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6 communal living models that will change your mind about roommates

The economy is a joke, and American renters are the butt of it. Housing is scarce, affordability is a thing of the past, and anyone who doesn’t own a home may as well give up on the idea. It’s time for Americans to wake up and think about the future of their equity before Zillow bots eat up the entire housing market. Communal living may be the solution.


The median cost of a single-family home in Massachusetts is roughly $610,000, while the median income is $89,026. With a 20% down payment of $122,000, a 15-year loan would only cost the industrious Bay Stater approximately $4,710 a month to pay their mortgage. Without food, fuel, home improvements, or joy, at least you’ll have achieved the American Dream.


What if you’re doing life solo and want to purchase a home but can’t shoulder the cost of a home alone? What if, instead, you could buy into a community that allowed you to have a private home while sharing spaces like a kitchen with all the gadgets, a tended garden, and a formal dining room big enough for the families you saw in Hallmark movies? Welcome to the world of cohousing.


As a general definition, cohousing happens when people move in proximity to one another and agree to share their resources, be that time, effort, or care. Cohousing isn’t one size fits all, and these six models can appeal to any age or sensibility.


Multi-generational: The Standard

Multi-generational cohousing is the most common approach to cohousing because it makes the most logistical sense. A variety of life, from babies to seniors, come together to create a rich, collaborative living experience. For young families, this could mean the cost of childcare being eased by a group of makeshift aunts and uncles and for seniors, a place for security and conversation. In Hood River, Ore., the Adams Creek Cohousing prides itself on its sustainability and strives to be a “modern village” that meets the needs of its members, which range in age from infancy to later life.


Senior Homes: But Not The Way You’re Thinking

Senior homes conjure up sad, dimly lit halls, the smell of Vicks VapoRub, and the wheeze of an oxygen tank. In senior cohousing, a fast-growing chunk of the cohousing pie, seniors realize that living with others helps “people live longer and healthier lives.” The support of community members helps seniors maintain their autonomy, allowing them to “age in place.” In North Carolina’s Village Hearth Cohousing, there’s a 2BR/2BA available to the right LGBTQ+ seniors for $514,000, higher than Durham’s average cost of $414,000 but a better investment in aging in place than spending $7,224 a month on a nursing home’s semi-private room.


Urban: A City-Dwelling Introvert’s Worst Nightmare

In cities like Boston, does anybody really know their neighbor? Well, with urban cohousing, you could. This model is being tested in places like Portland and Vancouver, their common features being kitchens, dining rooms, gyms, workshops, compost programs, living rooms, and gardens. These housing situations are typically centrally located and are eco-conscious. In Portland, Ore., Daybreak Cohousing invites people to purchase their apartment and even rents up to 37% of its units. Think dorm living, but everyone is an adult in the sense that they are polite, good at conversation, and don’t scream in the hall after drinking $3 rot gut shots at the bar.


Rural Living for People Who Like Nature, Not Isolation

Rural living isn’t for everyone, especially self-proclaimed urbanites. But for those who played Stardew Valley and felt some awakening, living on a couple of hundred acres with community members who know how to make cheese and jam might be a match made in heaven. This type of housing may require more chores, but the payout is worth it when it comes time for dinner. In Vermont’s Cobb Hill Cohousing, $550,000 can land you a 4BR/1.5BA with solar panels, which is to say nothing of the garden.


Mission-Oriented, or Why Your Family Thinks You’re in a Cult

Despite Wild, Wild Country, mission-oriented cohousing is rarer than you think. These communities usually get built up around shared values, be they political, spiritual, social, or ecological. Finding a mission-oriented cohousing can be hard because they don’t need to advertise. One of the more prominent versions of this is Urban Moshav, a cohousing developer that helps people of the Jewish faith to start their own communities, the first of which is based out of Berkeley, Cal.


Retrofit: The DIYer’s Dream

The perfect cohousing community isn’t always available, though. Sometimes, the only thing to do is to find nine other people to create an LLC and buy an aging mansion that needs a lot of work to be livable. Or maybe a group of people buys neighboring houses and rip out all the fences to create a sense of togetherness. For an even more cost-effective method, buying up space at a trailer park can lead to the same level of community as any traditional cohousing model. No matter the configuration, the retrofit mantra may as well be “Waste not, want not.”


Given the state of housing in America, it’s time to stop looking at cohousing as a kooky thing your REI-wearing, kombucha-making aunt on your mother’s side does but instead, see it as one of the only real chances many have to own property.


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