Can cohousing fail?

I wonder this from time to time.  Many cohousing groups never get the place built for many reasons – money, not finding appropriate land, money, not having enough people, money, not having enough time/energy, money, etc.  But if the houses are there, can it fail?

I think it comes to the intent of the question. Are you afraid to get involved and lose your money as the group forms, develops, and builds the place? That is a possibility. But after it’s built, what are you afraid of? That you may hate it? That’s a possibility and many a neighbor has moved out realizing cohousing life is not for them or that particular group is not for them.  That you may be irritated beyond belief by one or two neighbors? Could happen. That you aren’t guaranteed friendships or close relationships? That’s true.  

Diana Leafe Christian interviewed intentional communities and failed communities and has written extensively about what works.  Sociocracy seems to be the preferred governance these days that many a community likes.  Finding ways to deal with conflict and hold everyone accountable to the written community policies.  So, the secret ingredients and information is out there.  The problem can be individuals and groups who aren’t putting the time and energy into doing that.  Diana Leafe Christian says that if you visit a community going through struggles, they have the “flu”.  Come back a few years later and they probably got over the growing pain.

I also think the “failure” idea comes with the assumption people make going into cohousing. In truth, they have been promised a lot.  The whole idea is a community so people assume that means peace, love, and understanding.  That you will have all the essentials in life – food, shelter, and love.

Here are some of the assumptions I’ve seen people make (me included):

Everyone has the  same idea of community that you do (“like minded” people)

Everyone has the same  expectations for behavior and policies (making a realistic vision will help form this)

Everyone will follow the policies.

Everyone will participate.

All animals will be well behaved and controlled by the owner (same with children)

No one will call authorities on you – police, social services for children or senior citizen abuse, swatting (SWAT team)

No one will have a gun

No one will smoke

No one will do anything illegal

No one is a child sexual abuser

No one sexaully assualts

No one abuses anyone/thing/animal

Everyone is liberal

Everyone is upper middle class, at least has those values 

Everyone went to college and beyond

Everyone will be well balanced

Everyone has sugar that you can borrow

So, can a cohousing fail? I don’t know. Can it not live up to your expectations? Of course!  Can it become more of a condo and less of an intentional community – yes. But here is the key. You are part of the community. Each person helps create the community. When new people move in, new ideas and if it’s healthy, that’ll be accepted. Eventually all cohousing communities will have new residents than the original founders because, let’s face it, no one lives forever.  Then, we can see – how does it last for a second, third, fourth generation.

Most intentional communities – communes have failed. Here is an article on that. Cohousing is a bit different because no matter what, the houses will be there and will want residents no matter what.

About CJ

I was a Spanish teacher for 5 years in the Public School system in 3 different states. I homeschooled and taught at a democratic free school. I heard about cohousing in 2010 and wanted to move in right away. I met a group building one in 2018 and got to move in the summer of 2019. It only took a year to want out.
This entry was posted in bad behavior and bullies of any age, marketing in cohousing, moving in and out of cohousing, other blogs and websites, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Can cohousing fail?

  1. zevpaiss says:

    Can Cohousing fail? Of course and like most creations things fail for many of the reasons stated in your post. Some would even say that of the community does not meet their expectations it has failed. I would disagree. Like all things ideas evolve. I have lived at the Nomad Cohousing Community since we moved in in 1997 and we have changed a lot. Out of our 11 original residents four still remain but once we had as many as 10 children now we have 2.

    One community, built in the out of this universe priced town of Aspen, started as Cohousing but after just a few years removed the label because the need for affordable trumped the need for community. The homes and community house ( a former hospital) are still there but it failed as Cohousing in that very unique community.

    I believe every Cohousing community needs to revisit their core principles ever feel years to check in and determine how they are doing. That step in itself could avoid all out idealogical failure.

    My 2 cents.

    Zev Paiss

    • expsteacher says:

      Very good points. I agree that if it is not working for one, or more members, it is not a failure. It’s sad to hear about the Aspen place but does it have a common house? Does it act somewhat like cohousing? Is there anything others can learn about affordability from that project not working? Many are focusing on affordability and it makes me depressed to think I’ve heard many stories of how that doesn’t work.
      I’m going to pass on that key step – revisit core principles every few years!
      Thanks for your 2 cents – keep them coming!

      • zevpaiss says:

        The Aspen cohousing experiment is very unique since the city required the entire development to be affordable so the people who “applied” needed affordability as their top priority. I have not heard anything recently so I do not know if they have any community aspects to their neighborhood. Aspen is a pretty close community to begin with so the “need” to build community is not high.

        I live at the 11-home Nomad Community where 7 of the 11 home are permanently affordable and yet we have built and maintained a strong cohousing community despite the high percentage of permanently affordable homes.

  2. zevpaiss says:

    They don’t have a blog…

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