Commonly Asked Questions about the Cohousing Concept

These Questions and Answers were originally taken from Appendix of COHOUSING: A Contemporary Approach to Housing Ourselves, Kathryn McCamant and Charles Durrett, 1994. They are edited to reflect the conditions at Wasatch Cohousing.

What follows are some of the frequently asked questions and answers about cohousing. Until people have experienced life in a cohousing community, they often have questions and concerns about the details of daily living. But once they have moved in, they find their concerns mitigated by the trust, respect, and commitment neighbors feel for one another. In this atmosphere, long discussions of policy give way to human interactions.

Is there a screening process? Who decides who lives there?
Most cohousing communities do not screen new residents. If potential residents understand the nature of the community and their expectations for their own participation, they will be able to choose whether or not the community meets their needs.
Does everyone have to eat in the common house?
Participation in common meals is voluntary; residents take part as often or as seldom as they want.
How does resale work?
When cohousing homes are owned as condominiums, resale is handled by the individual. At Wasatch Commons, an ongoing outreach program with a waiting list assists homeowners in their resale efforts. In Europe, homes in existing cohousing communities are highly prized. Buyers receive the benefits without all the development work!
What about sweat equity? Can it save a lot of money?
In most cases, it is not financially beneficial for residents to do much building themselves. Construction schedules as well as insurance requirements make resident labor impractical. However, residents can often save money by installing landscaping and completing some interior finish work.
What has been the response of planners and city officials?
Most are enthusiastic about the cohousing concept once they understand it fully. Some cities that were initially skeptical are now proud to be cohousing pioneers. Future residents must provide thorough and ongoing education to city planners in order to pave the way for obtaining planning approvals.
What is the ideal size of a cohousing community?
Anywhere from 12 up to 36 households seems to work best. If a community is any smaller, its smooth operation depends too much on specific individuals; if larger, some of the sense of community can be lost.
What about pets?
Each community must decide its own policy based on the size of the site, etc. Most communities are happy to accommodate pets.
How does the community deal with differencet dietary requirements?
Again, each community creates its own policy based on the specific needs of its residents. It is usually fairly easy to work with a variety of requirements, especially since residents are not dependent on common meals.
How is a community managed?
Residents manage their communities through a homeowners' association (for condominiums) or a board of directors (for cooperatives). Residents form committees to carry out the work of the community.
How much participation is required?
Each community must decide for itself. A minimum level typically includes cooking dinner in the common house once per month and participating on a work committee or two.
Does cohousing mean attending meetings for the rest of my life?
After the hard work of the planning stage and the transitional first months after moving in, most communities need to meet formally only once a month. The planning process acts as "time in the bank," making residents' lives more convenient later.
What about rentals?
Cohousing rentals are not yet widely available. Few cohousing households can afford to own a second unit, especially if the monthly costs cannot be covered by the rental income. Several communities have had a few rental units, owned by residents who intend to move in later or who are away for a period of time. Most residents agree that rental units are a positive addition to a community.
Are cohousing homes more affordable than other types of housing?
At this point, not typically. Land, construction, consultant, and financing costs are similar in any new development. Residents can save money by doing their own landscaping or taking on some development tasks. However, they may incur extra expenses owing to a more lengthy design and approval process, a high level of customization, or any of numerous possible delays or setbacks. Without some type of outside subsidies, cohousing homes are usually comparably priced with other homes in the area.
What if I don't like someone in the group?
It is not essential for everyone in a cohousing community to like each other. In fact, a variety of personalities adds interest to community life. Cohousing residents need only share a similar goal of making their lives more efficient and enjoyable through cooperating with their neighbors.

A relaxing chat in the Common House

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