There are many wonderful cohousing communities already in existence across the US, into
Canada and Mexico. Joining an existing community, if there was an opening, would be easy and
it would be clear what one was joining. Given all this, why would an individual or family choose
to join a forming community that had not yet been built?
My husband and I chose to work on creating a new cohousing community primarily because
there was no existing cohousing community in the town we live in. We told ourselves, “We’ll try
to get a group together and if it doesn’t work, we can always move to an existing community.”
There are many wonderful established cohousing communities near us, and we knew we
wouldn’t be “settling” if we ended up living in one or the other. Yet, it has developed into a compelling
and exciting adventure to continue working on trying to establish a new cohousing community,
and I want to share the benefits with you.
My aim is to try to get you to consider joining a forming community rather than an established
one, and to let you know the downsides as well as the benefits. Let’s start with the downsides
so we are realistic about what is involved:
- There is a lot of work and you will spend many hours on cohousing tasks!
It is true that building a cohousing community takes many many hours of work from everyone. I
don’t know about you but I have definitely learned that the more effort I put into something the
more I appreciate it. There is a satisfaction that comes from work that cannot be purchased.
- It takes a lot longer than you think.
I had read it takes 5-10 years to build a new community (and longer if you don’t hire a professional
team to help you). I didn’t want to believe it but it is true and I have come to learn patience.
- Your living situation may not coincide with the completion of your new home.
Perhaps you are ready to move now but the community isn’t completely built yet. In some communities,
people have “doubled up” with each other while waiting for that last couple months of
construction. Others have moved into rentals in the gap months. This may be your cue to jump
in on the work teams and help make that building happen faster.
- The uncertainty.
If you walk into a brand new housing development you can see the home you will be purchasing,
and know exactly what you are getting. With a forming cohousing community things will be
in flux, and may change from month to month, based on who the members are and the price of
building materials that month. If you can’t handle ambiguity, and are anxious when things aren’t
spelled out in detail, you may be a little uncomfortable.
If those are deal breakers, you may not be right to help build a cohousing community. But let’s
look at the benefits before you make your final decision. Here are some of the benefits to getting
involved with a cohousing community that is not yet built:
- You get a say in what the community looks like.
Is it important to you to have a teen room? An exercise room? Space for bicycle storage? A dog
run? If you move into an established community these decisions may have been already made
and may not entirely mesh with your family’s needs.
- You get a say in how the community is run.
There are several governance structures that help communities organize their decision making.
Rather than join one that is already established, you get to learn along with other members how
to make good decisions together and to respect each other while disagreeing.
- You get to wow your friends with a new housing concept.
Many of your friends will become interested and excited about this creative and new way to
live. You’ll have whole new topics of dinner conversations. Perhaps your friends will even want
to join your community. You could even end up living next to your best friend!
- You get to awaken your sense of adventure.
There are things to learn, opportunities to explore, people to meet, ideas to try out. If your life is
boring or hum-drum, this could be a way to spice it up! Anyone can buy a house, but who do
you know who is helping to create a whole new innovative way of living?
- You get to meet amazing people.
This is my favorite part. Imagine meeting people who share your values, people who believe it’s
possible to make the world a better place – visionary people. Imagine people who want to collaborate
and be kind and helpful to each other. And some of these are parents who want to raise
their children to believe in these values. Yes, there are many people like this (despite what you
see on social media), and cohousing attracts them!
- You get to share in parenting and grand-parenting.
It does take a village to raise a child. Imagine knowing the people in your neighborhood and
trusting them to watch your child(ren). Imagine getting to be a grandparent to all the children in
the neighborhood. It is my understanding that the children always know which houses they can
get the best cookies at. Will that be your house? I will never have grandchildren, but in cohousing
I can be a surrogate grandma (with homemade cookies).
- You become a part of a new “whole.”
There can be enormous satisfaction from creating something with a team and celebrating your
accomplishments together. It creates self-confidence, a feeling of accomplishment, and pride in
- Working on a project could make you a better person.
You could find out things about yourself that you didn’t know were true – perhaps you have more
leadership skills than you realized? Perhaps you have a natural knack for marketing and “selling”
the idea of your community. Perhaps you are better at watching and entertaining small
children than you thought? Perhaps you are really great at communicating the group’s needs
with the construction team? You may find yourself stretching and growing.
- Working on a project helps you to bond with your fellow community members.
I have found that when I work together with people I see a deeper side to them than if we just
socialize as acquaintances. I could come to know who I can depend on, and who may need
more help than they will admit. Our relationship becomes something more tangible, more solid.
They say a group of people in a room together does not equal a community: working together
creates a community.
- You can learn new skills.
If you’ve never done any marketing or promotions, maybe you can learn? If you’ve never done
any gardening or landscaping maybe you can learn? If you’ve never been involved in new construction,
maybe you will get to learn all about it?
- You have meaning and purpose in your life.
Is your life a little stale, perhaps a little boring? Are you wondering why you are alive on this
planet at this moment in time? A little existential crisis? Creating cohousing feels like the biggest
challenge I’ve ever tackled and gives me enough meaning and purpose that I am motivated to
keep going day to day, believing that what we are doing will make our little parcel of the planet a
- You get to help make the world a better place.
Cohousing is an egalitarian way of life that includes cooperation, helping others, sharing, working
together, and mutual respect. I think this world benefits each time any of us do any of these
things (call me an idealist). We can be a model in our larger communities for how it is possible
to create this kind of supportive neighborhood.
If this kind of challenge resonates with you, perhaps you are a candidate for helping to start a
cohousing community? Check the directory at the Cohousing Association website for communities
you can give involved with.