OPINION: The Benefits of Co-Housing
Updated: Jun 12, 2019
Dany Jarjoura | NextGen Marin
Co-housing aims to not only build a collection of housing units, but a community. Instead of simply trying to maximize the amount of units in the given space, the design of the housing village seeks to encourage interaction and cooperation with neighbors. Co-housing may be a new concept for Marin, but I believe that it has the potential to increase the number of homes while simultaneously fostering a sense of community, something Marin seems to have forgotten.
So what is Co-housing?
Co-housing is essentially just a cluster of private homes designed to foster community. They key intention of co-housing is building relationships, specifically relationships with neighbors committed to being a part of a community that seeks to maximize everyone’s benefit. Imagine a living situation similar to a shared college apartment, or living among family without having your privacy violated. Co-housing has you living among like minded individuals who are there to support each other through the stresses of day to day life.
Personally, my neighborhood relations are aren’t very strong in Novato. Many people in this town don’t even know their neighbors, and if they do they most likely have a very weak relationship with them. Novato’s sense of community would be a lot stronger if people had better relationships with those living around them. Co-housing seeks to achieve this, which would add more housing and strengthen the sense of community within Novato.
The participation of residents in a co-housing village is voluntary; they can participate as much as they want or as little as they want. However, the point is to work together to build a beautiful place to raise a family.
The positioning of the homes are designed for social interaction, with homes close to one another and the parking lots positioned so residents will walk directly through their neighborhood to get to their homes. Features such as a common house, which serves as an extension of one’s private residence, provide the opportunity for individuals to participate in group activities such as hosting classes or community dinners.
Having a common house inside of the village serves to make all the resident’s lives less atomized. This style of housing also encourages self-management by those who actually live there, which can be a more efficient and cost-effective way of living.
People who are isolated and alone have a mortality rate that’s about three times higher than people who have significant relationships in their lives. In Marin, we can tell that this is a problem. Marin has the second-lowest average household size in the Bay Area at 2.4, behind only the singles-friendly San Francisco. Given that Marin is heavily suburban and designed for families, this implies that there are a lot of single elderly folks. Pair this with Marin’s famously high rates of alcohol abuse and pattern starts to emerge: people in Marin are alienated from their community.
Co-housing benefits children’s development as well. Children grow up in an environment where they are surrounded by adults that they are familiar with, expanding their social circle at a young age. The neighborhood is designed to be a place where they can play immediately outside their home with other children in the real world. With features like gathering nodes, a field for activities, and even a pool, it gets the kids of the neighbor off of social media and out in their neighborhood building meaningful relationships with the youth in their neighborhood. It isn’t only children who benefit, however.
This is also good news for young adults starting out alone and especially for the elderly. Take the experience of Renate Justin, an elder who lives in the Greyrock co-housing community in Colorado: “My community of neighbors keeps me from feeling lonely. Every day children come to my door and ask if they can play with me. With my friends I can share the joy of nature’s abundance and the ubiquitous anxieties of politics in America.”
Co-housing is an innovative solution to Marin’s housing crisis. By building neighborhoods in conjunction with the residents needs and desires, a community can be created that has a stronger sense of togetherness than the average neighborhood. Kids will have a safe neighborhood to grow up in and elders will have a great place to retire. Hopefully, people in Marin will consider co-housing as many already have and benefitted from.