Cohousing-L Comments on History [20yr]
From: Sharon Villines (
Date: Thu, 24 Jan 2013 10:22:03 -0800 (PST)
I heard about cohousing in a NYTimes article on retirement alternatives. I had 
been trying to establish similar communities since the 1970s. I didn't want a 
group home because I wanted private space and had children who were young then. 
I looked at a bankrupt ski hotel in VT with a central Victorian era kitchen and 
common rooms and several cabins--a perfect set up for a commonhouse surrounded 
by small private homes. Also tried to organize two huge mansion sized houses 
where 3-4 households could have wings or apartments with shared kitchen and 
common space. I was unable to interest _anyone_ I knew, including my husband.

My first post to Cohousing-L was 12 Jan 1998. I started reading in 1996, 
possibly earlier. At one point I unsubscribed because I was discouraged about 
the workshare discussions -- a problem still not solved. (It sounded like the 
same old same old of every organization I had ever been a part of.

The key in the NYTimes article was finding the word "cohousing." That allowed 
me to find the resources and the communities. The earliest article I could find 
today in the NYTimes that is tagged "cohousing" is a 7 Sep 1997 article on 
Cantines Island in Saugerties NY. The earlier article I think was 1994 -- just 
a one line mention. The attraction in 1994 was that if I could find a cohousing 
community, I could take early retirement from the university, move out of NY 
and make new friends quickly, and buy a new Beetle, which had just been 

The biggest difference I see on the list since then is less discussion of 
finding land, construction loans, new member recruitment, etc., and more on 
living together and facilities use and maintenance. There is now less much less 
discussion of how to defend and explain cohousing. More on ways to expand 
cohousing. Senior cohousing is viewed as the next wave but would have been 
considered anathema in the 1990s. Special focus communities (Jewish, 
vegetarian, etc.) are acceptable. "Diverse" thus no longer means a community 
has to include all diversities and avoid any restrictions or focus or it isn't 

Statistically it makes sense that posts now would focus more on living in 
cohousing than developing it since there are many more communities now. But I 
think that change is also because there are far more developers and 
construction managers both experienced in and willing to work with cohousing. 
In 1998 when I moved to Florida to join (a failed) community, there was only 
one person willing to work east of the Mississippi River and he was far away. 

Now, I think members of new communities may be joining the list when they have 
to discuss living together issues because there are so many resources available 
on development.

I remember early discussions on polyamory and display of emotions. Display of 
emotion was considered very bad form. In our community, now a "mature 
organization," I miss the display of emotion. We have one very mild 
well-mannered guy who used to get so angry he would pound on the table in 
meetings. Another threw a chair across the common house when someone told him 
she wouldn't consent to something he wanted. I haven't seen this discussed on 
the list in a long time.

Workshare discussions go on and on with little action on most communities. 
Recent posts on communities that both measure and allow either payment or work 
is heartening.

One thing that allowed me to trust cohousing was that there seemed to be a 
willingness to hire professionals and to adhere to mainstream middle class 
values -- being law abiding, having lawyers review bylaws, etc. In the 1970s I 
was one of many parents to start a cooperative school based on free school 
theories. That attracted a lot of people who had high regard for education and 
children but not "the government." I had had enough of the 1960's. Cohousing 
seemed different. 

I absolutely credit this list to the growth of cohousing. It has been 
consistently available and well-moderated by Fred with few restrictions and 
lots of good sense. That has allowed people from communities all over the world 
to share information. The index of messages is incredible and represents  lot 
of work on his part. For anyone who is creating a community or  a researching 
the history of cohousing, this is an invaluable resource.

I've used it through two failed communities (never built) and continue to use 
it for the community that got it done.


The sharing of information has been invaluable in the development of cohousing, 
but now I see the need for more legal action. Legal action might have helped 
earlier, too, but the housing style wasn't well developed enough to support 
legal action. It now has a critical mass and 25 (?) years of experience in this 
country. This is hard to argue with even if the number of communities 110 (?) 
is relatively small.

Areas for legal action that I see are the recent FHA actions and lending 
practices, and zoning. By "legal action" I don't mean law suites, necessarily. 
I mean legal research and briefs or whatever you call the papers lawyers 
prepare. Legal analysis of statements from zoning boards in relation to local 
laws would be helpful. These are more than local issues since zoning laws are 
usually based on national standards. DC, for example, uses national standards 
for their major construction and fire codes. Others must as well. Legal 
analysis on a national scale would be helpful and more affordable.

A special thanks to Fred and everyone who has made this list so helpful and 
contributed to happy cohousing communities all over the world.

Sharon Villines
Takoma Village Cohousing, Washington DC

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