Creating Community Together

Frequently Asked Questions

Cohousing

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. A cohousing community is a family of sorts — a chosen family —one with equal rights and responsibilities.

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.

Intentional neighborhood: Some people involved with cohousing like to describe their communities as “intentional neighborhoods.” By contrast, “intentional communities” frequently connotes a shared religious, political, environmental or social ideology rather than simply the desire to have a strong sense of community with your neighbors.

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.

Reprinted from Cohousing.org

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 collectively owned by the owners’ association.

How will the income-restricted units be made 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.  And second, we will be utilizing $594,000 in subsidy funds that have been committed to this project by the City of Madison to provide “soft second” mortgages that will not require any payments until the home is resold, the title is transferred, or the owner refinances the primary mortgage to pull cash out of the property.

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: $47,600
  • 2 person household: $54,400
  • 3 person household: $61,200
  • 4 person household: $68,000
  • 5 person household: $73,450
  • 6 person household:  $78,900

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 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 will happen to the current tenants?

We will work with the current tenants to either accommodate them in the redeveloped site, or to assist them in finding other space nearby. At this point, our development plans include artist studios that would accommodate over half of the tenants at Winnebago Studios, and a new gym for Madison Circus Space. Ford’s Gym will not be affected, and Sector 67 has been actively trying to secure space in another location for quite some time, which considerably predates our discussions with Accipiter.

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.