A cohousing community is a type of intentional community composed of private homes with full kitchens, supplemented by extensive common facilities. A cohousing community is planned, owned and managed by the residents, groups of people who want more interaction with their neighbours. Common facilities vary but usually include a large kitchen and dining room where residents can take turns cooking for the community.Other facilities may include a laundry, pool, child care facilities, offices, internet access, game room, TV room, tool room or a gym. Through spatial design and shared social and management activities, cohousing facilitates intergenerational interaction among neighbors, for the social and practical benefits. There are also economic and environmental benefits to sharing resources, space and items.
The modern theory of cohousing originated in Denmark in the 1960s among groups of families who were dissatisfied with existing housing and communities that they felt did not meet their needs. Bodil Graae published "Children Should Have One Hundred Parents," spurring a group of 50 families to organize around a community project in 1967. This group developed the cohousing project Sættedammen, which is the oldest known cohousing community in the world. Another key organizer was Jan Gudmand Høyer who drew inspiration from his architectural studies at Harvard and interaction with experimental U.S. communities of the era. He published "The Missing Link between Utopia and the Dated One-Family House" paper in 1968, converging a second group.
The Danish term bofællesskab (living community) was introduced to North America as cohousing by two American architects, Kathryn McCamant and Charles Durrett, who visited several cohousing communities and wrote a book about it, Cohousing: A Contemporary Approach to Housing Ourselves. The book resonated with some existing and forming communities, such as Sharingwood in Washington state and N Street in California, who embraced the cohousing concept as a crystallization of what they were already about. The first community in the United States to be designed, constructed and occupied specifically for cohousing is Muir Commons in Davis, California.
Hundreds of cohousing communities exist in Denmark and other countries in northern Europe. There are more than 113 operating communities in the United States with more than 100 others in the planning phases. In Canada, there are 7 completed communities, and approximately 15 in the planning/construction process. There are also communities in Australia, the UK and other parts of the world.
Because each cohousing community is planned in its context, a key feature of this model is its flexibility to the needs and values of its residents and the characteristics of the site. Cohousing can be urban, suburban or rural. The physical form is typically compact but varies from low-rise apartments to townhouses to clustered detached houses. They tend to keep cars to the periphery which promotes walking through the community and interacting with neighbors as well as increasing safety for children at play within the community. Shared green space is another characteristic, whether for gardening, play, or places to gather. When more land is available than is needed for the physical structures, the structures are usually clustered closely together, leaving as much of the land as possible "open" for shared use. This aspect of cohousing directly addresses the growing problem of suburban sprawl.
In addition to "from-scratch" new-built communities (including those physically retrofitting/re-using existing structures), there are also "retrofit" (aka "organic") communities in which neighbors create "intentional neighborhoods" by buying adjacent properties and removing fences. Often, they create common amenities such as Common Houses after the fact, while living there. N Street Cohousing in Davis, CA, is the canonical example of this type; it came together before the term Cohousing was popularized here.
Cohousing differs from some types of intentional communities in that the residents do not have a shared economy or a common set of beliefs or religion, but instead invest in social capital. A non-hierarchical structure employing a consensus decision-making model is common in managing cohousing. Individuals do take on leadership roles, such as being responsible for coordinating a garden or facilitating a meeting.
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 homeowner association, condominiums or a housing co-operative. Condo ownership is most common because it fits financial institutions' and cities' models for multi-unit owner-occupied housing development. U.S. banks lend more readily on single-family homes and condominiums than housing cooperatives.
Cohousing differs from standard condominium development and master-planned subdivisions because the development is designed by, or with considerable input from, its future residents. 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.