In pursuit of a more perfect union, let me live with my best friends.
Notes on Cohousing and Coliving
Conversation with Jason Benn
These are my notes on a conversation I had entitled “Cohousing and Coliving: What, Why, and How” with Jason Benn on Clubhouse, January 25th, 2021. I’ve been interested in living in an intentional community for a few years, and Jason is the most knowledgeable person I know on the subject, having lived in The Archive—a coliving community in San Francisco—for several years and is now embarking upon a few-year development of a cohousing arrangement with his housemates. But first, what is coliving and cohousing?
- Coliving - a group of people living under one roof
- Cohousing - aka “communal living”, an intentionally formed group of reasonable adults living on a shared piece of land, with each household maintaining a separate dwelling
Cohousing and coliving have the promise to make our lives better in light of the intensely social nature of our species. We were meant to live together in small tribes of very familiar faces. The benefits:
- Close proximity to your friends, loved ones
- The many spontaneous interactions lead to new connections, avenues of enquiry and growth
- The familiarity of your housemates make for opportunities for vulnerability and authenticity, which are the substrate for strong communal bonds and a sense of belonging
- Collaboration from the multitalented pool of housemates on any problem you encounter
- Thickened ties into the past and into the future as you interact with a diverse age group
- Raise children in an unschooling, “it takes a village” way
- Pool resources to take epic, monthslong vacations, build out shared ameneties, pay for visiting scholars or scientists, hire a chef
Before Large Commitments
Coliving often represents a smaller commitment, so might be a natural stopping point on the way to cohousing. A house with a bunch of roommates qualifies as coliving.
In advance of creating either arrangement, there are some exploratory routes:
- A bookclub with interested people: discuss case studies of successful living arrangements, unsuccessful ones, share experiences, and speak to any reservations, assumptions, and goals
- Rent a place first with some friends
- Join an extant coliving or cohousing community instead of building one from scratch
Creating a Cohousing Arrangement
From planning, financing, building, and filling out, a cohousing project for 50 people may well take several years; in Jason’s estimation, easily 3-5 years. See his post here for the financing considerations. I’m considering land outside of Austin, Texas where I live now. Jason has also recommended a coordinated purchase of a bunch of adjacent condos if you’re in the city. Before that, I think more coliving in Austin is appropriate.
- Principles for a great community — shared meals is #1
- Jason has seen successful communities formed over one specific interest—AI research, for instance—but generally recommends communities not founded upon a single shared interest. What happens if interest wanes? And whence new ideas and avenues of enquiry?
- I notice in myself a lot of fear around long-term commitment to people I may not know very well. Start with close friends, interview housemates, be explicit about important values and principles, and work the back channels on potential room or housemates applicants
- It’s not a bad idea to generate a social media presence and get the word out about your cohousing project. It’s a good problem to have too many applicants for a limited supply of beds
Let me know if you live in Austin and have any interest!
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