10 Benefits of Co-Housing and Co-Living
While reading through various news articles, blogs, and white papers written by architecture firms who specialize in co-housing, I’m finding many benefits of cohousing for its residents. Although co-housing isn’t a new way of living, the technological innovations and acceptance of different cultures and values create opportunities for co-housing communities to thrive. Here are 10 benefits of co-housing and co-living that are evident in almost all of the communities around the world.
We’re no longer surprised when we walk through a busy city and see people staring at their smartphones as they’re walking, driving, standing, or sitting. Everyone is connected to a constant stream of information that places them within a social bubble that is controlled solely by the person using their device(s). If that flow of information is unwillingly disrupted, there’s almost always negative feedback from the person.
To put it simply, we are living in a time with less physical socializing. For people who are less connected to their devices, it can be a lonely world.
That’s where the benefits of architecture designed for co-housing and co-living communities can positively impact those people who are seeking more physical interactions and engagement. Throughout the remainder of this article, I’ll be using the term co-housing when referring to a cluster of houses that create a neighborhood with shared amenities housed in community buildings and exterior spaces. The term co-living will be used when referring to the latest 21st century trend of residents all living under one roof with shared spaces with the exception of private bedrooms.
One of the benefits of living in a co-housing community is that there are opportunities to socialize at events where neighbors get together and share a meal, garden together, watch their kids play, and so on. In these communities, shared buildings and gardens between houses create opportunities for residents to gather for weekly dinners, movies nights, gardening, and general leisure time outside. Tasks are often shared where shifting responsibilities between residents range from preparing and cooking meals, taking care of the garden, routine cleaning/maintenance, and so on. One of the downsides is that the residents must be willing to share these tasks. Otherwise, a community management community will need to be implemented to ensure that the tasks are completed through their own means or an enforcement policy, which can be detrimental to creating a positive community.
It's important to point out that an intergenerational co-housing community can positively impact the social lives of all the age groups. The elders, especially those who are retired and are often at home, can interact with parents and children in the community, which allows each group to learn from one another. The elders are able to watch the children grow and get to know them through their formative years. Parents are able to learn from the older residents who often have more experience with children. Children are able to learn from each other and everyone else in the community, which teaches them common social skills.
In co-living communities such as WeLive and the Commons, all residents live in one house or building that is managed by the company who owns the place. In nearly all cases, the residents don’t know each other, but develop a working relationship by living in the same household. Community managers from the company who owns the house will usually live with the residents and plan events. Everything that typical roommates will generally argue about such as cleaning responsibilities, shared toiletries, and so on, are all taken care of by the company. This allows the residents to focus on the experience of living with others and on their own lives.
Since co-living communities allow the residents to focus on their lives, the house becomes a place where people can spend their downtime together and socialize. From playing video games and movie nights to dinner parties and planned outings, each resident has the opportunity to engage with others and create everlasting friendships. This is especially helpful in major cities around the world where everyone is accustomed to living within their personal bubble and less spontaneous interactions occur on the streets.
2. Supportive Networks
In co-housing communities, residents generally develop friendships with one another through the shared community events and spaces. Eventually, these relationships create a supportive network where each resident can rely on another in times of need. For example, families with young children can often share the responsibility of keeping an eye on the children when they’re playing together in the shared spaces. When they’re in need of a caretaker for a short period of time, these families can contact one another and arrange a short stay with their neighbor. In intergenerational communities, the older residents are often part of this supportive network where daily socializing can occur between them and other residents. They can also assist families with keeping an eye on the children in the community.
At co-living communities, residents living under one roof will often develop strong friendships with other residents. This creates a bond where each resident will have someone else in the community that they trust and feel comfortable talking to when they’re in need of advice. Depending on the demographics in the household, the residents will either be going through similar life struggles and successes or there will be residents who can share their similar experiences and advice with the others. This is especially helpful for residents who have traveled from another state or country who might not have close friends that they can talk to in person.
3. Reducing Cost of Living
One of the underlying benefits of co-housing communities is that there’s often a reduced cost of living from shared amenities. Residents are provided with spaces that typically offer a fitness center, pool, hot tub, gardens, media rooms, dining rooms, and large kitchens. These allow residents to save on the typical expenses of individually owning a house that includes these kinds of amenities. The community shares the cost of maintaining these spaces and all are welcome to use them. Food is also another area of savings, especially in communities where weekly meals are prepared at the shared kitchen and dining rooms.
Within co-living buildings, the cost of living is significantly reduced by the management company’s offer of a fully furnished household including toiletries and cooking supplies. Cleaning, technology, and community events are also taken care of by the management company. Although the month to month cost for each resident to rent a private bedroom is often equal or slightly less than the cost of renting an average apartment in the same location, everything mentioned above including utilities are provided in co-living communities. Residents no longer need to purchase furniture that is often thrown away when the resident decides to move.
4. Reduced Impacts on the Environment
Co-housing communities that are completely designed and built at one time offer many opportunities to reduce adverse impacts on the environment. One of the largest consumers of energy for comfortable living is heating and cooling. In a co-housing community, these systems can be consolidated where possible in a shared building and connected to each house. Otherwise, efficient systems can be put in place and cost sharing of passive energy sources can be installed for the community. In addition, tools such as lawn mowers, washers, dryers, snow blowers, and so on can be shared among the community. Shared responsibilities including trash removal and recycling also help to reduce environmental impact.
