Many people are familiar with the idea that if the neighbor next door cares, or better yet, if an entire covey of neighbors that surround you really care about who lives next door — and who can act to support them—then the need for external behavior control mechanisms (from outside the community) diminishes immensely; likewise, the need for outside care or support, like psychological therapy, are less frequently outsourced from the community or not outsourced at all. Every one of these line items is immensely affected.
BE A neighbor
When folks feel accountable to their next-door neighbor, and don’t call the police just because someone parked in their driveway, then the costly police are less required. The number one call received by the fire department where I live in Nevada County, California, is a “pick-up and put-back” call (i.e. a senior has fallen in their own house and needs to be helped into bed). A huge portion of our county’s millions and millions of dollars of fire department budget goes toward providing services that a neighbor could do.
In 1988, Kathryn McCamant & Charles Durrett coined the term “cohousing” for a Danish concept they spent considerable time learning about in Denmark. Since that time, McCamant (who is now CoHousing Solutions) and Durrett have worked with groups to create high functioning neighborhoods in the United States and Canada. McCamant & Durrett Architects has designed over 50 cohousing communities, and there are over 150 active and forming cohousing communities (the numbers are growing) to date.
Cohousing communities consist of private homes that are strategically positioned around Common Area to facilitate maximum possibility of social interaction between neighbors. One key characteristic of cohousing communities is breaking bread together regularly in the Common House. Cohousing communities are created and managed by its residents, who value a healthy mixture of privacy and community. Sustainability and innovation are two words often associated with these communities – natural products of people working with one another for community sake.
There are six defining characteristics to cohousing:
Co-developed, co-designed, and co-organized with the group. Genuine and authentic participating process.
Extensive common facilities that supplement and facilitate the daily living. Common facilities are perceived as an extension of each household’s own private house.
Designed to facilitate community interactions (not auto-oriented, but every electric wheelchair, Segway or other personal vehicle necessary to keep the site auto-free except in rare occasions)
Completely resident managed
No hierarchy in decision making
No shared economy
What it is and what it isn’t
It’s important to recognize that “cohousing” is distinctive from other shared housing or communal situations. There are distinctive qualities that a cohousing communities hold (common meals, committee meetings, etc.) which ensure a high functioning community – one where people communicate clearly and are supporting each other for the sake of the community. When the process is facilitated by trained cohousing professionals, like Katie McCamant of CoHousing Solutions, and when the community is designed by architects who understand how to work with cohousing groups and design community-oriented neighborhoods, like McCamant & Durrett Architects, a cohousing group has the best chance of success. There are many “cohousing-like” set-ups, some that even call themselves cohousing, but dissolve after a few years, or are dysfunctional. And there are communes and coops – different living models altogether. The other models may work, but are not cohousing.
Cohousing, is not a new concept – there is no reinventing the wheel. It’s recognizing the importance of having neighbors you know and break bread with. Cohousing communities learn to make decisions together for the benefit of the community. They also have the choice to be alone, to go into their individual home. Though the word “cohousing” is relatively new, it really is the modern version of age-old community ideals where children were adored and elders were looked up to, and both were cared for by the community.
Inherently, cohousing is lighter on the environment that traditional housing, because residents share lawn mowers, laundry, social space, and more. Energy consumption is lessened per individual household because private homes are smaller and more efficient heating and cooling options can be afforded when purchased for the community to use. Alternative energy, such as solar panels, are also an option that many cohousing communities choose, which further lowers energy costs. In a recent study of 200 cohousing residents, savings were up to $2000 per year per household. Clearly, the cohousing model is a more environmental way to live.
In the last decade, Senior Cohousing has become a popular model of housing for people 55+. Katie and Chuck have traveled to internationally and across the United States, to facilitate conversations around how to make senior housing a feasible and more supportive option than current methods. In 2015, after just landing in Spain for a conference, the conference hose said to Chuck, "You just have one job to do - get senior cohousing broadly accepted as a possible and better housing solution for seniors in Spain." After losing 12,934 seniors to the most recent heat wave, Spain recognized that something had to shift in the way that seniors were being cared for. A damp towel and someone to fan you – that’s all it takes in many cases. A neighborhood of people who care for and listen to each other.
With the current challenges that our society faces today (and those that we often hear about across the globe) surrounding better alternatives to an aging population, senior cohousing has proven to be a way for seniors to live in their homes longer, with the support of their community. To make sure communities get started on the right foot, McCamant & Durrett Architects educates architects, senior housing professionals, and developers, as well as seniors who want to live in senior cohousing through its course - Study Group 1: Training the Trainers, a 10-week webinar that focuses on learning how to get Senior cohousing started.
