It is so hard to find those who have left cohousing or intentional communities. I found some interesting comments to the NYT opinion about how cohousing would cure loneliness (again – that’s always the tag line. This time for motheres)
Here is what I found:
I lived in co-housing designed by Charles Durrett for 8 years and was attracted to it for all the reasons you list here. I was isolated as a parent, tended toward introverted, wanted community and it felt right to share space and resources. Of the 30 or so household that originally moved into the community only a handful are left and I’m not one of them. The idealism of co-housing loses its luster when you discover that one family is nice but slovenly, another can’t pay their bills to the community. Common meals are wonderful until it’s your turn to cook for 40 people with different tastes and food allergies. Work requirements are piled on top of your already busy life and people who seemed pleasantly quirky at first can become deeply annoying. I had some good experiences and made some friends but I never have regretted leaving for my own home, and living by my own decisions.
another ex cohouser agrees:
It is clear that the author has never actually lived in Cohousing.
As another Cohousing alumnae from a different community I can attest to the issues noted by @Laura. Add to those the challenges of decision making when people don’t understand the difference between consensus and unanimity, where it’s necessary to frame decisions in terms of what is best for the community as a whole rather than what’s best for the individual. Many people find it too draining, and I find my current life on a small city block where people do talk with each other but lead separate lives to be preferable for me now.
another comment from seekers:
My husband and I looked at co-housing in our area. All those activities and responsibilities would really cut into free time for the things we really want to do. So would interacting with the same people day after day.
As introverts we would lose our privacy and as far as I can see gain not much in return.
a positive comment: (only living there a year so far)
My developmentally disabled adult daughter and I moved into a cohousing neighborhood over a year ago. It’s not perfect, but my daughter and I have several good friends who we see on an almost daily basis. My daughter knows that everyone she sees in our neighborhood is a friend. My criticism of cohousing is that it’s too expensive to be “the answer” for young families. Typically the group comes together, purchases property, forms an LLC and takes out loans and acts as their own builder. All the subcontractors know that they’re not going to get repeat business from the cohousing LLC, so they don’t treat the project as a top priority. Our county building inspectors were neither friendly nor helpful, and we occasionally had something signed off by one inspector only to have another come over a week later and tell us to change it completely. Our architect had us purchase whole-house fans that the fire marshal wouldn’t let us install. Every delay is costly, and that’s not even to mention the expense involved in the various things we had to rip out and do over. At this time, cohousing is still a boutique housing option, and ends up more expensive than comparable condos in the same area. Until we can reach some sort of more affordable cohousing options, cohousing will tend to remain older and less diverse than I’d like to see.
I wish I was like these people who think of all the aspects before choosing community, or not. This person gets narcissism and how much it hurts ICs 100%.
I considered moving to this type of community in upstate New York. What ultimately made me reject it was that I realized that I, like most Americans, did not have the skills and mindset to make such cooperation possible. Living communally, especially with people who are not relatives and who you have not known a long time, requires the ability and willingness to let go of personal habits that may vex others (night owls like me may find ourselves particularly out of step), sacrifice time and labor to the community’s needs when you would rather not, and sincerely work toward consensus on shared decisions, which requires an ability to compromise that many of us do not possess. Imagine how much rupture and resentment a narcissist could cause. I think that’s why the utopian communities that have lasted have usually been faith-based. You need a really, really strong commitment to shared principles to make it work. I don’t think that level of commitment is typical of most Americans, especially those who (like me) did not grow up in a warm, loving, extended family.
In the time that I was becoming a solo mother without family to help me, I made some changes to alleviate the isolation and a little of the expense of raising a child: I moved from an apartment building downtown to a 4,000 home master planned neighborhood (which was terrifying); I joined a bunch of Facebook groups for my neighborhood, the largest of which is for moms with young children; and I learned to ask for help, sometimes of a neighbor on my cul-de-sac, sometimes through one of the Facebook groups. People want to help others; we’re all just conditioned not to “be a burden” to anyone.
After being home alone with a newborn for a few months, I got on that Facebook group and literally said “It’s just me and my baby here and I’m lonely. Anybody wanna hang out?” One of the women who responded is now one of my dearest friends. All of these steps I took required courage and humility, but they really shouldn’t have.
