I’ve been with Treehouse Village since the get-go, and there aren’t many questions about it that surprise me anymore. “Is it for introverts?”, “Is it a cult?”, “Do you share bathrooms?”. I don’t mind answering even the strangest questions, as I appreciate curiosity. While cohousing has been successful in other parts of the world, including North America, the idea is new to Atlantic Canada. Many different assumptions may come to mind when you hear the term “cohousing”, so as a current member and future resident of this wonderful community, I would like to debunk some of those myths here!
“I will have to give up my privacy – my home won’t offer everything I need.”
Not at all! Every home at Treehouse Village and all other cohousing communities is completely self-contained with its own kitchen, living room, bedrooms and bathrooms. You have control over what happens in your own home; how it is furnished, decorated and maintained. Every unit features laundry hook-up for anyone who wishes to install a washer and dryer, but some members will choose to use the laundry room in the common house.
Our 4,100 square-foot common house is designed to offer bonus social spaces. Consider it an extension of your own home – a place where you can grab an espresso and relax with neighbours, let your children gather with other kids in the playroom, share meals together if you wish, work, exercise or invite your guests to stay. When you consider the common house, workshop, gardens and all the other outdoor spaces on our 15-acre property, many families will have access to much more at Treehouse Village than they would in a conventional stand-alone home.
“But I’m an introvert! Cohousing only appeals to extroverts who like a lot of social interaction.”
I’m an introvert too! Many other members of Treehouse Village are as well. In fact, we’ve heard from other cohousings that the majority of their members are introverts. Turns out, cohousing works really well for introverts because there is such a clear definition between private space and community space, and such ease in moving from one type of space to another. You’ll have your own private home in which to recharge, and opportunities for social interaction with trusted neighbours in the common areas. We’re lucky to have acres of forest in our backyard – another way to find space and solitude. Cohousing communities work to create an atmosphere where each person can be themselves, regardless of how social they feel in a particular moment.
Social obligations are few, while social opportunities abound. When you wish to take part in social activities, there will be plenty of chances to do so! Many members are looking forward to making and sharing meals together in the common house, gathering for a sunset drink on the patio, hosting or attending fun workshops for adults and children, heading to the beach together, or chatting over coffee while their children play in the playroom.
“This concept is too new, it will never work.”
While Treehouse Village is the first cohousing community in Atlantic Canada, cohousing has been around for more than 50 years. In developing Treehouse Village, we did plenty of research and visited many other cohousing communities. This allowed us to learn best practices, and gather excellent advice on how to develop and manage our community. We look forward to becoming one of the nearly 200 completed cohousing communities that exist in North America. But we don’t have to wait until move-in to see our community at work. We are already demonstrating how well we can work together by the progress we’ve made in our development process thus far.
“Cohousing is low income or affordable housing for people who cannot afford a private home on their own land.”
While we wish cohousing could be affordable for all, most cohousing projects are not considered “affordable housing”, at least up front. The initial investments necessary to build cohousing must come from the members, and there are no grants available to support cohousings in Canada to build homes to sell below-cost. The homes at Treehouse Village will sell at or slightly above market value for comparable new, energy-efficient homes built on single lots. We see many opportunities for substantial long-term savings by living in cohousing. Our community as a whole is set to be the greenest neighbourhood in Nova Scotia, with homes built to PassivHaus standard, and heating bills expected to be under $100 per home per year! Treehouse Village offers even more cost savings due to its walkability to shops and services, as well as shared amenities like our fitness room, kids playroom, office space, workshop and guest suites. And of course, the community provides opportunities for shared meals, growing our own food and even potentially sharing costs for childcare, transportation and more. So while the initial price tag for homes is not considered “affordable”, our members see the value in the sustainability and social opportunities.
“There is a religious expectation in cohousing, or some sort of shared belief.”
There is absolutely no religious aspect or expectation for members in Treehouse Village. Our goal is to create a multi-generational community that is diverse and welcoming to all – and that means members will have various religious and spiritual beliefs, or none at all.
To be honest, we’ve had a few people who don’t understand cohousing comment over social media that this “must be a cult”. As future residents who have already gotten to know each other, we can’t help but giggle at those comments. Collectively to date, Treehouse Village is a group of 12 households (with more coming on) who have already secured units in the community. As a multi-generational group that currently spans three countries, we have wonderfully varied backgrounds, experiences and interests. But there are a few things we all have in common:
- We all wish to reduce our carbon footprint and live lighter on the earth.
- We all look forward to living in a walkable community with energy-efficient homes and bonus common amenities – all of which reduce energy and daily living costs.
- We all desire self-contained private homes, but look forward to having opportunities for social interaction when we want it, in spaces that belong to all of us collectively. No more scrambling to clean the house and prepare a meal to have our neighbours over, let’s meet in the lounge!
- We agree to be good neighbours, to make our neighbourhood a healthy place to live, and to work things out that come up.
- None of us, not one, have any interest in joining a cult! 🙂
“Not everyone will get along.”
In cohousing, you’re expected to be a good neighbour, not necessarily to be best friends with everyone. We also don’t expect our neighbourhood to be without conflict or disagreement. Members who join agree to treat their neighbours with respect, and to work things out that come up. We’re getting to practice that already. One of the unique and exciting characteristics of cohousing communities is that the people who are going to live as neighbours already get to know each other and learn to work together during the development phase. To accomplish our work, we use a form of decision-making called sociocracy, also known as dynamic governance. It helps us to make decisions effectively and efficiently, while hearing many voices. We are also deliberate about learning ways to prevent and resolve conflict. We offer training in sociocracy and non-violent communication, so new members can quickly participate in meetings and decision processes.
“Condo fees are the worst – they profit the developer or property manager.”
I admit, “condo fees” used to seem like a dirty word. That is, before I purchased a condo, and learned how they work. Condo fees are monthly contributions by each household to help maintain all the common amenities. They might also include other expenses, like utilities. In conventional condos, a portion of the condo fees may go towards the developer or to a property management company. But in cohousing, there is no profit line because the condo is owned and managed by the unit owners. All the condo fees go towards the actual expenses, as well as into a fund for future maintenance and improvement projects. In that way, maintenance costs are low and predictable over time.
“I can buy-in after construction.”
Because cohousing is new to Atlantic Canada, we know there are lots of curious folks waiting to see what this will be like once it’s built. But now is the time to act! Getting to be a part of creating the community is one of the things that makes cohousing unique and exciting. You’ll get to have a say in how the community is planned and will operate. While it may feel risky to purchase a home in a neighbourhood that hasn’t been built yet, we have plenty of ways to help you become familiar with what the neighbourhood will be, and who your neighbours are. It is also a big risk to wait and see. At least 80 per cent of the homes will be pre-sold before breaking-ground, which could be as early as fall 2020. Most cohousing communities are completely sold out before move-in day.
Do you have any other assumptions or questions about cohousing? Let us know and we’d be happy to address them! You can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org.