What is co-housing?

Excerpt from a recent report in the New York Times, by CHRIS COLIN:

“The Cohousing Association of the United States has been answering that question quite frequently as more people sign up for its tours: The communities consist of individual houses whose residents share some common space, a few communal dinners a week and a commitment to green living.

The movement has been gaining momentum here since it first arrived from Denmark two decades ago. But passengers on the bus tours describe the general climate of uncertainty as setting off more urgent waves of reappraisal: Is this how I want to raise my family? Spend my remaining years? Is there a better option — a more stable community?

Judy Pope, a consultant in Oakland, Calif., who joined the East Bay tour, described a practical interest in co-housing.

“I had a pretty robust portfolio of investments that I was going to retire on,” Ms. Pope said. “Now I’m feeling the financial pressure to live with people. I can’t continue to live in my big old house.”

In some cases, the closeness of these communities offers bulwarks against a lousy economy. Residents speak of lending money to one another when necessary or, say, pitching in to build a wheelchair ramp when insurance might not cover it. Then there is the savings associated with a more efficiently designed home, and shared upkeep costs. But strictly speaking, a home in a co-housing community doesn’t necessarily cost less than a traditional home. As advocates describe it, the benefits are of the added-value variety.

“You just get more bang for your buck,” said Laura Fitch, a 15-year co-houser who led a recent tour in Massachusetts. “You can have entertainment next door rather than going to the movies, and if you’re a parent, you don’t have to drive to all those play dates, or even buy as many toys because your kids are more entertained.”

She added that the price of co-housing often included a common house with guest rooms, a party space, a children’s play area and the security of people watching out for one another.

Jason Reichert, who works at a shipyard in Maine and joined a New England tour, said he liked the idea of weathering the country’s economic and environmental crises with a group.

“My grandparents’ community got through the Depression by being very close-knit,” Mr. Reichert said, “with one family knowing how to farm, for example, and another knowing how to raise poultry. We’ve lost that. But co-housing is accomplishing something similar.”

Craig Ragland, the executive director of the Cohousing Association, said: “Some people are looking at these communities as a lifeboat. The thinking is, if I’m surrounded by people who care about me, I’m less likely to crash and burn.”

More than 115 rural, urban and suburban co-housing communities exist across the country, consisting of 2,675 units, according to the association. There are 3 to 67 homes in each, on tiny city lots and 550-acre parcels. Some are “retrofit” communities, in which existing side-by-side homes are purchased and then converted. Others start with a piece of land and build units from scratch. In both, residents own their homes outright, but agree to participate in the communal arrangement.”