Creating Community Together

Frequently Asked Questions


What is cohousing?

Cohousing is a type of collaborative housing in which residents actively participate in the design and management of their own neighborhoods.

At the core of cohousing, more precisely, at the heart of the community, members dream, shape, and determine how and where they want to live, both individually and together, what their common spaces will be, delineate their shared values, and lastly decide how their community will be managed and maintained.

Where did cohousing originate?

The modern theory of cohousing originated in Denmark in the 1960s by families dissatisfied with existing housing and communities which they felt did not meet their needs. The Danish term bofællesskab (living community) was introduced to North America as cohousing by two American architects, Kathryn McCamant and Charles Durrett who co-wrote the book, Creating Cohousing. Durrett’s second book is The Senior Cohousing Handbook. The first community in the United States to be designed, constructed and occupied specifically for cohousing was Muir Commons in Davis, California

“The beauty of cohousing is that you have a private life and a community life, but only as much of each as you want.”  — Member of a Danish cohousing community.

What are the defining characteristics of cohousing?

Participatory process. Future residents participate in the design of the community so that it meets their needs. Some cohousing communities are initiated or driven by a developer. In those cases, if the developer brings the future resident group into the process late in the planning, the residents will have less input into the design. A well-designed, pedestrian-oriented community without significant resident participation in the planning may be “cohousing-inspired,” but it is not a cohousing community.

Neighborhood design. The physical layout and orientation of the buildings (the site plan) encourage a sense of community. For example, the private residences are clustered on the site, leaving more shared open space. The dwellings typically face each other across a pedestrian street or courtyard, with cars parked on the periphery. Often, the front doorway of every home affords a view of the common house. What far outweighs any specifics, however, is the intention to create a strong sense of community, with design as one of the facilitators.

Common facilities. Common facilities are designed for daily use, are an integral part of the community, and are always supplemental to the private residences. The common house typically includes a common kitchen, dining area, sitting area, children’s playroom and laundry, and also may contain a workshop, library, exercise room, crafts room and/or one or two guest rooms. Except on very tight urban sites, cohousing communities often have playground equipment, lawns and gardens as well. Since the buildings are clustered, larger sites may retain several or many acres of undeveloped shared open space.

Resident management. Residents manage their own cohousing communities, and also perform much of the work required to maintain the property. They participate in the preparation of common meals, and meet regularly to solve problems and develop policies for the community.

Non-hierarchical structure and decision-making. Leadership roles naturally exist in cohousing communities, however no one person (or persons) has authority over others. Most groups start with one or two “burning souls.” As people join the group, each person takes on one or more roles consistent with his or her skills, abilities or interests. Most cohousing groups make all of their decisions by consensus, and, although many groups have a policy for voting if the group cannot reach consensus after a number of attempts, it is rarely or never necessary to resort to voting.

No shared community economy. The community is not a source of income for its members. Occasionally, a cohousing community will pay one of its residents to do a specific (usually time-limited) task, but more typically the work will be considered that member’s contribution to the shared responsibilities.

What are some of the terms used in cohousing?

Common house: A shared facility, often but not always a stand-alone building, that is owned and managed by the community. It typically includes a kitchen, dining area/great room, sitting area, children’s playroom and laundry, and also may contain a workshop, library, exercise room, crafts room and/or one or two guest rooms.

Common meals: Cohousing residents often share two or three meals each week in their common house. Generally, for prepared meals, a team of two to four persons cooks for diners who sign up in advance. It’s common to have such a prepared meal one or more times a week, plus a potluck meal once a week. Prepared meals are paid for in a variety of ways. Eating common meals is always voluntary; cooking and/or cleaning up might be required, or might not be. In many communities, each adult resident helps cook and/or clean up once every four to six weeks, depending on the size of the community and how it operates its meals program. Each community determines how to do this, often by trying out different practices until a successful one is tried and agreed on.

Consensus: This is a decision-making process by which an agreement is made by all members of a group, rather than a majority or a select group of representatives. Most cohousing communities use the consensus method. A consensus-seeking group has assumptions, methods and results that differ from traditional parliamentary or majority voting procedures. Essential elements include having a degree of trust among members, a common purpose, time to understand the question, problem or proposal carefully, a belief that each person has the right to be heard, and attention to the process used for arriving at decisions. A consensus decision represents a reasonable decision that all members of the group can accept though it might not be the optimal decision for every individual every time.

Great room: A large fairly open room in a common house that is used both for common meals and for many other community functions. Ideally, this space should work as well for big functions with large crowds as it does for typical community dinners or for intimate gatherings and quiet meals.

