Frequently Asked Questions
Cohousing is a form of intentional community living characterized by the following:
Participatory Process: Residents help organize and participate in the planning and design process for the housing development, and they are responsible as a group for final decisions.
Deliberate Neighborhood Design: The physical design encourages a strong sense of community.
Extensive Common Facilities: Common areas are an integral part of the community, designed for daily use and to supplement private living areas.
Complete Resident Management: Residents manage the development, making decisions of common concern at community meetings.
Non-Hierarchal Structure: There are not really leadership roles. The responsibilities for the decisions are shared by the community’s adults.
Separate Income Sources: Residents have their own primary incomes; the community does not generate income.
(From The Senior Housing Handbook, by Charles Durrett)
We would love to move in tomorrow, but this is a complex undertaking. Our hope is to be able to move in 2021 or perhaps 2022, but it will all depend on how quickly we find a site for our community.
The costs will depend on a number of factors. One of our goals is to provide affordable housing for those with limited financial resources. We expect to offer 3-4 styles/sizes of homes that will meet a variety of needs. By and large, we expect that most folks will find themselves downsizing, so the initial home cost might well be less than you are currently paying. Costs will also be reduced by sharing many resources with fellow community members, such as yard maintenance tools, exercise facilities, and so forth.
Cohousing communities vary in size from as few as eight or ten households to upwards of 60 or more, but the general consensus is that the optimal size is around 25 – 30 households, which is what we are targeting.
Maryland currently has a couple of cohousing communities, but there are none in Baltimore. Liberty Village is a multigenerational community in Frederick, and another multigenerational community is Eastern Village Cohousing in Silver Spring. Takoma Village Cohousing in DC is a long-established community in a more urban setting. The closest example of a senior cohousing community is Shepherd Village in Shepherdstown, WV.
The cohousing concept was pioneered in Denmark as a solution to the challenges of isolation among seniors, but the American version has generally favored a multigenerational approach. We started Cohousing of Greater Baltimore to develop a community focused on the needs of older people and to enhance our social connections and support base as we age. However, our current plan is to remain somewhat flexible in making room for younger families or individuals, especially in conjunction with or in support of older family members.
In a group of 30 or so households, there will be people you feel especially close to and perhaps a few who turn you off. Unless you plan to live without the benefits of community, that’s one of the risks you will almost certainly face. In the cohousing environment, the emphasis on balancing privacy and community provides some insulation against the need to deal frequently with a less-loved neighbor. And since everybody has their own homes, you can have solitude when you need it, even from your friends.
The simplest answer to comparing the CCRC model to senior cohousing is to focus on the intentionality of cohousing. When folks move into a CCRC, it’s usually because they are no longer able to stay in their own homes safely. Average ages for entry into a such a community are in the late seventies to mid-eighties. Although some people in that environment retain an interest in creating community, the physical limitations of the residents and the for-profit model of CCRCs can impede the development of true community. Our members range in age from their fifties through their seventies. We are excited by the opportunity to build a real community where members can support each other when needed, and prevent/delay the need for assisted care, rather than as a regrettable accommodation for the vicissitudes of aging.
The residents of the community share responsibility for community governance as well as maintenance of the physical facilities. We’ll be responsible for snow removal, maintaining the common house, mowing the grass, and otherwise working together to keep the community in good shape. The community will decide as a group when to hire professional help to maintain the common areas, but many co-housing groups find doing much of the basic maintenance is not only cost-effective but a bonding experience with other residents.
Our goal for a location is fairly broad geographically: by “Greater Baltimore”, we mean either within the beltway or not too far outside of it. We may end up with a relatively urban site or a more suburban setting. We share a concern for finding a safe, quiet neighborhood, ideally within walking distance of amenities like cafes, shops, and entertainment. Beyond those broad specifications, we each have our own ideas about what the ideal site might be, but ultimately our site will be determined by issues such as availability and price.
The physical layout of the community will be determined to some degree by the site. An urban location is likely to lead to a more vertical community, perhaps resembling an apartment block, while a suburban location with more land will give us greater flexibility. We are committed to minimizing our environmental footprint, and thus envision some combination of apartments, duplexes, triplexes even if we have more acreage. In any case, it will be up to us to design the physical community. The major design goal will be to have a pleasant place to live that enhances our interactions with one another.
The Common House is the central focus of every cohousing community. It will almost certainly include a large dining area and a commercial-grade kitchen for sharing meals, the frequency of which it will be up to us to determine. It will also likely include exercise facilities, a shared workroom, library, and other spaces for conversation and reflection. Many common houses are designed with guest suites, and in the Senior Cohousing model, one of those guest suites may eventually serve as living space for on-site nursing support. In addition and depending on the needs, interests, and budget of our group, we might decide to include things like:
Sauna and/or Jacuzzi
Sculpture or musical studio spaces
Bar and cocktail area
Dining area and fireplace in the Common House at Silver Sage Village, a Senior Cohousing community in Boulder, CO.