Re: Alexandria VA wants to group cohousing with Boarding houses - please speak up
From: Ann Zabaldo (
Date: Thu, 8 Apr 2021 11:52:11 -0700 (PDT)
Hi Becca and all!

Misuse of the term “cohousing” happens often in the media.  When I see 
“cohousing” misused in digital formats, I write a comment in the comment box.  
You can do that, too!

In Alexandria, Virginia  Alexa Powell is an urban planner who has the 
challenging job of increasing affordable housing in a city that is 98% built 
out and overwhelmingly single family detached housing.  She has created quite a 
thoughtful program in which she suggests using the areas of the city that are 
already zoned for multifamily housing, such as apartment buildings, to include 
and increase models such as Single Room Occupancy or boarding houses, 
increasing the number of unrelated persons in a single household (group 
houses),  WeLive buildings. etc. in their affordability plan.  This is a very 
clever and well thought out plan that results in little additional funding 
needed, no zoning changes, some density allowances but non untoward,  that will 
result in a diversity of living arrangements of affordable housing.

To give the plan w/ all these models a single moniker she described it as 
“cohousing.”  The models she references may be more generalized as “intentional 
communities” or “collaborative housing” or any other moniker loosely meaning "a 
bunch of people living together."

On behalf of the Board of Mid Atlantic Cohousing, I wrote to Ms. Powell 
explaining what cohousing is and what it is not.  She emailed back a very well 
written letter saying she understood the differences and would be consulting 
her team about the use of “cohousing” for their marketing and affordability 

In addition to the MAC letter, Jack Wilbern, architect and resident of 
Blueberry Hill Cohousing in Vienna, Virginia, Chuck Durrett, Charles Juris, 
Energy House and hopefully soon-to-be-cohousing professional, all wrote or 
talked to her.

I think she’s got it.  :-)

Somehow, the story of this discrepancy in terminology made it to a local news 
station.  From its report, it hit the internet and my and everyone else’s 
Google Alerts. The story was fairly reported BUT injected a serious note of 
uncertainty into the City’s process of approval for this program to bring more 
affordable housing to Alexandria.  The arrival of the great mother-ship AMAZON 
is driving up housing costs all over the Washington and suburban Washington DC 
area.  Alexandria needs this affordability program she has devised.  I’m hoping 
some other local municipalities will see the wisdom of her plan.

I do recommend, nay exhort, cohousers to correct the use of the term whenever 
we see it used incorrectly.  However, after watching this scene unfold, I want 
to think about unintended consequences.  For her misuse of the term, Ms. Powell 
has been inundated w/ calls from Alexandria homeowners,  letters and calls from 
cohousers, a news item which casts doubt on her program which is intended to 
solve affordable housing … so she’s spending her time responding to these 
inquiries instead of solving the affordability issues in Alexandria.  

I’m not excusing the mistake.  She knew there was a national cohousing 
organization — in fact, she cites CohoUS in her plan.  She could have simply 
googled cohousing and would have seen the differences between cohousing and the 
more general collaborative housing term.  But she didn’t.  We all make 
mistakes.  In the MAC letter to her we offered to work w/ her to bring 
cohousing to Alexandria as another tool in her tool box of urban planning.  
Cohousing doesn’t fit this iteration of their affordable housing plan but it 
can fit in their overall plan of making Alexandria a vibrant, sustainable 

Becca, I heartily agree w/ all you say.  Ditto. Ditto. Ditto.  In this case, 
enough has been said.  I don’t want to end up w/ someone w/ a resentment in a 
key planning niche in Alexandria.  For a long time we we’ve been dealing w/ a 
bad experience had by the planning department in Montgomery County, MD.  More 
people need to retire, take a new job or die before we can get back on level 
footing w/ Montgomery Co. MD.

Maybe one thing we can do is when we see a misuse of cohousing is to alert 
others on this list and see who is interested in responding.  That person or 
those persons could take the lead in responding and in keeping this list 
informed of what’s happening w/ the response.  Where and when needed we could 
“fill in” to keep the conversation going.  If there is a comment section of a 
digitally posted article then I think anyone and everyone can answer. In the 
case of Alexandria I was responding to a request for feedback from the Planning 
Dept which I see as a lot different from a digitally posted news item.

Thank you again, Becca, for posting your note to our list serve!

As always:  Onward!

Best --

Ann Zabaldo
Takoma Village Cohousing
Washington, DC
Ex. Dir. & Member, Board of Directors
Mid Atlantic Cohousing
Principal, Cohousing Collaborative, LLC
Falls Church, VA

Do you ever get up in the morning, look at yourself in the mirror and think … 
“That can’t be  accurate.”

NOTE: I am switching back to: zabaldo [at]  Many apologies!  

> On Apr 8, 2021, at 11:31 AM, Becca-Person Brackett <brackett3 [at]> 
> wrote:
> My Google alert on the word "Cohousing" keeps turning up misuse of the term.
> Maybe it's a losing battle,  but I would urge anyone in the state of
> Virginia  or cohousers in the DC area to send the word to the City Council
> of Alexandria that cohousing is NOT boarding houses and renting out extra
> bedrooms!
> They are planning regulations to encourage co-living and allow more
> density, make more affordable housing, and those are wonderful goals-  but
> the cohousing community needs to tell them DON'T CALL IT COHOUSING.
> I like to refer officials and journalist to the wikipedia page
> and especially the first sentence:
> " *Cohousing*[1] <> is
> an intentional community
> <> of private homes
> clustered around shared space. The term originated in Denmark
> <> in late 1960s.[2]
> <> Each attached or
> single family home has traditional amenities, including a private kitchen."
> If we don't speak up, the misinformation will continue - damaging the image
> of true cohousing projects.
> Cohousing  home purchasers should be able to benefit from any govt program
> that assists in making home ownership more affordable.
> How is Alexandria addressing that need?
> I will keep on the alert!
> Becca Brackett
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