A Neighborhood Improvement Journal - Summer 2017

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Co-Housing

by Eric Hart

 

 

 

 

Would you like to get to know your neighbors? Share tools, stories and memories? Create community? Co-housing makes these desires a part of your daily life, even with the busy lifestyles of today. Over the past decade, a growing number of people have discovered co-housing as a way of developing a community of people balancing interaction and independence. Co-housing is a consensus driven process where residents do most of the community development work, offering ordinary people the chance to develop and deepen connections within their community.

Charles Durrett and Kathryn McCamant coined the term "co-housing" about fifteen years ago after a research visit to Denmark, Sweden and the Netherlands. They were intrigued by the uniqueness of this type of housing and its emphasis on building long term communities (many in existence for over 30 years). Residents in co-housing communities usually own their self-contained units, much like a traditional condominium, but co-housing communities usually have features such as shared meals and common spaces. The average community consists of 30 households, although there are some with much fewer units and others as large as 50 or more.

Most co-housing communities are new construction, built on vacant land at the edge of cities or metropolitan areas. Nearly all are some variant on the town home design, with groupings of six to ten attached town home units common. Most communities are not feasible for lower income households, although some have affordable units. There are a growing number of urban co-housing communities retrofitting existing buildings or finding sites to develop new housing. Urban co-housing communities are typically more dense, smaller in numbers, and have less square footage per unit than communities in more suburban areas.

 

A co-housing community's arrangement is integral to its success. Traditional residential areas focus inward, serving to protect the home from the outside world and neighbors. Conversely, co-housing communities are designed to encourage interaction and facilitate connections with community members while completing daily tasks such as picking up the mail. The Common House (shared laundry, mail and kitchen facilities) is a key component of many co-housing communities. Individual units have many similar facilities, but most residents utilize the Common House on a daily basis, thus creating many opportunities to interact with their neighbors. Common Houses are usually centrally located, with housing units arranged around landscaped pedestrian corridors. Community dinners may be prepared at the Common House by residents weekly on a rotating basis. These dinners are an important aspect of community life where residents can socialize and interact on a regular basis.

There are co-housing communities in nearly every state in the United States and Canada. Monterey Co-housing Community in St. Louis Park, established in 1992, is the only formally established co-housing community in Minnesota. The community bought land with an existing building to convert to apartments, and enough land to build additional units. Currently there are fifteen units with space to build as demand allows. Another co-housing community in Minnesota, Homewood, is also in progress. Fred Olson is organizing this retrofit community by slowly converting his block in North Minneapolis as homes sell and new, co-housing friendly owners or tenants are found.

As our world changes and grows, the number of people attracted to the ideas behind co-housing also grows. Many households like the concepts, but do not have the time, money, or patience to see the process through and work to make co-housing a reality for them. Currently, the development of co-housing communities is driven by groups of ordinary people with a common vision who make the development happen, often serving as a real estate developer themselves. The time-consuming, complicated and lengthy development process of most co-housing communities is both a blessing and a curse. It tends to discourage all but the most devoted and persistent groups, ideally leaving those who persevere with a strong sense of community. Hopefully, as this development process becomes more streamlined, a larger and more diverse group or people can experience the joys of co-housing.

 

Reprinted from Do It Green! Minnesota www.doitgreen.org

 

 

 

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