Re: Apartment Sharing Developer attempts to co-opt cohousing
From: Philip Dowds (
Date: Thu, 7 Dec 2017 07:58:06 -0800 (PST)
Coho/US Friends —

This definition of cohousing seems more architectonic than it should be.  For 
me, it raises some questions (see below):

> On Dec 6, 2017, at 5:09 PM, Lindy Sexton <lindy.sexton [at]> 
> wrote:
> Charles Durrett recently sent emails to Carmel Partners, the developers of
> the Wellington Apartment Project in Denver, CO, to stop using term
> "cohousing" to describe their project because it is not cohousing. He has
> created a list of criteria, currently specific to senior cohousing, but
> which gives the basic criteria that a cohousing community needs to have to
> be called cohousing. The criteria include:
> 1.     Co-developed, co-designed, and co-organized with the group.  First
> and foremost the future residents are an integral part of creating the
> future community.

What about a cohousing property that’s 30 years old, and all the original 
founder-developer-designers are long gone?  Does the architectural artifact 
guarantee that the cohousing gestalt endures — even if the current residents 
have had no shared experience in co-developing or co-designing a property?
     And … there are degrees in co-designing.  Some cohousing is retrofit into 
pre-existing buildings.  Yes, adaptive re-use is definitely a 
design/development challenge, but the finished product may not much resemble 
our familiar cohousing archetypes.

> 2.     A private home but also extensive common facilities that supplement
> and facilitate the daily living. Common facilities are perceived as an
> extension of each resident’s house and supplement each home. *There must be
> practical excuses to bring people together – otherwise they are just “back
> at the house.” *Common meals at least once a week. *There is no more
> timeless means of sustaining community than breaking bread together*.
> Designed to facilitate aging in place with:
> a.     Good acoustics for all ages
> b.     Ample lighting for all ages
> c.     Ergonomic details
> d.     Universal Design principles (but stairs are OK)
> e.     Co-care, mutual support systems, and interdependence during illness
> or convalescence through community, and cooperation.

This is getting closer:  Cohousing as social contract, not a development pro 
forma or a building type.

> 3.     Designed to facilitate naturally-oriented community interactions
> over time.   *Not auto-oriented, but every electric wheelchair, Segway or
> other personal vehicle necessary to keep the site auto-free except on rare
> occasions*.

No disagreement here — although success will always be a matter of degree.  I 
don’t have a good feeling about disqualifying a facility because it doesn’t 
meed some standard of pedestrian excellence.  At Cornerstone, for instance, our 
main, central pedestrian area is shared with vehicles — not because we wanted 
it, but because site, zoning and budget constraints prevented better solutions. 
 Have we failed some sort of design test?

> 4.     Completely resident managed. The residents *–* who are the owners of
> their own homes *–* in a cohousing community have the privilege and
> responsibility of determining how they will organize themselves and the
> work (and play) of managing their own lives and homes.

Some self-declared cohousing communities (not many, but some) hire 
Board-supervised management companies just like a conventional condo or HOA.  
Many do their own groundskeeping, but some hire landscape services.  Are they 
disqualified?  (I think what we’re trying to rule out here are the 
institutionally- and commercially-managed retirement villages and assisted 
living facilities, in which residents may be said to have considerable 
influence, but do not actually control the levers of decision-making.)

> 5.     No hierarchy in decision-making. Cohousing is about cooperation
> rather than type of ownership. And, as it turns out, cooperation transcends
> ownership type.

Does no hierarchy mean no delegation of power or duty to committees?  That all 
power and duty must reside in plenary?  I’m not persuaded that the vital values 
of equality / equivalence (all members are equal, equally important and equally 
empowered) cannot co-exist with hierarchy, delegation, and division of labor.  
I’m just not sure what’s being asserted here.

> 6.     No shared economy. Unlike that of the commune or sometimes a co-op
> structure, cohousing community members do not share personal income.

A few self-declared cohousing communities have experimented (sometimes 
successfully, sometimes not) with shared enterprises such as farming and 
property leasing.  These are not likely to be the major sources of income for 
the community as a whole — but again, it’s always a matter of degree.
     On another note, I am definitely aware of cohousing situations where 
select households have indeed elected to share income with each other — or 
perhaps more specifically, some households have volunteered to provide 
financial support to struggling neighbors.  And some communities are concerned 
about affordability in ways leading them to create programs of internal subsidy 
applicable to some households or units.  “No shared economy” sounds pretty 
straight-forward, but life solutions in cohousing can get surprisingly 
intricate and inter-connected.  This may be a strength of cohousing, not a 
violation of principle.
      It’s worth noting that the co-care agreements, mutual support systems and 
interdependence mentioned above do represent a kind of sharing economy, 
although one perhaps measured more in hours than in dollars.  Money is always 
important, but as you get older, you understand that time is the more valuable 

> In order for cohousing to continue to be an effective housing model, the
> criteria must be upheld. Especially the point that future residents are
> involved in the design, development, and organization process. This is one
> of the most important pieces of cohousing because it represents the future
> of that project (if a group knows how to work together through the process,
> they will work well as neighbors.) Without this list of criteria, a project
> doesn’t have the backbone needed to sustain the community for generations
> to come. It doesn’t mean that they’ll fail, but they probably won’t be as
> effective as a community.

I guess I’m not persuaded that the word “cohousing” can be any better 
controlled than the word “democracy” or “capitalism".  In general, we all share 
deep commitments to democracy and capitalism — but we may have wildly different 
opinions about their minimally sufficient conditions, and whether or not they 
still exist in America.

Philip Dowds RA
Cornerstone Village Cohousing
Cambridge, MA

> To learn more about the criteria, visit ...

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