Cohousing and cooperatives

(This blog originally appeared on the Viroqua Food Co-op blog, Sept. 13, 2012. You can see it here: )

Picnic after August meeting 2011

You may know co-op houses from your student days. Usually consisting of a large house with individual bedrooms and shared bathrooms, kitchens, and other living facilities, they’re a great way to keep costs down and live cooperatively with like-minded people. Cohousing is a different animal, a grown-up version with private homes as well as cooperatively designed common facilities—like a large dining room and kitchen, play spaces for children, guest rooms, offices, workshops, etc. Cooperatively chosen, “green” design characterizes the buildings at the more than 140 successful cohousing communities in the United States today. Cooperative decision-making in the design and day-to-day operations of the community is another hallmark. A number of these cohousing communities are legally organized as cooperatives. Others are home owners associations, but all include shared ownership of common facilities and land, with the management responsibilities belonging to every member of the community.

The hallmark of a cooperative is members joining together to run a business on a democratic basis. Rather than top-down, decision making is all inclusive. And for a housing cooperative of any type, the members are the owners and the consumers. It is a “closed-loop” co-op.

Whether a community is organized as a home owners association or a cooperative, the member-owners manage their land and all common facilities together, democratically. This can mean simple majority rule, or in the case of most cohousing communities, formal consensus decision making. All of the member-owners take part in the visioning, researching, discussion and decision making that are involved in creating and maintaining their community. This means greater empowerment, and the development of skills for working together, which benefits all of society.

A housing cooperative is formed when people join with each other on a democratic basis to own or control the housing and/or related community facilities in which they live. Usually they do this by forming a not-for-profit cooperative corporation. Each month they pay an amount that covers their share of the operating expenses of their cooperative corporation. Personal income tax deductions, lower turnover rates, lower real estate tax assessments (in some local areas), controlled maintenance costs, and resident participation and control are some of the benefits of choosing cooperative homeownership.

The key aspect in any cooperative is democratic control by the members in order to achieve an agreed upon common objective. Democratic control is typically accomplished through governance by volunteer boards of directors elected from the entire membership.

Building a naturally plastered patio wall together. Sharing a pickup truck. Getting a play structure located and installed for the kids. Planting oak trees for future generations. Eating dinner in the common house two or three nights a week with neighbors I actually knew, had worked and gardened and hiked and worshipped and made music with regularly. Disagreeing and compromising with respect and appreciation—all of these things and more made up the deeply satisfying and inspiring time when my family and I were part of RoseWind Cohousing in Port Townsend, Washington. You can get a taste of life there at rosewind.org.

You can find listings for the diverse permutations of cohousing and other intentional communities at ic.org or cohousing.org. For information about housing cooperatives: http://www.coophousing.org

Daily opportunities for face-to-face interaction and shared resources make cohousing communities real-life incubators for cooperative living. With mailboxes at the common house, you’re bound to talk with a neighbor or two when you pick up your mail. With homes oriented around a central green space, kids are free—and safe—to run outside and join friends at play. A shared workshop, lawn mower, orchard, and community gardens mean both resource and cost savings as well as more opportunities for socializing, and sharing knowledge and skills. All of this cooperation makes for more conscious living, while at the same time preserving the privacy of your own home. That’s how cooperative living in cohousing can be the best of both worlds!

–Jerry and his family cooperate with other members of Stone’s Throw Ecovillage, currently forming in Viroqua. Check them out at: stonesthrowcommunity.wordpress.com 
or call 608-637-8018

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