Cohousing: an alternative to condo living for some

By Deborah Goonan, Independent American Communities


On IAC, you’ll read many articles about chaos and dysfunction in Association Governed Housing developments. An increasing number of buyers and former HOA homeowners want to avoid living in another developer-centric, corporate controlled neighborhood. And many want to avoid the pettiness and conflict so inherent in condominium associations as well as planned communities.

But some people like the idea of being socially connected to their neighbors. They share an intense interest in protecting the environment, living in harmony with nature. Some value a small village lifestyle where you can eat meals with neighbors, and lean on one another when health issues or personal setbacks make life more difficult.

For some people, co-housing appears to fill their needs and desires for social connection. Check out several examples in the list below.

Is co-housing an appropriate lifestyle for everyone? No, but I can see this as a viable option for some people. And co-housing has some important distinctions that differentiate it from condominium or homeowners association living.

  • The residents are always in control. The developer works for the people who invest in the concept and will live in the community.
  • Owner occupancy is the norm. Real estate speculation is discouraged or forbidden.
  • The size of these communities is small and manageable.
  • The residents tend to be fully engaged and committed to concept. Newcomers to the group are carefully vetted to make sure they will fit in with the group, and will not exploit or bully neighbors.
  • Most of the designs are customized and thoughtful. They include private spaces as well as social interaction.

Of course, no one can promise utopia. And co-housing is bound to have its social challenges. But we know they work, to some extent, all over the world. There are variations such as communes and kibbutzes. In Pennsylvania, Amish, Mennonites, and Quakers have been living in small, relatively self-sufficient communities for centuries. And they peacefully coexist with their surrounding neighbors.

If we are to move beyond the current situation where almost nothing is built or redeveloped without imposing Association Governance, we will have to explore a more diverse array of options. People come in all shapes and sizes – so should their housing options.


Examples of Co-housing:


Fair Oaks Cohousing, CA


Fresno Cohousing, CA


Wissahickon Village Cohousing, PA (for senior living)

3 thoughts on “Cohousing: an alternative to condo living for some

  1. Linda Mathison June 19, 2018 — 7:34 pm

    Great article. Bringing back the good old days. The concept of co-housing seems to be a workable solution for so many. A community within a community. This would be a workable situation for many seniors, a purpose within the community that is controlled by the community. This is a project that I may be able to develop within my community. Deborah Goonan, thanks for your informative insight.

  2. Thanks for your comment and the link for your cohousing website. Very informative.

    You say there is hope for all HOAs, but cohousing, while it uses a homeowners association, condo association, or cooperative legal framework, is nothing at all like developer-created corporate governance that has become so typical with HOAs.

    First of all the legal documents of HOAs are written by attorneys for real estate developers and/or landowners. Evenutal residents have no say in how the community is constructed, financed, or managed. To use your terminology, there is nothing intentional about 99% of HOAs.

    Governing documents include not only mulitple covenants and restrictions, but also contract clauses that shield developers and their successor boards from all sorts of liabilities. The By Laws are most often written such that a developer and later an association member board controls all finances and decision making. That’s more like a dictatorship or oligarchy than making decisions by concensus.

    Residents do not share in the work to be done. They expect the Assocation Board to hire a manager or other staff members to do all the work for them. Unfortunatley, many management companies exploit these expectations. In the end, the cost of the services – or mismanagement due to lack of long term planning – leads to higher costs for owners, making life unaffordable for working families and seniors living on fixed incomes.

    Real estate speculation is the norm for most HOAs and especially in condo associations. Investors become majority shareholders and control association boards, even if they do not reside in the community. For them, owning condos is a business venture, nothing more.

    Futhermore, a high percentage of mandatory associations are established for common interest communities with hundreds or thousands of living units and residents. The shear size of the group makes concensus impossible. And, sadly, large scale development of this kind is becoming the norm, furhter isolating people from one another, while providing maximum profit potential for major real estate stakeholders.

    That said, do you ever work with small condo,homeowners, and co-op associations to convert them to the cohousing model?

  3. Thanks for writing about #cohousing! Please note that despite AP style guidelines, the word appears in the American Heritage Dictionary, so you can write it without a dash.

    Please note that two of the communities you cite as examples are forming groups (one with a site, the other still looking), so it may be harder for your readers to draw conclusions about the benefits and challenges of living in community. They can find links to the over 160 established communities across the US on the National Cohousing Association website: .

    As someone who has lived in two of these “intentional neighborhoods” (13 years in my current one and several years in residence and resident-led development in my first), visited over 100, and advised many, I’d like to make sure it is clear that part of what has led to rapid growth for the movement, compared to other forms of intentional community, is that we do work with the system: most often cohousing neighborhoods are indeed those “evil” condominiums, run by a Home-Owner’s Association (gasp!).

    But there’s a key difference: the inmates are running the asylum, so to speak. We are typically all on the board and we make decisions by consensus. We’re not interested in suing each other to enforce conformity and protect property values, as the stereotypical HOA you write about might do. Instead, we take time to listen to each other and take care of one another. We aim to recreate the old-fashioned neighborhood spirit that may have been lost for many of us over the past half century.

    In most cases, membership is actually self-selecting: there are no restrictions on resales, no approval process where we check your teeth and your pedigree. But prospective residents are encouraged to come to a shared meal and/or a meeting, and get to know their neighbors before deciding to rent or buy in cohousing. When done well, demand exceeds supply and there’s a waiting list of people who value the sense of community, making it easy for a seller to replace themselves and move on if they decide it isn’t right for them or need to move for other reasons.

    I think there is hope for all HOAs, and opportunity for homeowners to learn from the cohousing model and step up in leadership if they feel their condo board is not acting in the best interests of the community. We have tools and techniques that can help any group find their shared positive intent and live well together.

    Raines Cohen, Cohousing Coach and Cohousing California regional organizer
    Planning for Sustainable Communities
    Living in community in Berkeley, CA

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