Suburban cohousing

Suburban Cohousing

Cohousing is an intentional community of private homes clustered around shared space. It is the intentional community part that differentiates it from a neighborhood around a park, or an apartment building with shared laundry facilities and rec room. The private homes could be separate units or they could be condominiums. The land could be jointly owned as a cooperative, or owned and managed by a non-profit or for-profit entity. Housing may be rented, owned by residents, or a combination. The shared spaces could be outdoor recreation areas, a community kitchen and dining area, or even an enclosed courtyard between two rows of apartments. When in the suburbs, cohousing tends to conform to standard building styles, though some have eco-friendly building elements.

Cohousing is an intentional community if it is based on shared values and some extent of shared decision-making. Most cohousing is incorporated as stratas or condominiums, as that is what lending agencies prefer. Another ownership model is a cooperative, which is less common but growing in popularity.

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Steps to co-create or rent a shared-land neighborhood or co-housing apartment complex

  1. Getting informed. You might first spend time at an existing IC. See IC.org/directory (not affiliated). You may find a community that meets your needs, and if not, it would give you experience for your own IC formation. Working with a consultant can give you a head start if you don’t have the time to read up on all the options for cohousing.
  2. Creating your leadership team. When you are ready to build up your group, ICmatch.org member profiles are designed to help you find others who have the same interests and preferences. Together you can then create a set of solid plans that others who are like-minded can feel confident joining with.
  3. Joint decision-making. Once you have a group of your desired number of matched members, based on individual needs and capacity, you may decide to rent, lease, or co-purchase. A recent article in the Times might help you explore what degree of independence versus sharing your group can agree on. Whatever the decisions, gathering a number of committed members with the capacity for lease advance payments or down payments gives you some bargaining power. Fine-tune your group decision-making capacity and plan out the details of your housing.
  4. Land developers and builders. When it’s time to connect with realtors and developers in your area, take a look at the ICmatch.or consultants page to search for any that may be building housing clusters that meet your criteria. After reaching a point where you have the numbers and funds to negotiate a building contract or a lease agreement, you would also be in a good position to search for small developers who may be willing to meet specific construction requests that match the vision of your group members. If you plan to rent in a new development, this approach could allow you to secure the most desirable location within a planned housing cluster, keeping your group close together.
  5. Funding assistance. There are many developers interested in creating sustainable housing that includes a few low-income units, both because of their own convictions and the tax breaks offered for specific development types. You may be able to find grants based on the demographics of your group or your shared mission.
  6. Renting together. Developers of rental housing will be interested in your group as the first move-ins, because the compatibility among you shows staying power. Turnover is costly for managers and investors. Your group cohesion can indicate that they will deal with less turnover, and your group will be motivated to find compatible new members if any existing ones need to leave. Rental managers will also look forward to fewer complaints about neighbors, as you show you can resolve these among yourselves.
  7. Purchasing together. Realtors who specialize in larger land deals may be interested in working with your group, but you need to show you have solidarity. Their preference will be to sell to individuals or companies, because they may rightly suspect that internal conflict in a group could dissolve a contract. You will need to do work in advance to convince them of your financial standing and your agreement on a description of acceptable properties.
  8. Accountability structures. You might benefit from creating an HOA. Many people focus on the downside of homeowner’s associations (fees and restrictions) without appreciating the many protections they offer, such as from neighbors moving in who might devalue your home by their own lack of upkeep, accumulation of old vehicles, or noise. HOAs definitely can have downsides, but by helping establish the rules, you can maximize the upsides.
  9. Attending to relationships. Your next steps will depend on many particulars related to your group’s needs and vision, but be sure to get mentoring along the way. Attending to the relationships, not just the practical aspects, will help you weather many challenges. You also need to talk to neighbors early on to get their initial support. Otherwise you may find your plans blocked by local officials who have been lobbied by some who are suspicious of your group.

Examples

  • These sea-side residents along with the seller, wanted to preserve a set of historic houses. By pooling their funds and agreeing on how the homes would be used, a group was able to purchase the properties. Otherwise a developer would likely have bought the properties and replaced the homes with new million dollar homes in this desirable location.
  • At ic.org you will find hundreds of examples of cohousing communities with a variety of configurations. Look for those closest to the area you are interested in and matching the kind of setup you envision. Ask them to consult with you about gaining permits, and other potential challenges that might be unique to your area. You might ask to use their documents as templates that you can revise to fit specific needs.
  • Upscale single-family homes currently being designed for community and ecological sustainability include Radiance Cohousing in Saskatchewan, and the Verandah and Austin Greens, both in progress in BC.
  • Ithaca Ecovillage, a decades old successful intentional community, hosts a farm and works toward being carbon neutral, but it also might be considered an example of suburban co-housing because of its more standard appearance and its more standard wastewater disposal.

Consultants

See the consultants page to sign up if you have experience with cooperatively-owned co-housing and want to consult groups interested in establishing one.

No consultant found

Members

Resources

  • CohoUS and the Canadian Cohousing Network are great resources.
  • Collaborative Home Ownership consultants in BC link buyers, sellers, and investors. Check their website for a useful how-to guide. Canada also has a growing number of cooperatively owned condo or apartment complexes, supported by government and financial structures that are accustomed to these legal structures.
  • For joint real estate purchase, for investment or co-housing, see sharetini.com. Their profiles are organized by location.
  • ic.org is a great resource to find established cohousing intentional communities, and to learn how to manage them effectively.
  • See the Consultants page for listings of those who work with groups to establish their legal structures and facilitate decision making.
  • The pages for related group types may have additional resources useful for your group, especially single-parent house sharing and multi-family kid-focused.