Co-living communities embrace full utilization of spaces within buildings by finding tenants to fill each open bedroom. Due to the increased number of tenants in each household, spaces that were once underutilized such as living rooms and dining rooms are now being used by all members. Community managers and cleaners take care of trash removal and proper recycling, which improves the accuracy of waste finding its way to the proper facilities. Shared supplies are also used by all members of the household, which reduces the need for individuals to purchase their own kitchen and bathroom supplies as well as household furniture.
5. Shared Amenities
As I briefly mentioned in some of the benefits above, one of the best parts of living in a co-housing community is having access to all the shared amenities. For many people who want to own a house with a pool, hot tub, fitness room, and so on, these amenities are typically available at a co-housing community. Better yet, maintenance of these amenities are often shared or outsourced and expenses are split among all households. Additional amenities that are often less thought of are shared bicycles, tools, harvested vegetables from shared gardens, and so on.
In co-living communities, there’s an abundance of shared amenities from kitchen and bathroom supplies to technology such as internet, gaming consoles, media rooms, and so on. In larger cities where co-living communities are located in high rises and skyscrapers, there’s typically access to shared spaces such as rooftops and floors with lounges. These shared spaces in major cities are popular and unique because buildings that provide these amenities generally rent apartments at higher rates.
6. Exposure to Different Cultures
At co-housing communities where there are residents from a variety of backgrounds and ethnicities, there are opportunities for residents to learn about different cultures. Through conversations and food at community dinner events to time spent together in the shared spaces, different cultures eventually blend together. The separation of residents by houses allows personal and private cultural living differences to be respectfully maintained while other parts of one’s culture can be shared with others.
In co-living buildings, it’s often difficult to keep cultural differences separate and private between all residents. However, co-living is about new experiences and learning from others, which makes it a great place for residents of different backgrounds to share their cultures with others. From sharing different kinds of meals to learning about each person’s backgrounds, the exposure to different cultures allows each resident to be part of and experience something new.
7. Trading Skills
One of the ways people learn a new skill is by working alongside others who are more experienced. In co-housing communities everyone shares tasks from maintenance and upkeep in the shared areas to gardening, cooking, and so on. While working alongside one another residents are able to learn new skills from one another. In addition, opportunities to learn other skills such as child care, minor construction, and others are available in communities where there are children and workshops. These are valuable assets to each resident that will continue to pass onto new residents in the community.
In co-living buildings, there’s a vast range of skills that are traded among the residents such as career advice and related knowledge, cooking in the shared kitchen, languages if there are residents of different ethnicities, and so on. There are also opportunities to get into similar hobbies such as video gaming, exploring the city, hiking, and others. These opportunities allow residents to physically engage and learn from others in lieu of learning from online sources, searching for groups to join, and/or paid classes.
8. Personal Growth
For residents of both co-housing and co-living communities, there’s a benefit of being able to grow through the interactions and knowledge gained from others. From learning life skills like cooking and taking care of others to getting advice on career growth and personal issues, these shared communities create an environment where everyone can learn from one another. In many cases, the relationships that develop within these communities eventually turn into group travel activities, explorations, and more.
The biggest personal growth of residents living in these communities is that there’s always an opportunity to interact with others and maintain a social life. This allows each person to feel comfortable socializing with others outside of this community and to feel connected to others. In an intergenerational community, these interactions can lead to valuable advice and connections with others through the network of the residents.
9. Maintaining a Sense of Self-worth
Expanding on the note earlier in this article about the world being a lonely place where everyone is constantly engaged in their devices, there’s a feeling of self-worth that is quickly being lost. With less physical social interactions and more digital following, there are many people who are losing touch with their level of self-worth. For older individuals who are retired and living on their own, there’s a lack of social interaction with others that can lead to the same feeling of feeling worthless.
In co-housing and co-living communities, this feeling is mitigated by the interactive events and shared spaces where spontaneous and unplanned interactions can occur. Everyone has the ability to talk to one another, share stories, and help each other grow. Older residents can feel part of the greater community by being responsible for the shared tasks in the community and offering additional support to other families in the community. Other residents can feel like they’re contributing to the greater good by contributing to the shared tasks in the community in lieu of staying within the bubble created between their devices and them.
10. Memories and Friendships
This benefit of co-housing and co-living is a little vague in the way that everyone can create memories and friendships at any time wherever they might be. However, the structure of a co-housing and co-living community is reminiscent of a long camping trip between good friends where memories and friendships that are engrained in our minds and hearts. One of the main reasons for these deeper connections between residents is due to the constant contributions that each person has to make to maintain the community at its best. From cooking meals together and breaking bread over dinner to gardening and harvesting crops in the community gardens or attending group activities together, there’s a higher level of trust that develops within the community.
These benefits that I’ve identified through my research of co-housing and co-living communities are a few among many reasons why this architectural typology and programs are successful. Although this article focused only on the benefits and optimistic aspects of this type of residential architecture that is quickly re-emerging and morphing in the 21st century, there are obviously downfalls and failures as well. However, it appears that the benefits far outweigh the negative outcomes of these kinds of communities. Lastly, these benefits are amplified by the right planning and architectural design that allows the community to thrive.