Have You Considered Cohousing? Here’s an Explanation and Some Examples

Cohousing puts like-minded people together in “intentional communities.” Many people, Rita and me included, resonate with the idea of community housing, where everyone has their own private home with kitchen and living room, but shares meals occasionally in a common house, perhaps work a community garden, but above all share the same values.

But bringing together like-minded families with the money to buy the land and build the individual units as well as the common elements can be difficult, resulting in few local examples of cohousing communities.

Just ask the people who tried a couple years ago to create the Ralston Creek Cohousing community next to the Geos Community in Arvada. They did all that work and were ready to put down the money when the land they wanted to buy was snapped up by a developer. Deeply disappointed, the community-without-a-home has now disbanded, no longer even publishing an email newsletter, according to www.RalstonCreekCohousing.org.

The concept of cohousing with like-minded neighbors has always appealed to me, but the opportunity never presented itself. In Golden there’s a long-established and highly successful 27-townhome cohousing community called Harmony Village, but turnover is close to zero because the members are so happy — and healthy!

Most cohousing communities are designed to leave cars on the periphery, as in Harmony Village.

Here are some other cohousing communities in the metro area, if you want to check them out.

Aria Cohousing, just east of the Regis University campus in northwest Denver, has 28 units under one roof. It was founded in 2017.

A community meal at least once a month is typical in cohousing communities, as at the Aria Cohousing community, allowing members to get to know each other better, part of being an “intentional community.”

Hearthstone Cohousing, on the former Elitch Gardens site in northwest Denver, has 33 townhomes plus a common house. I sold a unit there in 2021.

Common houses are a typical feature of cohousing communities, such as this one at the Homestead Cohousing community. It has a guest apartment, woodworking shop, laundry room, mail room and meeting/dining room with a kitchen for preparing community meals.

Highline Crossing Cohousing, along the Highline Canal east of Santa Fe Drive and north of C470, has 40 homes, built in 1995.

Wild Sage Cohousing, in north Boulder’s Holiday neighborhood, has 34 attached townhomes. A block south of this community is Silver Sage Village, an 18-unit cohousing community restricted to senior citizens — the first in the country. It offers only independent living, no assisted living or nursing care.

Other cohousing communities in our state can be found in Colorado Springs, Ft. Collins, Bayfield, Lyons, Ridgway and Lafayette.

Looking beyond Colorado, I’m inspired by a project taking shape 20 miles north of Pittsburgh. It will be built on the campus of Chatham University’s Falk School of Sustainability and Environment. (See aerial photo below.) Chatham is the alma mater of Rachel Carson  when it was called the Pennsylvania College for Women. You probably know Carson’s groundbreaking 1962 book, Silent Spring, which is widely credited with sparking environmental consciousness in the United States and worldwide, leading initially to the banning of DDT.

The cohousing community being built there is appropriately named the Rachel Carson Ecovillage. What makes this project particularly exciting is that, by being located on the campus of a college devoted to sustainability and the environment, it serves as an onsite laboratory and example for the students as well as a great intergenerational home for environmentally conscious families.

As you might expect, the homes will be all-electric, built to Passive House standards, and solar-ready.

The Falk School of Sustainability and Environment was created in 2010 and occupies land donated with a stipulation that the land must remain under Chatham University’s ownership, so the homes in the ecovillage can be purchased for prices ranging from $225,000 for a studio condo to $580,000 for a 2-BR suite that be customized as a 4-BR unit, but the land is subject to a 99-year land lease from the university.

While that may not seem ideal, it solves the problem of land acquisition which stymied the Ralston Creek Cohousing community. To quote from the Ecovillage website:

There is no profit built into these costs — they will be offered for sale at the cost to build them….  

The Common House is a shared facility of approximately 2,500-3,000 square feet. It includes a dining/meeting room, a kitchen, mail/package pick-up, and two guestroom suites. Other amenities may be included, as well. 

The units will be designed and constructed to conserve energy and minimize carbon emissions. To avoid combustion of fossil fuels, they will be all-electric, which makes it possible for them to be powered entirely by renewable energy. The units will be designed to meet high indoor air quality standards. It is our intent to be able to monitor building performance after construction to see how well they meet these goals.

Sustainability is a common theme in all cohousing communities, which makes sense, because valuing and caring for your neighbors translates logically to caring for the planet as a whole.

Learn more about the cohousing concept at www.Cohousing.org, or by reading Creating Cohousing: Building Sustainable Communities.

Downsizing: One of Those Big Issues That We All Face As We Age

For some of us, our possessions seem to expand along with our waistline as we age.  By the time we start collecting  Social Security and enjoying the benefits of Medicare — woohoo! — our basements are full and we’re living in a house which is way too big for us. 

At least that was true for Rita and me!  Seven years ago we downsized into a two-bedroom one-story home, which will suffice for us until we need to consider assisted living. But our basement is still too full!

I’m pleased to say we’re also downsizing our physical bodies through exercise and diet — but that’s not my topic for this week!

As a Realtor, my expertise is in doing what I did for Rita and me — selling your current house and getting you into a smaller, low-maintenance home with main-floor living — but I also find myself helping with the second aspect, which is to downsize possessions.

There are three categories of possessions — stuff you want to take with you to your next home, even if it’s assisted living; stuff you want to sell because it doesn’t fit in your new home; and stuff you want to get rid of either by giving it to a thrift store or taking it to the dump. We’ve helped our clients with all three of these categories.

Perhaps you’ve considered employing an “estate sale” company to sell unwanted furniture and accessories — everything from dishes to sofas. There are several estate sale companies among the service providers on the Golden Real Estate smartphone app, which you can download on the App Store or Google Play.  Just keep in mind that estate sale companies charge up to 40% commission on the sale of your possessions. I’m not saying they don’t earn what they charge, but I have been successful more than once in getting the buyer of a home to purchase the unwanted furniture in a separate deal outside of the real estate transaction. Let me explain how I do that.

I ask my sellers to list the items (with prices) of everything they want to sell outside of closing and leave that list on their kitchen counter so that prospective buyers can see it. Then, if we get multiple bids by pricing the house right, I can usually get the winning bidder to agree to buy all the furniture at the prices listed. I did that just last month on one of my listings, and I have done it multiple times prior to that. The buyer probably didn’t want the furniture, but agreed to buy it in order to win the bidding war we created by pricing the home to attract multiple offers.

Our free moving truck is useful for the other two categories of stuff that you want to take to a thrift store or dump.  Our clients use our trucks for that purpose all the time, and I love that we’re able to provide these trucks at no cost.

Of course, it can be rather time consuming going through your possessions and deciding what to keep and what to throw away. Perhaps you’ve heard of the Netflix series, “Tidying Up with Marie Kondo.” She advises you to look at each item and ask, “Does this give me joy.”  If it doesn’t, get rid of it!

Here are some other thoughts shared by co-housing advocate Deb Kneale:

>Remove the things that distract you from the things you love.

>Unburden yourself and your heirs!

>If you lost this item, would you buy it again?

>Allow important things to have the space they deserve.

>Keep in mind that it feels better to do stuff than to have stuff.

>We wear 20% of our clothes 80% of the time. If you’re not wearing it, why keep it?

If you’d like to learn more about downsizing or “rightsizing,” there’s a panel discussion with local experts being held on March 10th, 1-3 p.m. at the Arvada Public Library, 7525 W. 57th Ave. It is presented by the Ralston Creek Cohousing community. For more info, call Tori Baker at 303-704-1268 or visit www.DownsizingAdvice.info.