Should we stop calling ourselves co-housing?

As we have mentioned previously, a few of these cohousing folks can be a bit prickly.

When we began developing our ideas for a shared home some years ago, none of us had heard of the Danish architect Jan Gudmand-Hoyer and the concept he called “community housing” — a cluster of single family homes built around some common facilities and operating in a cooperative manner.

Some years later the American architect Charles Durrett brought the community housing concept to America and renamed it “cohousing.” We hadn’t heard of him either.

We did discover that there are a lot of different ways to describe some variation of cohouseholding.

But at the beginning, trying only to name our own vision, we settled on “co-housing” as an accurate description of what we were planning. We would share a home. We would be, literally, co-housed.

Fast forward to this week, when the eminent Dr. Durrett and his charming and knowledgeable partner, Kathryn McCamant (Katie) visited Toronto to present a seminar. The afternoon before, they paid us a visit at Wine on the Porch, and we enjoyed a few minutes of sharing ideas.

One of the less enjoyable parts was Charles’s insistence that we shouldn’t be calling ourselves cohousing. He was rather proprietary about it.

We thought perhaps we could just agree to disagree, but Charles has followed up with a sort of cease and desist order. He writes:

Great to meet you good people. Just want to request that you don’t use the word
co-housing. By definition it is not. It is shared housing or Coliving or Cohousing inspired maybe. It’s about truth in advertising and more clarity. So as the person that coined the word I’d really appreciate it. Thank you, Charles Durrett.

As a sometime journalist, editor, and occasionally prickly person myself, I’m tempted to point out that Jan Gudman-Hoyer described his model accurately when he called it “community housing,” or “cooperative housing,” and it’s not my fault if Dr. Durrett got the name wrong when he imported Gudman-Hoyer’s ideas.

But that would be churlish.

So I’m gonna ask for a ruling from the people. Vote on whether we should keep co-housing or not.

11 thoughts on “Should we stop calling ourselves co-housing?”

  1. And…it makes a difference because….???? Gees Louise. How about the person, or persons, involved in doing something collectively, call it whatever the hell they want! I mean really. None of those words are trademarked! So I don’t think you’ll get any patent lawyers after you. And if you do, well, good luck to them! Harrumph!

  2. As the others said, it’s not trade marked. Sometimes people get a little full of themselves. Sometimes events and people magically come together at exactly the right point in time. But realistically to be able to pull 10 to 15 family units with $1m plus to burn all at the same time with the same commitment to a 5 plus year enterprise just isn’t going to happen. More realistically and commonly is several couples or family units and one quite large house. This model is more widespread than one would think especially in our newcomer communities. It’s all a version of co housing.

  3. On Tuesday, 29 January 2019, Anne Rogal wrote:
    I can see how you chose the word cohousing to describe what you intend to do. But I think it is an unfortunate choice because both the Cohousing Association in the US, at, and the Canadian Cohousing Network, at, have clear definitions of what is meant by cohousing.

    Both organizations have invested a lot of work in getting the idea out into the mainstream, and familiarizing lending agencies and funders with the basics of cohousing. They, and individual communities do so much advocacy work based on the definition of private homes and shared common spaces, particularly around zoning issues. Take a look at this page from the cohousing site in the United Kingdom:

    Does it look like Wine on the Porch? It does not. What if someone decided that beer and wine are both alcoholic beverages so it doesn’t really matter if you call wine’ beer’ or beer ‘wine’. What if you opened your bottle of wine on the porch and poured it out, only to find it was actually beer?

    There is plenty of confusion about cohousing in Canada, partly because we are lucky to have had a fairly strong cooperative housing movement. But cooperatives are different, their governance structure means that majority rules. Communes are different. , Co-living is different. Each has strengths, each is suited to different people and different situations. Why give yourself a label which creates confusion?

    What you are setting out to do sounds great, but it does not have the same zoning challenges, or mortgage challenges, or neighbourhood acceptance issues as a cohousing community will have. Cohousing even has a definition in CMHC documents now, and that definition relates to the one in common use by the Canadian Cohousing Network, and exists because many people have put effort into getting this particular way of creating a community recognized.

    It’s not about Charles Durrett, it’s about respect for all the people currently living in cohousing, or working on forming a cohousing community in their part of Canada. They chose the term based on the existing definition and accepted features. Using it because it sounds like what you want to do, and like it, is a slap in the face to all the people who have put thousands of hours of work into creating the communities they live in, and to those currently working to create their neighbourhoods.

    I have lived in a few different living situations over the years, and the reason I fell in love with the cohousing concept was the phrase ‘Private Homes Supplemented by Common Facilities’ because, believe me, there is no person on this planet who wants to share a kitchen with me, or me with them.

    So I wish you all the very best in creating the co-living situation of your dreams, and may you never open a bottle of wine on the porch and pour out beer.

    1. And tirades like this are why I can’t ever see myself involved in any co-housing, cohabitation, communal living, whatever you want to call it…endeavors. I can’t even see myself in a condo because I don’t want to be anywhere near anyone who is so narrow minded. (And it’s rare for me to post comments like this because it implies I want to engage in a debate. I don’t. Really, I’m just telling myself, “see Erin, there is NO way you can buy a condo!” let alone engage in whatever you want to call it. Unfortunately, Head for the Hills! is how I feel but is just too impractical.)

      Wine on the Porch, you go guys! Whatever you can make work, good on you. Don’t listen to anyone else!

  4. Oh. I am sorry. I did not intend to deliver a tirade, just to explain my thoughts. I’m genuinely unsure what made my explanation a tirade. I will ask for some help to try and communicate differently.

    A reason I thought of later but didn’t include above is this. Because some people understand cohousing to have an accepted definition different from what you propose to do, calling your project cohousing may prevent you from getting publicity that you might want if you are looking for members.

    Good luck with creating the home that is right for you.

  5. This quote by Anne is what raised my eyebrows….”it’s about respect for all the people currently living in cohousing…Using it because it sounds like what you want to do, and like it, is a slap in the face to all the people who have put thousands of hours of work into creating the communities they live in, and to those currently working to create their neighbourhoods.”

    respect? slap in the face?

    If you were to offer me an evening beverage on your porch I would enjoy it no matter what you chose to call call it. I wouldn’t take it as a “slap in the face” regardless of what it was or what kind of bottle it came in.

    I say call it what you want because no matter what you do, you run the risk of offending someone who will try to put their “offended feelings” back on you which is completely irresponsible and totally irrelevant.

    p.s. On Global Calgary this morning I saw a report on what you are doing and have wondered the same thing about co-housing and am encouraged by your efforts and the information share you have made by this blog.

  6. Ugh. What was I thinking? “Slap in the face” was a poor choice of words. I guess I am actually more like Erin than like a consensus or sociocracy decision maker. Sorry to give offence when I was trying to offer practical reasons. I will withdraw to the woods and live in seclusion.

    1. There’s no need to withdraw to the woods, Anne. You’re entitled to express your view.

      As for the”practical reasons,” I confess I’m puzzled. You use the analogy of someone pouring out a bottle of “wine” and being disappointed to find that it was actually “beer.” Are you suggesting that someone might accidentally buy a share in Wine on the Porch and then be disappointed to discover we weren’t following the separate-house model? I think I can assure there is no chance of that happening, so I don’t quite see how your argument works.

      I can also report that a narrow definition of cohousing has never stood in our way when it comes to publicity.


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