Is there a “magic number” for cohousing?

Co-housing sits within a range of housing options: at one end, the single family home, offering complete independence; at the other end, one supposes, a dormitory style residence with no private space.

Most co-housing sits much closer to the single family dwelling model. It comprises a number of free-standing living units, smaller than the average single family home but still fully self-contained. These are gathered into a campus with some common facilities.

Our proposal takes the community dimension further. It is based on a single home containing six units, housing six to ten people, plus common areas. Although each unit offers private living space, we like the idea of the greater intimacy of a shared home. We assume, for example, that most meals will be prepared by members of the community  and taken in common.

Six to ten people feels manageable to us. On the one hand, it’s enough to ensure some diversity; on the other, it’s small enough to avoid any ‘institutional’ feeling.

Gary Morrison, of the LiveWell community, offers a caution in a recent email exchange:

“From a cohousing perspective,” he says, “the number of households involved needs to be higher than about 18-20 to ensure a good mix of people. Lower than that leads to very tightly knit arrangements which develop their own dynamics.  For example when a family moves out it is a real shock/loss to the community – like family.  Or if two people do not get along then it is too small to avoid each other….creating tension for everyone.  Having over 20 families gives everyone enough space to breathe, and there are always households moving in/out each year so it becomes more “normal”.  On this topic, having more than 35-40 homes leads to decisions slowing and nothing happening.  So 20-35 is about the magic number of homes for cohousing.”

It’s an important perspective from someone with experience, so not to be dismissed lightly. Even so, I’m not fully persuaded. Opting in to a more intentional community may indeed mean we’ll have to work harder at building and maintaining harmony in relationships, and in welcoming new friends or grieving the loss of old ones. From our perspective, that’s not a drawback — it’s part of the attraction.

What do others think?


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