activities; increasing sustainability; helping others with tasks such as childcare; and, in some cases, assisting others as they age.

In addition to the community aspect, another draw of cohousing is access to certain amenities, such as a gym, laundry services and a pool.

How does cohousing work?

Most cohousing communities are managed by its residents. While many are designed with diverse types of residents in mind, some are limited. For example, senior cohousing communities for those 55 years and older bring together individuals with similar needs, hobbies and interests. This type of arrangement can be a great opportunity for those who want to maintain ties in retirement.

There are also cohousing communities comprised of adults who’ve moved away from home or may be otherwise isolated. In these communities, residents can benefit from both the privacy of an individual home and the opportunity to form relationships within the community.

Cohousing can also be an option for those just starting their careers in a new place, or those who are downsizing who may not want or be able to live totally independently.

What are cohousing costs?

Cohousing can cost the same or a little bit more than purchasing a home traditionally, and it can depend on location. Milagro Cohousing homes in Tucson, Arizona, for example, cost between $300,000 and $400,000, according to the community’s website.

There are communities designed to be affordable, however, such as the yet-to-be-named community Stephen Baughier is helping to develop in Warner Robins, Georgia.

“What will set ours apart from the typical cohousing option will be its affordability,” Baughier, an accountant, explains. “Unlike many communities that are built from the ground up on raw land, ours here will be retrofit cohousing,” which means the community will be created through the purchase of an existing neighborhood.

“Buying the older, smaller homes saves us the expense and the trouble of planning infrastructure,” Baughier says. “In my opinion, going this route maintains affordability.”

Because of this approach, Baughier anticipates the homes in Warner Robins will cost less than $100,000.

Aside from the cost of the home, you may need to pay community fees, as well, much like homeowners association dues, which are used to maintain shared spaces and fund activities. The homeowners that are part of Milagro Cohousing in Arizona pay $350 per month. Baughier estimates the fee for the community in Warner Robins will come to $100.

Remember that splitting other costs with members of the community can save you money, too. Your shared expenses might include meals and utilities, such as in the cohousing community Synchronicity LA in Los Angeles, where members pay into a community bank account that funds food, internet and other utilities or supplies.

Cohousing pros and cons

Pros

  • Cost and labor savings on some tasks, such as childcare and driving, and utilities
  • Built-in opportunities to socialize, which can be beneficial mentally
  • Sustainability (e.g., energy efficiency or meal-sharing), which cuts down on waste
  • Potentially safer

Cons

  • Home prices potentially the same or more compared to other homes
  • Community dues, like HOA fees
  • Managed by residents, so there could be conflict in decision-making
  • May not be suitable for certain kinds of residents, such as those with accessibility concerns or who want greater privacy

Where are cohousing communities located?

Cohousing can be found in:

  • Rural areas – Cohousing communities in rural areas are often spaced out over a few acres and include single-family homes. The shared space tends to be used for farming (like community-supported agriculture initiatives) or recreational purposes.
  • Urban areas – City cohousing communities tend to attract a mix of young professionals with some multigenerational residents. They’re typically smaller in size and may be located within an apartment complex or townhome development.
  • Mixed-use spaces – In a mixed-use cohousing community, both homes and businesses, such as a shopping center or office, share space. The goal is for residents to be able to live and work within close proximity.

Cohousing resources

If you’re considering living in a cohousing community, The Cohousing Association of the United States (CohoUS) can be a good place to start. CohoUS has a directory on its website of registered cohousing communities throughout the U.S. that can be sorted by state. The organization also maintains a classifieds section of listings of homes for sale in cohousing communities.

The Foundation for Intentional Community (FIC) also has an extensive listing of cohousing communities throughout the U.S. You can filter your search by location, whether the community is accepting members or by how long it’s been established.

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