I’ve heard this same issue on the cohousing listserv
I think the “kids can just go to someone else’s apartment!” thing is a little idealized. First of all, suburban moms have this anyway – my kids play with the neighbors, and I can also make playdates with friends. But your kid has to be a certain age to just go over to someone else’s house. I’m not sending a kid younger than 4/5 to just randomly pop in to someone else’s apartment. And it’s not cool if you’re cooking/doing laundry/trying to do anything else and all of a sudden another child or 2 or 3 comes to play at hour house. And we all know there’s going to be one mom who ends up getting more kids at her house than the others.
Not cohousing but my experience:
I live in a 55+ community, and it still feels like high school. When they first meet you, you get asked lots of questions, but becoming a part of a group takes time and doesn’t always happen. Covid made it worse.
@Linda a lot of people are eight graders with checking accounts. This can be bad in retirement communities. No age group is exempt from this behavior.
I hope she finds my blog. NYT won’t let people comment anymore:
Interesting article, but not enough attention to the problems of this sort of living arrangement: people who shirk their share of the work, people who don’t pay enough attention to what the children they are responsible for are really doing, sexual jealously, many of the problems of marriage perhaps without the commitments of marriage to help balance things… and so on…
I can imagine people hoping for help from others but not really able or willing to reciprocate… I’m interested but I need a more balanced view of what this type of living really entails…
Do most choose to leave soon or stay forever? I’ll have to look into it. Another comment from an ex-cohouser:
I lived in a co-housing complex on an urban farm thirteen years ago. There were a lot of meetings and discussions and drama. Not everyone pulled their own weight doing the nitty gritty of the work of the village. I found it emotionally exhausting and left after two years.
too many meetings comment (I didn’t mind the meetings but the fact we never had follow through so ended up making them a waste of time):
I grew up in a loose co-housing arrangement, spent a year in one as an adult, and gave a go at starting one a fee years later.
Here’s my takeaway: the meetings have to go. if you want this to scale you have to get rid of most of the meetings. There are just too few people who can handle the emotional burden of hours-long consensus building and still function the next day as a good neighbor. As long as cohousing requires regular lengthy meetings, it will remain niche.
Making this feasible is going to take technological innovation: design away most of the financial, logistical and maintenance topics these meetings dwell on. Make finances, logistics and maintenance super-easy and cheap, or leave them as the responsibility of each family.
It will also take legal innovation: corporate models for joint ownership of common spaces and structures, protection from lawsuits within the community when people make mistakes while acting in good faith (you dropped Grandma!) and community covenants for behavior and conflict resolution that provide legal protection from the police and from Child Services when a kid gets lost or hurt, or when a minor dispute threatens to spiral.
There’s a good reason these communities worked best when organized around a religion, and we have to be honest about this.
I agree that we also need to address zoning and building codes, but they are not the primary barriers to scaling this form of living.
So, if you are thinking of moving into a co-housing arrangement, do your research very carefully. And if you are moving there to get free labor, forget it. People will get tired of you very quickly.
One comment asked about the screening and someone else commented it happened. Not really true. Anyone can buy a house into cohousing. That’s the law. Intentional Communities can choose their members. And this person understands that the wrong type of person can cause big problems:
Human characteristics can make for ideal or hellish situations in any shared facilities. Co-housing is potentially wonderful if truly cooperative. Problems can also be found over some difficulties.
Issues of privacy are important. Potential for dominance or even physical or mental abuse might occur similar to in a marriage in competition for common areas such as kitchen or bath facilities. Problems of priorities might be considered for storage of supplies: what is to be used for that refrigerator shelf or what cleanser is to be used for the bathroom?
People who are completely altruistic and open are great for co-housing. People who are perfectionist, inflexible or egotistical may wind up being a problem. Some who have sociopathic tendencies have enough problems living with people outside of a domicile and would be onerous for the tolerance in some co-housing consideration.
This one is just funny sh-t:
Ten years ago I went to Eastern Village with a realtor to check out a 2br/2ba unit. It did feel like a great community in which to raise kids and the unit was really nice, except for one thing: the smell. The dog was home and had made a poo on the floor. The realtor, somewhat of a dog whisperer, surmised that the owner had left it alone for too long. Maybe watching each other’s pets was not part of the agreement between the co-residents.
Another funny one but points out that nowadays it is hard to compromise:
I can’t imagine the babysitting pool working for very long, because I can’t imagine half a dozen contemporary moms being able to agree on rules. Someone will let their kid have a cookie before dinner or have an extra half hour of screen time it will all fall apart.
I don’t know of a babysitting pool but neighbors can do what they like. There were a few other comments on loving cohousing or intentional communities that I didn’t add. You can read the 300 plus comments which go off on many tangents. I just look for the side that is NEVER in the media.