- What exactly is cohousing?
- Do residences have their own kitchens?
- Will I own my own home?
- How many homes will be in Gainesville Cohousing?
- How much will it cost?
- What is the legal status of a typical community?
- When will the homes be ready to move into?
- Who decides what will be included in the Common House, or the home designs, or anything else about the community?
- What is a Common House?
- Do members share meals together?
- Would I have privacy?
- Can I just wait until it’s done and join then?
- Do I need to attend the meetings?
- Do I get free day care, elder care, or help if I get sick?
- How much work and meeting time are involved in cohousing life?
- How does the work get done?
- Do I get to choose what I do?
- Is it like a commune?
- Do I have to like everyone?
- Do cohousing communities incorporate green design and materials?
- Are cohousing homes more affordable than other types of housing?
- Who lives in cohousing?
- What about safety and security?
- What is your participation policy?
- Do I own my back yard?
- What do the monthly fees cover?
- Sounds great, how can I move in?
- Can I have a cat or dog?
- How did cohousing get started?
- What makes cohousing function well?
- What if I want to sell my home after completion?
- How were the home prices determined?
- Why don’t you build the housing units first and wait until you have more money to build the Common House?
- Will there be space for a common vegetable garden?
- Can I customize my home design?
- What about storage?
- Would residents be able to share vehicles and other resources?
- Do you vet prospective members?
- What if someone comes in who tries to control everything or won’t allow the community to move because they block everything?
1. What exactly is cohousing? [top]
Cohousing residents own their individual private homes. These are arranged to allow neighbors to easily share activities and facilities, such as the large Common House, while at the same time protecting everyone’s privacy. There are no shared financial arrangements, apart from homeowners association (HOA) fees to cover expenses of shared facilities and grounds. There are no shared religious or spiritual beliefs. Legally and financially, it is usually a conventional condominium development. [Note: we will not use this type of legal status. Instead, Gainesville Cohousing will have individually titled homes with a homeowners association.] But there are two big differences: cohousing units are designed by the future residents, and residents decide how they will govern themselves and make decisions. In addition, residents are expected to stay actively involved in the community so that it continues to represent our values and goals in order to be a more sustainable, cooperative neighborhood. 1
The overall intention is to create opportunities for interaction among neighbors. 2
In cohousing, residents know their neighbors well and enjoy a strong sense of community that is typically absent in contemporary cities and suburbs. 3
Cohousing communities consist of private, fully-equipped homes and extensive common amenities including a Common House and recreation areas. They are designed and managed by the residents who have chosen to live in a close-knit neighborhood that seeks a healthy blend of privacy and community. 4
2. Do residences have their own kitchens? [top]
Yes. Each residence has a fully equipped, private kitchen. In addition, the Common House contains a kitchen, where community members regularly share a few meals each week. 3
3. Will I own my own home? [top]
Yes. We intend to use individually titled homes with a homeowners association due to legal considerations of condominiums and Florida law.
Cohousing communities in the U.S. typically rely on one of three existing legal forms of real estate ownership: individually titled houses with common areas owned by a homeowners association; condominiums; or a housing co-operative. The design process invariably emphasizes consciously fostering social relationships among its residents. Common facilities are based on the actual needs of the residents, rather than on what a developer thinks will help sell units. Turnover in cohousing developments is typically very low, and there is usually a waiting list for units to become available. 2
4. How many homes will be in Gainesville Cohousing? [top]
Most cohousing communities in the United States have 20 to 40 units, with others ranging from 6 to 67 homes. Many people think cohousing works best with 25 to 35 households. 3
The optimum size for a cohousing community is between 15 and 35 households. Anything smaller puts too much pressure on the individual to participate in community activities. Anything larger does not allow for the development of a closely knit community. 2
5. How much will it cost? [top]
We project prices from $146,000 to over $274,000, for our smallest (772 square feet) to our largest (2344 square feet) homes, comparable to market prices.
To date cohousing is rarely subsidized. Participants are generally those who can afford to buy their own home and the cost is approximately market rate. With the help of their professional team, members of the group establish size, quality, and cost guidelines for the project. Essentially, members determine what they want to pay, and the project is designed to match those identified needs, including unit prices. 2
6. What is the legal status of a typical community? [top]
Gainesville Cohousing is currently a limited liability corporation (LLC).
