USA TODAY article
From: Denise Meier and/or Michael Jacob (
Date: Tue, 15 Jul 1997 13:41:35 -0500
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  Co-housing projects designed to foster community
   ATLANTA - Nancy Lowe bangs on a pot to announce dinner. Residents of
   the Lake Claire Co-housing Community, milling about the spacious
   community house, line up for their weekly communal meal while children
   play in the common courtyard. On the menu this Sunday: brown rice,
   tofu salad and stir-fried vegetables.
   The scene is very '60s, from the vegetarian meal to the Birkenstock
   sandals and community house. But this is not a hippie commune. Lake
   Claire is one of a growing number of co-housing developments that are
   the new communes of the '90s.
   Since the nation's first co-housing community was built in Davis,
   Calif., in 1991, 30 more have opened in urban, suburban and rural
   areas in 12 states. More than 150 are being planned in every region of
   the country.
   These subdivisions of homes and townhouses are attracting people who
   yearn for a sense of community, a return to love-thy-neighbor
   philosophy and an environmentally conscious lifestyle. Co-housing
   residents are suburbanites and urban dwellers, old and young,
   middle-class and well-to-do. One reason co-housing is catching on is
   the nation's growing number of single households. Single parents count
   on neighbors to watch the children. Single men and women find
   companionship. Older empty-nesters get help around the house. And
   everyone feels more sheltered from crime.
   What is unique about co-housing is the way the developments begin.
   Usually a small group of people who want to live in co-housing take
   steps to build one in their community.
   They either pool their money to buy land or find a developer who owns
   land and will build a co-housing community they design with the help
   of an architect. Often they recruit buyers. The latest trend is
   developers who are building co-housing communities on their own
   without potential buyers. But critics say that's not the true spirit
   of co-housing, in which residents have a say in every step of the
   Most co-housing residents are professionals. They're people who can
   afford to come up with a down payment sometimes as early as four years
   before they can move in to their homes. Down payments usually are 10%
   of the price.
   Conceived in Denmark in the 1970s, co-housing is intentionally
   designed to create a village ambience. Front porches and balconies
   face a Main Street of sorts. The only way to get from the parking lot
   to the front door of each home is to walk past neighbors' homes.
   "In most communities, you flip on the garage-door opener and slip
   inside without having to say 'boo' to your neighbor," says Don
   Lindemann, editor in chief of the Cohousing journal in Berkeley,
   Pedestrian walkways crisscross the courtyard and playground, and they
   all lead to the centerpiece of the complex: the common house. Equipped
   with a large kitchen, laundry room, play room, workshop and a big
   family room, the common house is the soul of co-housing. That's where
   group meals are held and where residents pick up their mail, do
   laundry or just hang out when they want company.
   Gerald Celente, head of the Trends Research Institute in Rhinebeck,
   N.Y., expects co-housing-style communities to prosper in 2000 and
   beyond "when home-alone households" will outnumber the traditional
   all-American family. People living alone made up 25% of all households
   in 1996, up from 17% in 1970, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. And
   the number of one-parent families almost tripled in that period to 9.3
   "Co-housing is an extended family," says Greg Ramsey, a resident of
   Lake Claire, where half of the units are occupied by single women,
   some with children, and the rest by married couples and families.
   "It doesn't have to be a spiritual or religious ideal to tie it
   together but strictly a common value for shared community and
   Ramsey, 39, works with Preston & Associates, an Atlanta architectural
   firm that designed Lake Claire. The complex of 12 town homes is on
   less than one acre in a gentrified, bohemian neighborhood near
   downtown Atlanta. The residents are teachers, actors, social workers,
   artists and computer systems engineers.
   "First, it was the communes of the '60s and then the extreme opposite
   in the '80s. Now, we're somewhere in the middle," says Kathryn
   McCamant, author of Cohousing: A Contemporary Approach to Housing
   Ourselves, the 1988 book that fueled the trend in the United States.
   Solid investment
   Co-housing residents don't like their communities to be confused with
   the '60s communes. And indeed they're not. Residents own their own
   home or town house. They can sell at any time and to anyone.
   Prospective buyers are asked to attend several community meetings
   before they buy into the complex. But unlike a co-op apartment
   building, co-housing residents don't approve new members.
   At Lake Claire in Atlanta, town homes run between $100,000 and
   $130,000 for units that are 1,000 to 1,600 square feet. But in tony
   suburbs of Boston and Santa Fe, where co-housing communities are
   popping up, homes can be 3,000 square feet and cost about $300,000.
   Buying when a co-housing community is in the planning stages can be a
   good investment. The homes can be worth 20% more by the time they're
   ready to be occupied, say co-housing experts.
   And resale does not seem to be a problem. Lake Claire opened in April
   and there's already a waiting list of people interested in the first
   unit that goes on the market.
   In co-housing complexes the only area that's owned by everyone is the
   common space, which includes the common house. Every resident has a
   say in how the common space is used. The complexes rely heavily on
   shared resources, such as one lawnmower and one set of tools.
   Recycling and energy conservation often are a key element. Even
   cooking duties are shared. At Lake Claire, residents take turns
   cooking the weekly group meal. Residents pay a monthly association fee
   of $80 for things such as landscaping and upkeep of the common house.
   Privacy concerns
   But co-housing is not for everyone. "It's not a way of life
   well-suited to extreme individualists," Lindemann says. Residents have
   to work a little to protect their privacy.
   Warns Lake Claire resident Kathy Burke, 46: "If you're having a
   domestic problem here, people will know. If you're having a drinking
   problem, people will know. But they'll also provide you communal
   Steve and Laurie Bayless and their two children moved into one of 30
   homes at Greyrock Commons, in Fort Collins, Colo., a year after they
   bought into the community. Steve, an engineer, admits that he was a
   bit concerned about the lack of privacy. "But people are pretty
   sensitive to that issue, and there's definitely a place to retreat,"
   he says.
   Steve now raves about the communal spirit. Residents quickly formed a
   carpool when it came time for children to start summer school. When
   people are headed to the grocery or hardware store, they put a colored
   flag by their door, inviting neighbors to drop off their shopping
   Liz Mitchell Curtis moved out of her five-bedroom house on two acres
   of land in the upscale Buckhead section of Atlanta and into Lake
   Claire as soon as the youngest of her three children went to college.
   "I couldn't stand one more minute of suburbia," says the 49-year-old
   divorced welfare case worker. "But I was afraid that everybody was
   going to be totally humorless here, too earnest. But they're just
   people who honor humanity over everything else and believe in doing
   the right thing."
   When she wants to be alone, she locks her door for privacy. When she
   feels like chatting, she steps out the front door and bonds with the
   neighbors. The big difference here is that the neighbors are more
   likely to be like her. But Curtis still gets razzed by her 23-year-old
   "He just thinks it's hysterical," she says.
   "When he calls he'll ask if we're having a group hug."
   Judy Baxter is 54 and a computer data analyst for the University of
   Minnesota's School of Public Health. She says she lived in a wonderful
   neighborhood in Minneapolis before moving to the Monterey Cohousing
   Community in St. Louis Park, a suburb of the city. The complex is
   eight apartments in a 1924 Georgian mansion and seven new townhomes.
   In her old neighborhood, Baxter says she "worked very hard to build a
   relationship with my neighbors but then they would move or they would
   be too busy. People here are interested in having relationships."
   By Haya El Nasser, USA TODAY
     =A9COPYRIGHT 1997 USA TODAY, a division of Gannett Co. Inc. [INLINE]

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