Considering cohousing? 7 tips to get started

Considering cohousing? 7 tips to get started

A small but increasing number of people — from young families to seniors — are joining cohousing communities across the country. Built with input from residents, these tight-knit communities cluster homes around common spaces that encourage interaction, where neighbors share meals and responsibilities with a focus on sustainability and self-management.

“It’s about supporting each other ... it’s also about quality of life,” says Alice Alexander, executive director of the Cohousing Association of the United States. So how do you know if this brand of neighborliness is right for you? Here are some steps to take to explore cohousing further:

1. Find your comfort zone

Unlike communes or shared homes, residents in cohousing communities own their own homes. Still, Alexander says, those considering cohousing should ask themselves if they are very private or prefer more interaction.

2. Network with potential neighbors-to-be

Connect with individuals in your area who share your interest in living in a cohousing community. You may be able to find them at a farmer’s market, through community organizations and by talking with friends or family. Go online to network by searching for “cohousing” or visit the Cohousing Association’s website.

3. Visit a cohousing community

If possible, check out a cohousing community. Cohousing has cropped up in rural and urban areas alike. The Cohousing Association provides a cohousing directory of communities in existence and new ones forming. Take a tour of a cohousing community, and share a meal or sit in on a neighborhood meeting.

RELATED: Seniors seek cohousing communities

4. Consider timing

Especially if you wish to age in place in a cohousing community, don’t wait to explore your options. Building a community from the ground up typically takes years. “There are sometimes options to rent and try before you buy,” says Raines Cohen, 48, who resides in a cohousing community in Berkeley, California. A self-described “aspiring elder” and certified senior advisor, he serves as a cohousing coach.

5. Consult a financial advisor

Communities, like individual homes, require down payments. Before you sink major money into any project, get an outside opinion. “It is a speculative investment, there are risks — there are communities that have gotten stuck in the process,” Cohen says.

6. Assess your health needs

Particularly for individuals with ongoing medical issues or those 65 and older, Cohen suggests forming co-care agreements with would-be neighbors. This outlines the level of support you can expect, and the care you’re expected to provide for neighbors — such as helping with meals or rides as needed when a health problem arises. Ask if the community accommodates nurses and other caregivers and family if you need additional support.

7. Ask what you can contribute

Community means giving, just as you wish to receive, Alexander says, and finding fulfillment in living life together. “Ask yourself what you can do to contribute to the community,” she recommends. “This can be affirming and confidence-building in presenting yourself as an asset for a community.”

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Seniors seek community with cohousing


Residents of Wolf Creek Lodge meet three to five times a week for a shared meal. (Photo courtesy of Bob Miller)
Residents of Wolf Creek Lodge meet three to five times a week for a shared meal. (Photo courtesy of Bob Miller)

A grassroots movement in neighborhood building, called cohousing, presents seniors with another option to stay connected and age in place in their own home.

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