One of the simplest methods to set up the development is to incorporate as a limited liability corporation. This structure limits liability for members, is most flexible, and is the most easily recognized by lending institutions. On completion of the development, the legal status will change to allow for individual home ownership. 2
7. When will the homes be ready to move into? [top]
We anticipate completion in late 2017.
The timeline will vary with every development and is somewhat dependent on municipal requirements, however the main variable is the length of time it takes to bring together a group of committed individuals who are financially capable of developing the project. A small group of households will typically start the process and continue to build membership as the development proceeds. Ideally, all the homes will be spoken for by the time the project has been completed. Once a core group has formed, cohousing development does not take any longer than traditional development when professionals are used in the process. 2
8. Who decides what will be included in the Common House, or the home designs, or anything else about the community? [top]
Members decide. The members sit on committees where they research issues and make recommendations to the full membership.2
9. What is a Common House? [top]
Although the homes are always self-contained and privately owned, the residents have access to shared facilities. The overall intention of the design is to create opportunities for interaction among neighbors. The shared facilities and physical design have proven to support and sustain community connection over time. The common house supplements the individual dwellings as the heart of the community. It typically includes a kitchen and dining room, lounge, guest room, child care space, workshop, shared office space, and laundry area. Members decide what is to be included. 2
10. Do members share meals together? [top]
Although individual dwellings are self-sufficient and each has its own kitchen, there is typically a kitchen and dining room in the common area which is available for shared meals and celebrations as often as members want. The common facilities, and particularly the shared meals, are an important aspect of community life for social and practical reasons, however shared activities are always optional. People always have the choice of eating in their own homes. In existing communities, shared meals can be available a few nights a month, to as many as 7 nights per week. 2
11. Would I have privacy? [top]
Yes! Members value privacy as well as social contact, and it is important to members to have their own homes and private space. Privacy is more respected in cohousing than elsewhere. The idea of a shared kitchen and dining facilities does not stem from a notion that meals should be communal, but a recognition that sometimes communal meals are desirable and benefit everyone. There can actually be more privacy in cohousing because the amenity areas provide meeting places, play areas, party room, guest space, and so on, while the individual dwelling is a place of privacy and retreat. 2
12. Can I just wait until it’s done and join then? [top]
Con: missed opportunity for early shared governance and getting to know each other. Con: if it is sold out, you may go on a waiting list.
Pro: no meetings or decisions to make, along the way.
13. Do I need to attend the meetings? [top]
Someone does. The whole reason for meetings is to provide an opportunity for the group to work together to define what it wants, and then to find a way to make those dreams come true. 2
14. Do I get free day care, elder care, or help if I get sick? [top]
As among any friends and neighbors, people help each other in informal ways and cohousing is envisioned as a community in which people are friendly and supportive to each other, especially in times of need. Ongoing group care arrangements will be decided by the membership and any particular ongoing care for individuals would be arranged privately. 2
15. How much work and meeting time are involved in cohousing life? [top]
Meetings are typically once a month in cohousing communities. During development of the project, it varies from weekly to every 2 weeks.
[Committees] meet on varying schedules, as needed. Some meet monthly, some less, some more. There are also Discussion Meetings for those most interested in an issue, and they (often) result in a proposal to the Board of Directors (BOD). To make consensus decision-making work, we must discuss our concerns with others. The number of meetings attended varies among individuals. We expect members to attend BOD meetings, discussion meetings of interest, and Team and Crew meetings when they are on the team or crew or want to give input to that topic. 5
16. How does the work get done? [top]
Everyone is a volunteer. We serve on committees (legal, finance, sustainability, marketing, membership), and individuals take responsibility for other needed task. Once built, we will add new committees (landscaping, common house, and so on). We hire electricians, plumbers, treeworkers, and so on, as needed. If the community wants things done that no one is qualified for and willing to do, we hire them out, or they don’t get done.
17. Do I get to choose what I do? [top]
Yes, individuals decide which committees and projects to work on.
18. Is it like a commune? [top]
No. It is like a homeowners association run solely by members. Cohousing, however, engineers the neighborhood design in specific ways to make it vibrant and social. Cohousing offers more fun and also more privacy. Because the common areas make it so easy to socialize, homes can be more of a private space to retreat to.
