Many communities that do not have the Six defining characteristics of cohousing self-identify as Cohousing. The phrase “Cohousing” is ambiguous to many communitarians. This is made clear if you search for communities that “use the cohousing model” using the FIC Communities Directory. You find many more communities than are listed in the Cohousing Directory maintained by Coho/US (more than a 3X difference in June ’07). The Cohousing Directory is actively managed and limits communities presented to communities that meet (or intend to meet) the defining characteristics.
Cohousing receives a lot of press coverage, and is often mis-applied to other forms of shared housing. In a recent essay, it was suggested, by Allen Butcher, that cohousing may in the process of becoming a genericized trademark for Intentional Communities – the Xerox ™ of intentional communities – that is, a specific name that becomes descriptive of a broader class (photo copiers in the case of Xerox)… Allen actually used a less flattering example, specifically, “as ‘Kleenex’ is to tissues.” This attempts to help clarify what cohousing is by describing what it is not…
Cohousing is not…
- a general phrase for shared housing – there are many Types of Community and cohousing is just one
- “co-” house sharing – cohousing typically refers to neighborhood-level, not Shared households – another type of community
- a land-sharing arrangement for neighbors who rarely interact, i.e. a loose-knit group that isn’t a community
- just any multi-unit housing design with common spaces – to be cohousing, the housing must be designed and built with at least some participation of an existing or forming community
- a way for housing developers or real estate agents to legitimately sell or obtain planning approval for conventionally=planned and developed condominiums
- a group of privately-owned houses without a common house… unless one is planned or the community is small enough that individual households can accomodate shared dining
In evaluating communities for inclusion on its list, Coho/US has historically largely focussed on intent, design, and process, not just the physical configuration and end result. The greatest variance is found in Retrofit cohousing, lot-model developments, phased projects (where the intention is that a Common House will be built later).