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Cohousing: Not Communal Living, But Close

by Shilpi Paul

Cohousing: Not Communal Living, But Close: Figure 1
Takoma Village homes

When Ann Zabaldo returns to her home in Takoma Village Cohousing after work, she gets more than a wordless wave from her neighbors. “I know everybody here, and everybody knows me,” Zabaldo told UrbanTurf. Whether she’s picking up her mail from the Common House, joining neighbors for pizza and a movie, or comparing shades of blue in her role on the “color team” (a group of residents choosing the new color scheme for the common house), Zabaldo has several opportunities to interact with her neighbors on a daily basis.

If this doesn’t sound like the relationship you have with your neighbors, don’t be surprised. While homeowners in cohousing developments live in privately-owned condos and houses, the living set-up differs markedly from more traditional arrangements. Residents maintain common areas, make consensus decisions, and often support each other in less tangible ways, like Takoma Village’s “sunshine club”, which visits those who are sick or going through a hardship. Any neighborhood or condo building can become cohousing, and Takoma Village (with 43 homes) is joined by Silver Spring’s 56-unit Eastern Village just a town away as two of 15 cohousing developments within an hour of DC.

Cohousing: Not Communal Living, But Close: Figure 2
Eastern Village’s courtyard

“Cohousing attracts people who are looking for a more intimate kind of neighborhood,” explained Zabaldo, one of the original residents of Takoma Village. “They are looking for a more elusive sense of belonging, sense of place.”

The architecture of Takoma Village lends itself to interaction: smaller houses leave room for larger common areas, front doors face each other, and cars are parked out of sight on the periphery. Takoma Village’s Common House is an “extension of your personal living and dining room,” Zabaldo explained. Residents rotate jobs to provide one formal dinner to the community per week, and often host informal events at the House.

Not surprisingly, both Takoma Village and Eastern Village are certifiably “green.” Eastern Village was awarded LEED Silver certification and all units in Takoma Village have Energy Star certification. Abigail Daken and her husband have enjoyed Eastern Village’s environmentally-friendly design since moving there six years ago. “The green aspect of the community was very important to me,” Daken told UrbanTurf. “It was one of the first steps I took on a path of reorienting my life and career to support the environment.”

One of the most notable aspects of cohousing life is decision by consensus. As opposed to a majority-ruled condo board, decisions at Takoma Village and most other cohousing developments must have unanimous support. “Our recent pet policy went through 13 drafts before being adopted,” Zabaldo said. “Even though the initial effort was long and took a lot of energy, the result is a policy everyone has bought into.”

Cohousing: Not Communal Living, But Close: Figure 3
Inside an Eastern Village condo

The community is often self-selecting. While Eastern Village lists their units through traditional means, Takoma Village owners post flyers at natural food stores and coffee shops or place an ad in a community housing publication. Only one sale in the history of Takoma Village went through a real estate agent, and deals are finalized by settlement attorneys.

If this lifestyle appeals to you, both Takoma Village and Eastern Village currently have units up for sale. Takoma Village has a two-bedroom currently on the market, and Eastern Village has two two-bedroom condos available.

This article originally published at http://dc.urbanturf.com/articles/blog/cohousing_not_communal_living_but_close/4429

2 Comments

  1. Jillian said at 5:55 pm on Tuesday November 1, 2011:
    At Nevada City cohousing we have a pool, and a hot tub (one for 80+ people), PV on the roofs means that electricity bills range from $50 to negative $50 per month in the summer. There's no AC due to a mild climate in the summer and the design of the houses (deep overhangs, very well insulated walls/windows/doors, whole house fans, purposeful south-facing layout of houses) means that they don't overheat and stay very comfortable. Living in a neighborhood where you have a social and physical support system is just good common sense. Read this book: Creating Cohousing: Building Sustainable Communities by Katie McCamant and Charles Durrett. Then contact McCamant and Durrett Architects and build your own. Spread the word, build it up.
  1. Joel said at 5:38 pm on Thursday February 16, 2012:
    Both Takoma Village and Eastern Village were developed by EcoHousing Corporation and designed by EDG Architects, both local firms based here in the DC area with extensive experience in environmentally sound multi-family housing, and cohousing in particular.

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