Group process: Refers to the behavior, communication or decision-making process of people in groups. Examples of group process in cohousing might be, say, the way a site search committee goes about developing a list of criteria for suitable land, or how the community acting as a whole responds to a proposed action or policy. A community’s ability to make decisions in a thoughtful and harmonious way is greatly affected by the nature of its group process. An individual with expertise in group process, such as a trained facilitator, can help a group toward accomplishing its goal by assessing how the group functions and intervening to alter the way individuals interact with each other, especially in decision-making settings.

Resident management: Residents manage their cohousing community and also perform much of the work required to maintain the property. Resident management allows groups to keep their homeowner maintenance fees as low as possible while making the community as satisfying a place to live in as possible, and also enhances group cohesion and personal relationships through working together. Residents perform this kind of management when, for example, they plan for and prepare common meals, and by meeting regularly to solve problems and develop policies for the community.

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General Questions

What will be the ownership structure for CohoMadison?

CohoMadison will be structured as a condominium.  Each unit will be individually owned, with the common areas jointly owned and collectively managed by the owners’ association.

How will the income-restricted units be made — and kept — affordable?

The eleven (11) affordable homes at CohoMadison will be made affordable by utilizing two approaches. First, we will be discounting the sale price relative to our market-rate units by an average of $25,909 per unit.  And second, we are working on a package of subsidy that will significantly reduce the size of your first mortgage.

Three types of subsidy will be available to buyers of the 80% AMI units.

  • We have secured $36,364 in subsidy funding from the City of Madison that is specifically set aside for our project, which will be a “soft second” mortgage that will not require repayment unit the home is resold (or in the event of a cash-out refinance), and which is assumable by the next income-eligible buyer.
  • Buyers will also be eligible for Down Payment Plus ($6,000) from the Federal Home Loan Bank, which is available through our participating lenders.
  • First-time homebuyers will be eligible for $20,000 under the City of Madison’s Home Buy – The American Dream subsidy program.  “First-time” is defined by the City of Madison as one of the following: (a) an individual who has not owned property in last 3 years, or (b) a single parent with a dependent minor child.

Affordability will be maintained at resale in two ways.  First, the “soft second” mortgage will be assumable for buyers with incomes at or below 80% of area median income, significantly reducing the size of the first mortgage. And second, we will have resale price restrictions in place in order to keep the home affordable to the next income-eligible buyer, which we expect to utilize the following resale price formula : (a) what you paid for the home, plus (b) 2% per year in appreciation.

What are the income and asset rules for the income-restricted units?

INCOME ELIGIBILITY FOR AFFORDABLE UNITS: Buyer household income (from all sources) cannot exceed 80% of area median income (AMI), which is described as follows (for 2017):

  • 1 person household: $50,350
  • 2 person household: $57,550
  • 3 person household: $64,750
  • 4 person household: $71,900
  • 5 person household: $77,700
  • 6 person household:  $83,450

ASSETS:  Buyers of affordable units cannot have more than twelve (12) months of PITI (principal, interest, taxes and insurance) in liquid assets at the time your home is purchased.  There is no limit on the amount of money that can be applied toward a down payment.

DEBIT-TO-INCOME RATIOS:  Under the City of Madison’s guidelines, the follow debt-to-income ratio restrictions apply:

  • Your PITI (total housing payment) cannot be less than 25% of your household income.
  • Your total debt payments (housing and other debt) cannot exceed 45% of your household income.

PRIMARY RESIDENCE:  To be eligible to buy an income-restricted home at CohoMadison, it must be your primary residence. Under City of Madison guidelines, you will not be allowed to own other real estate property at the time of purchase.

Winnebago Street Project

Who are CohoMadison’s development partners?

Adam Chern and John Young of Accipiter Properties are our partners in the redevelopment of 2048/2100 Winnebago Street. We are thrilled to have found property owners and development partners who embrace outside-the-box projects, and who believe that our project will be successful. We couldn’t ask for more philosophically aligned partners than Adam and John.

Where will CohoMadison be located?

It is a site we have all walked or driven by many times, in a wonderful location between Union Corners and Schenk’s Corners at 2048/2100 Winnebago Street, and currently home to Winnebago Studios, Madison Circus Space, Sector 67, and Dr. Sax.

What happened to tenants displaced by this project?

Accipiter Properties has secured both temporary and permanent space for artists from Winnebago Studios to use during the construction process — and will be including 9 artist studios within the cohousing building.  Accipiter is also collaborating with Madison Circus Space on building a new (and much bigger) home for them right next door.  Sector 67 has moved to its own space on Corry Street just a few blocks away.  Ford’s Gym will not be affected by the development project — and the gym’s members will benefit from improved parking.

Who are the members of the development team?

The CohoMadison development team consists of project manager Greg Rosenberg, architect Jim Glueck, and attorney David Sparer. The Accipiter Properties team consists of John Young and Adam Chern.