No. We have separate incomes, and private individual, self-sufficient homes. 5
19. Do I have to like everyone? [top]
It isn’t essential for everyone in a cohousing community to like every neighbor. In fact, a variety of personalities will add interest to neighborhood life. Cohousing residents need only share the goal of making their lives more enjoyable by cooperating with their neighbors. 3
As in any healthy community, people will be tolerant and respectful toward others. Since cohousing communities usually attract members through a process of networking, it is likely that a high degree of friendship will exist among members. Some people, of course, are very private individuals and may feel comfortable with only a few, whereas others will form friendships with everyone in the community. As in other areas of life, individuals will create their own experience. 2
19. Do cohousing communities incorporate green design and materials? [top]
Currently we intend to have solar power, energy-efficient homes and appliances, passive solar designs, water-conservation techniques, and a community garden.
To the extent they can afford them. 3
21. Are cohousing homes more affordable than other types of housing? [top]
Affordability varies. Construction, consultants, and financing costs are similar to those in any new development. However, you will benefit from a custom-designed neighborhood and extensive common facilities, and ongoing costs tend to be less than in a typical U.S. home. 3
Overall, cohousing can be more expensive because of the common facilities and green building practices. This is why we work hard to decide what common facilities and which green building practices we can afford.
22. Who lives in cohousing? [top]
Cohousing is for everybody who wants to participate in their community. 2
Those attracted to cohousing tend to be people who have thought about this idea of creating community long before they heard the term cohousing. They tend to be people seeking to improve their quality of life and they are willing to help others do the same. People who choose to be a part of a cohousing community come from a variety of backgrounds, income levels, family types, and beliefs. What they do have in common is a desire to have a say in how their neighborhood will be and a belief that having more connection with their neighbors will be good for them. You will see evidence of a sensitive attitude toward the natural environment, reduced home size, sharing of resources, and community recycling. 4
23. What about safety and security? [top]
Because we know all our neighbors, someone who does not belong in the community is easily recognized. There is more than one person to watch out for the safety of our children, one another, and the property of an absent resident. 4
24. What is your participation policy? [top]
Gainesville Cohousing’s policy is that each able-bodied member contributes one hour a week to the community, or pays a nominal fee. The hour can also be paid forward.
Each resident shares the work of the common facilities. This includes cleaning and cooking in the Common House and maintaining the shared yard, garden, pool, exercise room, and recreation facilities. A committee will oversee the work activities. 4
25. Do I own my back yard? [top]
Yes, a small back yard is considered private space.
26. What do the monthly fees cover? [top]
Every year the members set the budget. This translates into the fees for the units, primarily based on size. Items in the budget include utilities for the common space, maintenance of buildings and grounds, office supplies, public relations, reserves, waste disposal, and so on. All fees are discussed and agreed upon ahead of time. 5
27. Sounds great, how can I move in? [top]
To start, come visit, get to know us, get involved, come to meetings, Board meetings, work projects, and social events. These are some of the steps of the membership process. 5
28. Can I have a cat or dog? [top]
Household maximum is four (4) cats or dogs in any combination. Combined weight of the four (4) animals must not exceed 160 pounds. Any deviation must be addressed by the Pet Committee. Only indoor cats are allowed. Dogs must be on leash when outdoors. We are 24 homes on a small footprint, so many households choose not to have pets. Otherwise we’d have 96 pets (3,840 pounds of pets) on our 5 acres.
29. How did cohousing get started? [top]
In the late 1960s, a group of Danish families, dissatisfied with existing urban and suburban living options, decided to create their own resident-developed neighborhood as an alternative to traditional housing models. They wanted a community where they would know their neighbors, that would be alive with adults talking and children playing, and that would be safer because people would look out for each other and strangers would be easily noticed. It would reduce the stress of their busy lives by easing day-to-day burdens such as childcare and cooking. It would be a place where people could pursue their individual goals while living in a supportive community. They wanted to reduce their impact on the land and create communities that were environmentally sensitive and sustainable. They called their solution bofoellesskaber (living communities). Today, 10% of all new housing construction in Denmark uses this model and the concept has been spreading to other parts of the world. It was introduced to North America by two architects in 1988 who created the name cohousing to refer to this style of development. There are more than 113 operating communities in the U.S. with many others in the planning phases. 2
30. What makes cohousing function well? [top]
Resident participation. We expect every member to serve 1 hour a week to get work done in the community. Also we will have shared meals at least one or two times a week. Rotating cooking and cleaning will likely be part of membership requirements, though this rule has not been decided by the community yet. Sharing the work within the community helps keep costs down and enhances accountability. New members will become informed of their eventual responsibilities early in the membership process, so they understand how cohousing works best and what their obligations will be.
