The case for co-housing

The first question in the third month of our deep dive into Central Florida’s affordable housing crisis comes from Kayla Mitchell, who asks, Do you think co-housing could be a solution?

The tl;dr or short answer is no, co-housing is not a solution to affordable housing but it IS a possible solution to more sustainable living. 

Let us break it down for you.

By definition. Co-housing refers to small-scale intentional communities of private homes with shared facilities. Each attached or single-family home has traditional amenities including a private kitchen but the shared spaces typically feature a common space used for cooking, dining, and recreation. In the past, co-housing was built with senior-living in mind, with the biggest draw being a community that cultivates a culture of frequent interaction and closer relationships. 

How does co-housing differ from co-living? Co-living is the building of dorm-style apartments where tenants share living spaces such as living rooms, kitchens, and even bathrooms. The format is usually geared to young tech workers; think Google and Amazon’s corporate headquarters.

Where did the idea of co-housing come from? Well, it all started in the 1960s when families in Demark rallied together to create a model of community living that they felt better met their needs, one inspired by a newspaper article by local Bodil Graae titled “Children Should Have 100 Parents.”

Taking from the title itself, cohousing communities were built to increase interactions among neighbors, having a built-in community of people who share resources including daily tasks such as babysitting to cooking to cleaning. 

The concept spread to the U.S. in the early 1990s though similar ideas date back as early as the 1920s (in New York and other parts of the world, it was cooperative apartment housing with shared facilities).

Who uses co-housing today? Good question. There are now more than 165 communities in 25 states plus the District of Columbia with more than 125 additional co-housing communities planned. There is co-housing available in Australia, Europe, Canada, the U.K., the U.S. and other parts of the world. For a listing of cohousing communities visit www.cohousing.org/directory.

What makes co-housing applicable to affordable housing? In a perfect world, the co-housing model makes sense and also, is surely more affordable for the tenant, right? Not necessarily. Co-housing is typically more so a luxury afforded to those who can pay a higher price tag — not for luxury but for convenience and sustainability. However, it’s a price tag that will (hopefully) eventually pay off. 

Think about it this way, in a co-housing community, you can split the cost of dinner 25 ways or the cost of a leaf blower, 34 ways. 

These co-housing communities are predicted to expand rapidly in the next few decades as “individuals and families seek to live more sustainably, and in community with neighbors”.

The future: In theory, co-housing in Central Florida sounds like a good idea. However, it isn’t a solution for affordable housing; it’s better suited to fix our sustainability challenges but without the proper infrastructure and a well-thought-out plan, it’s just not realistic as an immediate solution for that either. 

That’s not to say that we shouldn’t start the planning process for something akin to co-housing now. The influx of people moving here is ever-growing and we are literally running out of space (read: land) 

There is an old Chinese proverb that can be applied here; “The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago, the second-best time is today.” Improper planning and a lack of forethought are what got us into the urban sprawl mess that we’re in today. 

We plan to keep the conversation going by asking city officials and local leaders their thoughts on co-housing, if and where it’s already being implemented and how and why.

Perhaps instead of putting it on local cities to figure it out, the responsibilities should fall on big organizations and brands already here or planning to move to Central Florida —  maybe they build campus housing for their future employees. But also, where do they build?

Have questions or thoughts on your own on the future of co-housing in Central Florida? Tell us here

Made possible by Central Florida Foundation