Sage Cohousing International is a non-profit organization whose mission is to get more seniors into cohousing communities. Sage is one of a handful of organizations (see below) that are working hard to make cohousing more broadly accepted as a viable, affordable option. Other organizations include Cohousing Association (cohousing.org), Fellowship for Intentional Communities (ic.org), and UK Cohousing Network. They connect cohousing communities and potential residents through education, events, blogs, published studies, and provide search options for cohousing communities.
learn more about cohousing
To learn more about cohousing, we can’t recommend enough reading the books. Creating Cohousing: Building Sustainable Communities (McCamant & Durrett) and The Senior Cohousing Handbook: A Community Approach to Independent Living are two of the many resources by Charles Durrett, used by cohousing communities worldwide to facilitate the process from start to finish. Cohousing is a proactive endeavor, which means those interested must reach out to their surrounding community to educate them. Because not every town has a Chuck Durrett or a Katie McCamant, they’ve made it possible (through the books and their trainings) for individuals to step up.
HOW TO GET THE BOOKS OUT
I buy boxes of books for every project.
One for the banker (so it can sit on his/her coffee table until the spouse asks, “Why wouldn’t you finance this?”), to the next-door neighbor, to the planners, to the fire department – to everyone who needs to know about the cohousing project. The investment of giving books away for free is infinitesimal compared to the savings. To get the affordability that we need, we seem to always need major dis-compensations – half of the parking, twice the height limit or whatever, and many of them. The books helps all of the partners realize the why, and equally important, the why wouldn’t we? We can make it in an experiment or whatever method people need to see the benefit and therefore justify the exception.
When we were serious about getting cohousing started in San Francisco, I personally visited each bookstore (there were about 30 at the time). It took a weekend. I took a couple copies of the book and had a couple of newspaper articles in my hand to show that cohousing was getting press. Thousands of books sold in the San Francisco area immediately.
Once we got the books in the bookstore in San Francisco, we circled back to remind them to keep them in stock, see if they needed more and most importantly to insert flyers in them regarding upcoming presentations. We built a relationship with them. This is targeted grassroots organizing, but nothing fancy. I’m certain that that bookstore weekend, and a couple of model projects, has led to almost (2) dozen communities being built in the San Francisco Bay Area.
Forming a community
McCamant & Durrett Architects is dedicated to creating a society where cohousing is recognized as a desirable way to live, socially, environmentally, and economically. Every day we get a few emails from people interested in starting a cohousing community, but unsure of how to begin. Through our years of experience, we have developed a map for other to use when starting their own cohousing community. It has proven to be successful in not only creating cohousing, but also bringing light to the movement.
1. Read Creating Cohousing: Building Sustainable Communities and/or Senior Cohousing: A Community Approach To Independent Living. The books answer some of the most asked questions in cohousing. The exemplify successful cohousing through case studies and formed groups. Get the book into local bookstores and libraries so that they are available to others.
2. Many cohousing groups start out with one or a few people and need more to start planning. This is the perfect time to invite McCamant & Durrett Architects to town for a public presentation. The public presentation will be your opportunity to grow your group and to grow local interest. If you can make this event a successful experience (minimum of 50 people recommended) and show the momentum, you’ll be able to catalyze a project and get your project started.
McCamant & Durrett Architects can help get the word out with outreach and marketing, providing a marketing package, if requested. We also provide services such as website development and marketing management, once the group has formed.
2(b). Senior cohousing is equally as fun as intergenerational, if all members are looking forward to opportunities, rather than back in the past. Aging Successfully: Study Group 1 was developed by the Danish as a pre-amble to starting a senior cohousing community and has since been improved by Chuck Durrett for aging adults who want to be supported in community. If you are creating a senior cohousing community, ask us how we can help get a Study Group 1 in your area.
3. Do you have a site? If you do not already have a site secured, you will want to be looking at options by this point. In our book, Finding a Site, we describe the essentials to finding land that works for cohousing. This can be one of the scariest parts of the process, but it shouldn’t be. McCamant & Durrett Architects can help determine if the property is appropriate and ready for development with a feasibility study and site evaluation. The site evaluation can be done in conjunction with the presentation, if the group is ready, but is not required at that time. We will help assess the timeline with you.
4. Plan a Getting-It-Built Workshop (GIB). The GIB is where the group starts to discuss timelines, co-development costs, finances, design process, roles and responsibilities, group process, etc. It is best to plan the GIB 1-3 months after the public presentation. We hold the GIB either as site-specific or general (no site). At this time, we will help you assess which is appropriate for your group.
5. After the GIB, McCamant & Durrett Architects facilitates a series of workshops: Site Design, Common House, Private House, and Design Closure. Though we offer full architectural services, some groups choose to hire a local architect. We actually encourage this, as long as the architects agree to participate in the group workshops.
6. Move-In! This is one of the most exciting and affirming parts of the process. But is doesn’t mean the work stops – there is more work to be done to lay a solid foundation for your cohousing community. Happily Ever Aftering In Cohousing (HEAIC) is a workshop focuses on social solutions, helping the group to clarify expectations and establish pre-occupation agreements (management, meals, maintenance) that will set them up for success socially as a community.
Let us know if you are interested in helping to organize a project in your area.