Cohousing is one of the most well-known - and collaborative - models of collaborative housing. Since gaining popularity in northern Europe in the 1960’s, cohousing have spread across Europe and North America, with a small number also in Australia. Cohousing is a type of housing focused on an approach to living that strengthens community: it is about sharing more living spaces and reducing social isolation, while recognising that every household wants privacy and security.
Image courtesy of Murundaka
What is it?
Cohousing developments typically aim is to create a sense of community and social belonging through a design that emphasises shared space and social interaction. Typically, a co-design and management process gives residents greater say in the design and ongoing governance of their home and community.
As with other collaborative housing types, the size, structure and design of a cohousing community can vary depending on the vision of the members. However, cohousing projects are typically located in urban or suburban areas, and are of a scale that supports easy informal social contact between community members – usually between 10-40 households.
Banyule City Council in Victoria has developed a definition of cohousing. Developments must meet this definition to qualify for exemptions from development contributions. Click here for the full definition.
Who is it for?
Cohousing has been described as housing that tries to recreate the best parts of a small town or village, while generally being located in an urban or suburban area.
Strengthening social links within the community can make it easier for the community members to band together to tackle other issues or goals, whether growing a community garden or working to live more sustainably.
Cohousing is likely to appeal to people who find these ideas attractive, who want to have more input into their housing and local community than is allowed by traditional speculative development, and who think the potential benefits are worth any additional work that comes from greater participation.
What makes it collaborative?
Residents generally manage cohousing developments, with decisions about the community made by the people who live there. Usually, decision-making is based around some form of deliberation and discussion aiming to foster cooperation and collaboration.
Often, some or all of the eventual residents also get involved in the design process to make sure the mix of private and shared spaces meets their needs. Typically, each household has their own self-contained dwelling, but shared spaces provide a place for households to come together. A common rule of thumb in cohousing is that all individual dwellings are 10% smaller than typical, with that saved space used for the common dwellings. While private space is smaller, the overall space a household has access to is made greater by collaborating with the neighbours.
Shared spaces might include gardens, common kitchens and entertainment areas, community rooms, common lounges, and shared guest facilities. As well as sharing spaces and facilities, residents often come together to manage the community and share some meals. Sharing meals together is described by many cohousing advocates as the glue that makes a collaborative housing community special.