U.S. Ripe for Cohousing Lifestyle

According to a new study, cohousing developers are poised for a market that could burgeon in the United States. A paper by Jo Williams, Ph.D., at University College London suggests this low-carbon lifestyle is appealing to Americans because it lowers energy use and offers health and social benefits for families and older people seeking secure and affordable homes.

Now, cohousing typically comprises private living units (houses) with shared spaces such as a gym, office space, workshops, laundry facilities, and a cafe. Those living in cohousing consume nearly 60 percent less energy in the home and operate car-sharing and recycling to reduce pollution from travel and the landfill. Having facilities such as office space, workshops and gym within the community also reduces travel and associated emissions.

Residents’ direct involvement in the management and maintenance of these communities has led to the adoption of more energy-efficient systems and renewable sources of energy.

Williams of the Bartlett School of Planning says that until recently, cohousing has occupied a niche market in the United States, largely because the development model adopted has been led by residents. The time, money, and effort required to invest in such a project, along with the associated risks, has very much restricted market interest. It takes a minimum of five years to develop a cohousing project, the drop-out rate is high and projects can be expensive.

However, emerging models reduce resident involvement, risk, and cost – namely, partnership, speculative, and retrofit models. Developers are beginning to finance and build cohousing both in partnership with prospective residents and speculatively. Residents are forming their own cohousing communities in existing neighborhoods, by taking down fences, creating communal facilities, and taking on the responsibility for general management and maintenance.

Williams says: "The emergence of new models of development has expanded the market particularly in California, Massachusetts, Colorado, and Washington D.C. The number of households living in retrofit communities has tripled in the last 10 years, and the number living in partnership projects has nearly quadrupled. The coverage and diversity of the market has also increased. Re-sale values for properties in cohousing communities are higher than the market average, suggesting they are now desirable places to live. Developers, architects and realtors have recognized the market potential for cohousing and are setting up support services."

The full article can be found in Futures Journal.

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