How about Coho ?

By King Collins

Do you ever find yourself yearning for something more than a good job, three square meals and a roof over your head?

What is coho? Well, coho stands for cooperative housing. But let's backtrack a minute. When you drive down the freeway you can see plenty of housing, and a lot of it is built by developers who spend millions of dollars to design and build clusters of houses. Developments of this kind can be more or less attractive but the vast majority of them are built for one reason: to make money for the developer and his investors.

Often these houses are what Melvina Reynold's called "ticky tacky" In fact, her famous song, "Little Boxes" was inspired by developments she saw stairstepping up the sides of hills as she drove along Highway 101 somewhere south of San Francisco.

Even if the developer has some aesthetic sense and creates nice individual houses, it is very rare that the community as a whole is anything more than a typical suburb, because the developer is thinking of his relatively short-term goal of making a profit.

You the consumer may get to choose among many different houses and many different developments, but if you are looking for a community, it is very unlikely that you will find anything that suits you.

Maybe you want to have more say in the shape of your house, and more than that, maybe you want to have people living around you that you actually know. Maybe you'd like to share some meals with your neighbors, and maybe you want to have some buildings and facilities that are actually designed to be shared.

Lots of luck.

Well, this problem has been around for a long time, and in Denmark where the population is much denser and the culture much older, they found a way to deal with the problem. They called it something unpronounceable, but roughly translated it means "cooperative housing." In the late '60s, the Danish cohousers wrote a book which was translated and printed in the States. A few U.S. groups began to try the process. The movement has gained a lot of momentum in the last year or so. Now there are scores of groups in the country and quite a few in the Bay Area.

How does Cohousing work?

The established method goes something like this: To begin with, a few families get together and initiate the process. They set the basic criteria for their community-to-be. One thing that must be done, of course, is to attract more individuals or families who want the same thing. So part of their job is to promote their idea, with classified ads, posters, word of mouth, etc. In this way the group grows and over time they actually design their own development according to their own desires for a more closely knit, friendly, cooperative neighborhood. This turns out to be a very involved process. In the classic case, it requires a lot of patient planning and financial work.

Each family has to be able to get its own mortgage. But of course, the big advantage is that with all the money and effort pooled, the group can actually hire an architect and a developer. In the end, after three years of work, the cohousing group can have a place that is made from their own efforts, and is much more likely to be a real community.

There's much more that could be said about cohousing. I read a little bit about it everyday because I subscribe to a cohousing discussion group (see caption under picture) on the Internet. Sometimes there are as many as 20 messages on the subject. And as a matter of fact, there over 500 subscribers, and many of these follow the dialog everyday. At any time, a subscriber may enter the dialog by sending a message.

At any rate, the discussion reveals that there are a lot of different ways to implement the basic idea of cohousing. One group in Davis, California, started by simply buying the house they were renting and then, when the opportunity arose, buying nearby houses. This might be called cohousing by retrofit.

Well, that's a little piece of the cohousing story. By the way, there are fully functional cohousing groups in Emeryville, Sacramento and Davis and developing groups in Berkeley, Oakland, Sebastopol, Santa Rosa and Arcata. There is a group in Ukiah that is discussing the idea, too.

If you're interested, give me a call:

King Collins,

707/462 4543

Copyright Mendocino College Eagle 1995 Permission granted to use articles if source is cited

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Last Update: 3/23/96