Practices for Bringing the Co-Housing Concept to Life

Co-housing  has two essential elements—ownership and relationship. To think of it as about land and housing misses the the critical point. It is the relationship of the owners to each other that determines whether the buildings come to life. We asked Sarah Arthurs to describe the nature of the relationships that enable housing to become “Co”. ~ John 

Email from Sarah Arthurs

Thank you all for the opportunity to share with a larger audience the opportunity that is cohousing. One of my favourite definitions of a healthy human is someone who is able to give and receive love—cohousing provides the chance to discover and grow that capacity without limit. I am just a beginner!

In the debrief [following our September 26 conversation] John asked about the practises of cohousing, which I thought was a wonderful question because it helps us to tease out the features of cohousing which are key and which perhaps can be transferable.

So I am just going to brainstorm here. . . .

  1.  The foundation of cohousing is that people have to some extent fundamentally aligned their wellbeing with a group of strangers who become neighbours and sometimes friends.  Through choosing to make perhaps the biggest financial investment of their lives into cohousing, they are saying: I am committed to this community, to this model of living together.  I am committed to its flourishing if for no other reason than the resale value of my house will be impacted by whether this community survives and is an attractive, healthy, functional place to live.  I am aligning my personal wellbeing and the wellbeing of my family with this community and I am putting money behind this commitment.That gets people attention.  It helps them to stay awake, involved, curious, open to change, invested––putting their money where their heart is!! And this is a risk and not always comfortable, perhaps in the same way as marriage or any other significant partnership. Skin in the game!?
  2. We feed each other and eat together.  As I was thinking about this it occurred to me that we often highlight the shared meals as a feature of cohousing; what this also means is that we cook for each other—a sweet idea, from day one being fed is that way we wee humans know love. So, we look after each other by cooking for each other and we enjoy each other by sharing our lives across the table.
  3. We have social infrastructures which keep our relationships healthy and aid the complex process of a group of neighbours making decisions together.  We have business meetings once a month with a refined structure and process.  We begin and end those meetings with check-ins and checkouts which folk use to both keep their neighbours in touch with their lives and also to debrief or provide closure to a meeting.  Every business meeting we have cohousing moments, where folk share those wonderful everyday miracles which are part of cohousing life—the beautiful flowers which our neighbours tend, the fabulous house concert, the Saturday morning coffees, the over-abundance of meals and dinner invitations received upon the death of a spouse.
  4. Our shared and stated intention is to come to business meetings committed to speaking our truth, both what we think and feel and  also to be open to the outcome, not having strongly held, preconceived expectations of where things should land but being open to the process and the dynamic and unexpected contributions of everyone in the group.
  5. We work together and play together, another way we keep the pot of good feelings full.  We have work bees––landscaping, cleaning the parkade, painting—and we go camping, hiking, to the theatre together, parties—tomorrow night a 60th B-day!

Another wise person, whose identity I have lost but whose wisdom continues to resonate, suggests there are three things that keep humans happy

  • Being part of something bigger than yourself
  • Having someone to love
  • Having something to look forward to

Each of these are an exploration in themselves, but suffice to say cohousing offers all three.  You are part of something that is not just about you;  there are always people to love (the every day taking to the airport, buying milk, kind of love); and always something to look forward to even if it is just the friendly wave from your neighbour out your window, the common meal at supper time or the Harp Concert on the weekend (all things happening in my life!).

I am always happy to chat about cohousing and can be reached at Sarah@cohousingconnections.ca

Home page image: Marc Wathieu

About the Lead Author

Sarah Arthurs
Sarah Arthurs
Sarah Arthurs worked as a therapist, college instructor, parent educator, community developer, generative journalist, and pastor, and she is taking all she knows about community and entrepreneurship to create new co-housing neighborhoods. She and her family have lived at Prairie Sky Co-housing Co-operative in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, since 2008. In explaining the concept behind co-housing communities, she points to a description from the Prairie Sky website: "Some people call them a return to the best of small-town communities. Others say they are like a traditional village or the close-knit neighbourhood where they grew up, while futurists call them an altogether new response to social, economic and environmental challenges of the 21st century. Each holds a piece of the truth. Co-housing is a concept that came to North America in 1988 [and] describes neighbourhoods that combine the autonomy of private dwellings with the advantages of shared resources and community living.” To learn more about Sarah's work with co-housing check out her website Cohousing Connections. Sarah is bringing together developers and homeowners who are excited about the co-housing lifestyle to create new co-housing neighborhoods. She is working on projects across Alberta and is available to work on projects in Canada. In observing an evolving co-housing niche augmenting the use of church properties or repurposing those properties when they need to be sold, she says, “There is a wonderful alignment of values between cohousing and faith traditions which have in common the commitment to ‘Love your neighbor.’” She has a B.A. in Theology, a Masters in Educational Psychology and is a Registered Psychologist. She has worked as a therapist, college instructor, parent educator, community developer and pastor. During 2012, the UN declared International Year of Co-operatives, Sarah was the Alberta Coordinator for the International Year of Co-operatives with the Alberta Community and Cooperative Association.

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