Co-housing: Not Your Grandmother's Commune

Somewhat like 60 being the new 40, co-housing is the new yesterday’s small town. Think pioneer groups sharing meals around a campfire… then think post-2000 college grads seeking affordable housing and wanting community; or think 60s communes with wifi and central air conditioning. You’ll get an idea of today’s growing U.S. co-housing movement. (The term is written with or without a hyphen.)

At a recent OWL-sponsored panel discussion, two representatives of different (in some ways vastly different) California cohousing projects outlined some of the reasons this option is attractive to Boomers (downsize into simpler lifestyle, find community) and seniors (anticipate future needs, find community) in particular, but multi-generational others as well. The big key word: community. Cohousing villages are designed and self-managed with intention. They range from west coast to east and in between, from simple to posh, urban to rural. Swan’s Market in downtown Oakland, CA is on the National Register of Historic Places in an area fast morphing from down-and-out to up-and- coming. Mosaic Commons in Berlin, MA west of Boston boasts of green space, green planning, green building. Blue Ridge Commons near Charlottesville, VA touts organic gardens and a renovated 1890s farmhouse, while recently completed Great Oak Cohousing, Ann Arbor MI’s second such venture, lists 30-some households which include “about 65 adults” and “about 37 kids.” Cohousing populations are moving targets.

The common thread is the desire for economically and ecologically viable close-community living. Most cohousing villages have at least two or three shared meals per week with everyone taking turns in the communal kitchen, while the rest of the time residents dine at home. Most share other things like laundry space, recreational space and assorted activities. The same occasional conflicts that probably afflicted cave dwellers arise among today’s cohousing residents, but enthusiasm runs rampant.

And increasing numbers of Americans are considering, or at the very least familiar with, the concept. This reporter appeared to be the only person in an overflow audience who had to ask who the oft-mentioned Chuck and Katie were. (Kathryn McCamant and Charles Durrett; they wrote the book.)

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