Cohousing communities: What they are and what to consider
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The average household spends 33.8 percent of their budget on housing, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. This cost not only includes rent or mortgage payments, but also home maintenance, furnishings, utilities and more.
Sharing these expenses in a cohousing community can help reduce your overall housing cost. In addition to saving money, cohousing can help people who feel isolated in an increasingly digital world find a sense of community again, especially elderly folks. They can also be a good way for young people just starting out in a new city to meet people and make connections.
Let’s take a look at this special type of living arrangement, and how sharing 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. Other goals are 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, which might include a gym, laundry services or a pool.
How does cohousing work?
Most cohousing communities are managed by their residents. While many are designed with diverse types of residents in mind, some are limited. For example, communities for those 55 years and older bring together individuals of similar lifestyles, hobbies and interests. This type of arrangement can be a great opportunity for those who want to maintain ties in retirement, or make friends in their own age bracket.
There are also cohousing communities for 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 and may not want, or be able, to live totally independently.
How much do cohousing communities cost?
Cohousing can cost the same or a little bit more than purchasing a home traditionally, and prices depend on location. Milagro Cohousing homes in Tucson, Arizona, for example, cost $395,000 and up, according to the community’s website.
Some communities are specifically designed to be affordable, though, such as the 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.” That means the community will be created through the purchase of an existing neighborhood.
“Buying the older, smaller homes saves us the expense and 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 at Milagro Cohousing, for example, pay $350 per month. Baughier estimates the monthly fee in Warner Robins will come to $100.
Remember that splitting other costs with members of the cohousing community can save you money, too. Your shared expenses might include meals and utilities, such as at Synchronicity LA in Los Angeles, where members pay into a community bank account that funds food, internet and other utilities and supplies.
Cohousing pros and cons
- Cost and labor savings on utilities and some tasks, such as childcare and driving
- A sense of community and built-in opportunities to socialize
- Sustainability (e.g., energy efficiency or meal-sharing), which cuts down on waste
- Good option for seniors who want to age in place
- 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 most often 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 and 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 shopping centers or offices, share space. The goal is for residents to be able to live and work within close proximity.
If you’re considering living in a cohousing community, The Cohousing Association of the United States (CohoUS) can be a good place to start. It has a directory on its website of registered cohousing communities throughout the country 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 how long it’s been established.