31. What if I want to sell my home after completion? [top]
We have what’s called a “right of first refusal,” which means we have the opportunity to buy your house first. So if you wish to sell, an independent appraiser comes out and we cut you a check within 30 days. If the community does not buy your home, you are free to sell after the 30 days are up. By owning the outgoing homes, the community can find young families to keep the age range more diverse. Many established communities have mentioned that when members leave and sell on the open market, the new owners are less invested and involved in being part of a cohousing community and the strength of the cohousing community is diluted.
Just like any other home that you may want to sell, members who want to leave need to find a buyer. Because of the collaborative nature of cohousing, opportunities exist for promoting cohousing in ways other than traditional real estate marketing methods. 2
33. How were the home prices determined? [top]
Usually this question is paired with a comparison to much cheaper apartments of comparable size. And believe us, we all wondered about this, too! There are several parts to this answer. First, we are building new homes. New construction involves current prices for materials and labor: while housing prices have gone down considerably in the last 5 to 6 years, the prices of materials and labor have held up or increased. In addition, we will be building greener homes than most homes on the market. Green building is not cheap, but we want to be as green as we can afford. Finally, we are building a substantial Common House, nearly 2500 square feet. It will be furnished extensively to support a wide variety of activities. The Common House will be the equivalent of building about 2 extra homes, and its cost is spread across the cost of all the units. All things considered, we realized the cost of our new housing is not really out of line.
When considering the cost of your home, it is important to also consider your day-to-day living expenses. People living in cohousing neighborhoods find that many of their other expenses decrease–everything from childcare and driving expenses, to energy bills and tools. For example, we’ll only need one lawnmower in cohousing, and laundry machines will be provided in the Common House for those who don’t feel the need to own their own.1
33. Why don’t you build the housing units first and wait until you have more money to build the Common House? [top]
We thought about this. The Common House involves a substantial commitment, but we feel that it is integral to the community. Also, if we wait to build the Common House until after the housing, we may not be able to summon the collective will and resources to get it done. We have seen several examples of cohousing communities delaying the start of the Common House, and in most cases this house has yet to be built. 1
34. Will there be space for a common vegetable garden? [top]
Absolutely! Many of us love gardening and look forward to creating a beautiful bountiful common garden.
35. Can I customize my home design? [top]
Various upgrades will be available at extra charge. But you’ll want to be a full member in time to be part of deciding which upgrades we want to accommodate.
36. What about storage? [top]
Some members will be able to have backyard sheds as storage. Some homes may have garages.
The homes have been designed with lots of storage. In addition, some members plan to purchase a garage (you can build in storage around your car, but still need to be able to put your car in the garage). Others will use an extra bedroom for this purpose. As the community will have one or more guest cottages, this will become more possible. Most members are looking forward to downsizing their possessions in response to the reduced living space and the desire to live simply. The community will likely decide on a tool shop in which equipment can be stored and shared. 1
37. Would residents be able to share vehicles and other resources? [top]
Sharing resources and skills is a hallmark of cohousing. That said, each community develops its own policies on such matters as car sharing. 1
38. Do you vet prospective members? [top]
Since potential members ($250) work and play alongside equity members for 2 to 3 months or longer, there is ample time to assess whether they are a good match. When potential members move toward being equity members ($7500), the membership team solicits input from members. An exploration meeting is held in which the prospective member has an opportunity to explore cohousing issues in depth with a group of full members. The membership team makes a recommendation to the full membership group, who then decides whether to accept the potential member into the community. A vote is then held. Each individual in the community votes and the decision must be unanimous.
39. What if someone comes in who tries to control everything or won’t allow the community to move because they block everything? [top]
When a vote is needed (infrequently), we use an adjusted form of consensus. Here are the possible scenarios:
- ￼Consensus (100%) is reached on the first vote.
- Consensus is not reached on the first vote. The no votes will then provide more evidence before a second vote and consensus is reached.
- Consensus is not reached on the first vote. The no votes will then provide more evidence before a later, second vote and consensus still is not reached. A later, third vote requires two-thirds-plus -one, to pass. (If no evidence is provided, the second vote goes straight to two-thirds-plus-one.)
Sometimes personalities conflict. We use group-process and nonviolent-communication training to reduce potential acrimony among members.