Re: What is co-housing really?
From: Elizabeth Magill (
Date: Fri, 29 Aug 2008 08:11:14 -0700 (PDT)
Thanks Kim, you expressed my answer really well.

At Mosaic the main thing we have in common is that we all want to live with neighbors we know. We all want to make the effort to create community.

Other affinities have arisen, so our homes going to be very green.
I knew nothing of VOC and chemical sensitivities, but I'm proud to say I'm going to live in a community that prioritized that, and therefore some people can live in our community that would have had trouble otherwise.

Gotta say also that one of the disadvantages of creating community is that it is made up of people, and you know, people make a lot of mistakes. Wrong choices, forgotten details.

So we said it was a top priority to have 100% visitable units for people with disabilities. But then it was cheaper to stack the flats, so we have two units that require stairs. Little exception to our values. Two doorways were hitting each other, switched so bathroom door opens in. But that makes them not accessible. Mid construction switch is expensive, we'll have to discuss what to do. One basement raised the porch more than the planned height of the porch. We'll have to add a ramp. Beautiful 10 inçh walls for super-insulation means the entry door jamb is taller than allowed for access. Very cute little mini ramp added outside each door. Planned on gas fireplace in the common house because of wood allergies. But then ordered the wrong one... it's wood with a gas upgrade. And then all of those little fixes cost money, which come from the buyers. We met our desire for income diversity by splitting the cost of affordable units among us. Adding more cost for the fixes could price some of our market rate owners out. Not doing the fixes doesn't match our values.

But the reason we are together is to make community. And community sticks together through these hard choices. We argue and disagree, and work on it some more. We make some decisions with great process, and others with not so great process.
But because we want community, we keep on keeping on.

What is cohousing, really? I haven't moved in yet, maybe I'm naive. But so far, its a group of people that are willing to do the work to balance our values, our concerns, our individual needs, and our fears with our priority to really connect to other people. The problem with other people is that they don't all agree with me. But the advantage of community is we can talk about it and find a way to stay together.

Elizabeth M. Magill
PastorLiz [at]
Mosaic Commons: where affordable and market rate homes still available.
Come make community with me in Berlin, MA! 508-450-0431

On Aug 29, 2008, at 10:41 AM, Kristen Simmons wrote:

What is cohousing really? That depends... ;-)

Communities that describe themselves as cohousing usually share the
six characteristics at this link: . The biggest requirement
is to know and work with ones neighbors.

Beyond that, each community is unique. Most communities have a vision
and/or mission statement, which might be something to examine if you
are looking for a specific type of community. It would be possible to
have a really narrowly defined cohousing community. For example, there
could a cohousing community for women who voted for Bush and are less
than 5' tall. But, it's doubtful that a bank would finance that
project or that most folks could get a mortgage. The Fair Housing Act
might have something to say about resales, as well. But it could still
be cohousing!

I am a part of a group that is now forming in Boston. We are actively seeking to be diverse in
terms of income, race, age, sexual identity. We are putting time and
money into making that a reality. But it's tricky.

For example, regarding income diversity, we would like to have
households that are below 80% of the area median income. Those
households must be able to rent. We would like to have households at
30% of the area median income. Those households need to rent and also
need subsidies for any housing. To be truly diverse, we need to have
some rental housing, which someone or something will have to own.
(Reminder, we are developing in a dense, urban area. Tents, trailers,
build-it-yourself won't work here. The income levels are based on lots
of research, that I am more than happy to share.)

Who will own these rental units? Our current membership is not
wealthy. Most of us can barely afford our own units. Professionally,
we work with the elderly and the mentally ill in the non-profit
sector; we research; we preach. We do not make a lot of money, but we
are focused on our community and beyond!  We are working very hard to
make income diversity a reality. But what if we can't make it happen?
What if we can't get the financing for rental units as well as
financing for our own residences? What if we can't find a non-profit
to own a unit or two for rental? Will that mean that we are income
exclusive? (I'll admit that I am a bit sensitive about this. It's hard
to have a vision that may not happen, in part because we live in a
capitalist economy.)

I suspect that most forming groups really struggle with these issues.
It isn't easy. I would love to learn how other groups have made
diversity, especially in income and race, a reality while forming.
Donations for a couple deeply affordable units are also welcome!

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