Living Alone, Together: Cohousing Communities on the Rise

Independence, served with a side dish of togetherness, is the lure of this housing development trend.  

Humans are social beings. While we value our personal space, many American adults, especially those on either end of the age spectrum, would rather avoid the isolation that can come with living in a home in the suburbs or a one-bedroom apartment in an urban high-rise.

Enter the concept of cohousing.

Cohousing communities, which are cropping up across the country in places like New Haven, Connecticut, and San Diego, are clusters of private homes (attached or detached) centered around a common space (often, a house complete with a large kitchen, or perhaps a recreation center). Typically structured as co-ops, condos or HOAs and managed by residents, they appeal to a variety of demographic segments including boomers who want to live independently but not alone and families who would like to be able to rely on their community to help watch young children.

Residents have the daily option of joining in with group activities — potluck meals, games, movies — or enjoying their solitude.

These developments can be set up to appeal either to a broad range of people or to groups with specific shared interests. For example, in Louisville, Colorado, a group of cohousing enthusiasts is in the process of forming a community around a love of the arts and farming. Other groups, such as Dallas Cohousing, form to renovate an existing space, often in a dense urban environ or in an otherwise economically challenged area, and embrace “green” principles. 

Cohousing also includes a new type of development, often set in a rural area, referred to as an "agrihood." Residents take on the task of caring for the community's farm animals and growing and harvesting fruits and vegetables. The homes are typically set on large lots and allow the people living there — families with young children or retirees — to enjoy farm life without taking on all of the responsibility of running a farm.    

For millennials, new “coliving” spaces in cities like New York provide a significant cost savings compared to renting a typical apartment. For example, for a room in a coliving apartment with hotel-like amenities — think cleaning and linen service, a fitness center and a rooftop lounging deck — Brooklynites can pay as low as $1,340 a month in rent. Some small coliving buildings even have a “house leader.”

Cohousing can be affordable, but the cost depends on factors including location and amenities, according to the Cohousing Association of the United States. The association reports that as of April 2016, the number of cohousing developments stood at 160, with 120 more in the process of being formed.

For some Americans, life really does take a village. And developers are taking note.