Growing Up in Cohousing

Lindy Sexton sat down with Joy Castro-Wehr in 2016, who was at the time a senior in high school and lived in Nevada City Cohousing with her family. She is a social activist and a worldly-thinker, and contributes much of this to living in cohousing.

Frog Song Cohousing in Cotati, CA. Architecture by McCamant & Durrett Architects

Frog Song Cohousing in Cotati, CA. Architecture by McCamant & Durrett Architects


Lindy: How long have you lived in cohousing?


Joy: Since I was 8. My family was aware of cohousing and had a cohousing-esque relationship with neighbors in Oakland; we took down the property fence, had a common space, and shared things. We moved to Nevada City when I was 4 because of public Waldorf school. And lived on a large property in Nevada City. When we moved into cohousing, I initially missed my big backyard, but soon realized that I used the cohousing acreage behind the houses much more than my old backyard because I had more friends to share it with.


Lindy: What do you like about living in cohousing?


Joy: In cohousing, I am so filled with love, there is no room for anything else. Challenges do exist, but it is easier to deal with these challenges because of support from cohousers. Just as my neighbors have influenced me with their worldly perspectives, they also have taught me how to have opinions and ways to voice those so others aren’t offended. Most people living in cohousing are there because they share the same interest in and desire to contribute to community. Otherwise, why live in cohousing? Relationship building is much easier because of proximity in cohousing. It’s a lot less work to say “hi” because my neighbors are right across the sidewalk.


Lindy: How do you contribute to the community in your cohousing?


Joy: Every person in the community has an aspect of cohousing that they connect through. For some, it’s gardening. For others, it’s going on skiing trips with neighbors. The dinner table is my family’s “place of connection”. So common meals are how we become close to others around us. In fact, just the other night, I had a deep and inspiring conversation with some neighbors at a common meal.


I also know that the kids look up to me. I babysit for many of my neighbors and know the kids in my neighborhood like they were family. I am accountable for how I act around the three-year old that lives next to me, which is one of the reason’s I choose not to do drugs and get drunk.


Lindy: Do you still experience challenges outside of your community, for instance, peer pressure at school?


Joy: (sigh) Outside of our cohousing community, I deal with the same peer pressure that all teens deal with. Because of my family and cohousing, I feel that I am not missing anything in my life. I’ve learned to ignore the peer pressure I know is not good. I simply do not have time to pursue something that alters my sense of being.

I never needed to look beyond my community because there was always someone, some experience to fill the gap. People often get pressured into drugs and abuse alcohol because they are “lacking” in something. It’s like Play-Doh, filling holes in someone’s life, and Play-Doh doesn’t last for long. Cohousing fills in some of those holes. And community is more resilient.

 That said, cohousers like to have social time and have parties. There is a group of cohousers that like to brew beer in our cohousing. They get together and play pool and try their new brews. And every once in awhile, someone will bring a nice bottle of wine to a common meal and shares it with others. Treating alcohol like a social treat, rather than a crutch teaches kids that it’s okay to appreciate every once in awhile.


Nevada City Cohousing in Nevada City, CA. Architecture by McCamant & Durrett Architects

Nevada City Cohousing in Nevada City, CA. Architecture by McCamant & Durrett Architects

Lindy: Why has cohousing made such an impact on your life?


Joy: I treat many of them like my own grandparents and relatives, but it’s a lot less work to say “hi” because they’re right across the sidewalk. This also means that I have gotten so many different perspectives on life – politics, culture, family, etc. Rather than believing everything my parents’ believed, I had other people to draw experiences from. I was surrounded by different perspectives of people who respected each other’s opinions.

Thanks to Joy for her insight in the abundance of cohousing! If you or someone you know has been influenced by cohousing and you’d like to share it with us, please let us know!

How Cohousing Adds To The Collective Good

Written by Jessie Durrett, daughter of cohousing experts and authors Charles Durrett and Katie McCamant.

In this very insightful essay, originally written in 2017, Jessie describes how growing up in cohousing positively influenced how she relates in the larger world. Thank you Jessie, for sharing your childhood experience with readers.

Nevada City Cohousing, Nevada City, CA

Nevada City Cohousing, Nevada City, CA

I am a big-picture thinker who contemplates how intersecting issues and policies affect real people, whether they share my office or are caught in a civil war on another continent. I take an inquisitive, enterprising, and collaborative approach to solving problems in my own life, broader community, and work.

I largely attribute my intellectual curiosity and prioritization of the collective good to my upbringing in cohousing (an intentional, intergenerational neighborhood of clustered private homes where people share meals and amenities). From an early age, I was participating in lively discussions about the Iraq War and cooking dinner for forty of my neighbors. Joining finance and landscaping committee meetings showed me the challenges and opportunities of building consensus and participatory decision-making. As a twelve-year-old, I advocated for community meal times that accommodated my athletic practice schedule and the needs of families with toddlers. My neighbors encouraged me to explore my interests, taught me about their careers, and invited me to their churches. Cohousing provided an exceptional venue for me to nurture my aspirations to effect positive change locally and globally.

Nevada City Cohousing, Nevada City, CA

Nevada City Cohousing, Nevada City, CA

Beyond living in cohousing, my parents dedicated their careers to designing, developing, and championing this type of multifamily housing. With them, I visited construction sites, attended planning commission meetings, and spent time with cohousing groups in Denmark, Japan, New Zealand, Austria, and Canada. Working in my parents’ office in high school, I compiled media stories and promoted cohousing to policymakers. Realizing the benefits that cohousing provided to me, I now lead workshops at national cohousing conferences on how to create a culture in which children can thrive. Community was the foundation of my upbringing, which explains the value I put on interpersonal skills and my conviction to advance the public good.

My desire to build community transcends personal, professional, and educational settings. As a Student Senator and Resident Advisor in college, I led efforts to improve the health services available on campus, arranged service projects, and worked to create inclusive learning and living environments. I have also become a leader within the ultimate frisbee community. After captaining my college team and playing for a club team in Washington, DC, I co-founded and captained a new women’s club team. We started from scratch in 2015 and quickly sold our vision to coaching staff and the hundreds of players who tryout each season. Today, we are ranked 27th in the country. I take pride in our collective drive and contributions to the national women’s ultimate scene. I have also fostered local community while thinking globally as chair of the Young Professionals in Foreign Policy’s gender discussion group in Washington, which analyzes gendered implications of conflict and informal mining in West Africa, among other topics.

The values and skills I learned through my unique upbringing in cohousing help me take on complex challenges in both personal and professional situations. As I advance my career in foreign policy, my deep-seated dedication to community will continue to inform my interests and decisions.

Original post from Alice Alexander can be found by following this link.