- WHAT IS (E)COHOUSING?
Cohousing neighbourhoods combine the privacy of private dwellings with the advantages of shared resources and community living. Cohousing creates the sense of a “village” where neighbours know and support each other, while maintaining options for private space. The way cohousing is developed is also different from other housing: future residents participate in the planning, design, and development of the community so that it directly meets their needs. We encourage you to read more about these 6 defining characteristics of cohousing:
- Participatory development process
- Deliberate community-oriented design
- Complete private homes + extensive common amenities
- Resident self-management
- Non-hierarchical structure and decision-making
- Separate income sources
Ecohousing is our twist on the cohousing name. It’s a mash-up of “eco”, “collaborative” and “housing”, all words that describe this project. We are a cohousing development, and have chosen “ecohousing” to be in our name.
- IN A NUTSHELL, WHAT IS TREEHOUSE VILLAGE ECOHOUSING?
Our group is made up of future Treehouse Village Ecohousing homeowners. We are working together to plan our own neighbourhood of 25-30 homes. Members actively work alongside professionals to design and develop these homes. The homes will be modest in size, creatively-designed, highly energy efficient, and bright. There will also be extensive common facilities. The community will be built in the town of Bridgewater, within walking distance of the amenities and green spaces we need to live a more healthy and sustainable lifestyle. We will be a family-friendly, multi-age community of caring neighbours who make decisions to maintain our community together.
- WILL I OWN MY OWN HOME?
Yes. Once construction is complete, the neighbourhood will be incorporated under the ‘condominium’ legal structure. Individual member households will each own one of the homes, as well as a share of the common facilities. Most cohousing communities in North America have chosen this ownership structure for financing convenience.
- IS THIS THE SAME AS CO-OP HOUSING?
No. See the “Housing Comparison” chart for details:
- WHAT IS IT GOING TO COST?
Cohousing is not government-subsidized in Canada. Member households are people who can afford to buy or build their own homes, and the costs are approximately current market rate (roughly in the $200K-$300K range for newer, well-constructed homes in Bridgewater). With the help of the professional team, the members of the group will agree on the size, quality, and cost of the homes.
- WILL THERE BE ANY RENTAL HOMES?
There are not currently any rental units planned. Rental units in Canadian cohousings (where the units are owned by the community) are not common or typically successful. This is for 2 main reasons:
1) With this cohousing project, there is no external developer, so all the money for the development (and access to financial loans) has to come from the members who come together to build it. Most members are only able to afford their own home. Currently, there are not any government grants or loans available for building rental cohousing units.
2) If the cohousing community owns the rental unit(s), then they become the landlord. The power imbalance inherent in the landlord-tenant relationship has proven to be very difficult in cohousings where governance and decision-making is designed to be participatory and egalitarian.
- DO YOU HAVE LAND YET?
Not quite. We are currently in negotiations. Our site criteria includes:
- Within the Town of Bridgewater
- Size of 5 acres or more
- Zoned High Density Residential or Comprehensive Residential (or be able to be re-zoned to suit cohousing)
- Serviced (or easily serviceable)
- Aspect that allows for good solar gain
- Parcel shape that allows for community-oriented design
- Good proximity to elementary school, bus route, basic amenities and park or trail
- HOW LONG WILL IT TAKE?
We hope to move into our new homes in 2021. Here is our anticipated development timeline:
- WHAT KINDS OF PEOPLE LIVE IN COHOUSING?
Those drawn to cohousing tend to be people who have thought about creating community long before they heard the term cohousing. They come from diverse backgrounds, family types and beliefs, and may be introverts or extroverts. What they have in common is a desire to take an active part in their community and a belief that connecting with their neighbours will enhance their quality of life, enable them to share resources, and have more fun.
- WILL CHILDREN BE WELCOME?
Yes! We welcome people of all ages. We will select a site that is close to schools, public transit, as well as the stores and services we need to support us at various life stages.
- WHY IS COHOUSING GREAT FOR FAMILIES?
They say it takes a village to raise a child, and many families have found their village in a cohousing community. So many of the things needed for healthy childhood development and good family relationships can be found in cohousing: safe spaces to explore outside, unstructured play with peers, trustworthy neighbours, relationships with elders, (extended) family meals, enticing alternatives to screen time, community celebrations, and the list goes on. This cohousing development and this article give other great reasons for raising your family in cohousing.
- WILL PETS BE WELCOME?
We have not yet set guidelines regarding pets, but well-behaved pets are important to many of us.
- WOULD I HAVE PRIVACY?
Yes! Our members value privacy as well as social contact. It is essential to us that we have our own homes and private spaces. There can actually be increased privacy in cohousing because the common areas provide meeting places, guest spaces, rooms for socializing, etc., allowing individual homes to be places of privacy and retreat.
- WHAT IS THE COMMON HOUSE?
All the private homes will be completely self-contained. For example, each will have a full kitchen. However, we will also share extensive common facilities that are designed for daily use. Cohousing “common houses” are where many of these facilities are located in one convenient place. They typically include a large kitchen and dining area for community meals, a lounge, guestrooms, a playroom, a workshop, and office space. Our members will decide what is to be included. The common house is the heart of the community – it is a place for residents to share food and have meetings, celebrations, musical events, movies, yoga practice, classes, and other activities that support the interests of community members.
- WILL MEMBERS SHARE MEALS TOGETHER?
Sharing meals is an important part of all cohousing communities. They typically share anywhere from a few meals per month to as many as 7 nights per week! It depends entirely on the wishes of the residents, and participation is up to each individual – social activities are always optional.
- WHAT IS THE LEGAL STRUCTURE DURING DEVELOPMENT?
The “developer” is the cohousing group itself, and the money to make the development happen comes from its member households. The simplest and most common legal structure during the development phase is a standard company. This structure limits member liability, allows flexibility, and is most easily recognized by lending institutions. The company can also take out a construction loan. Member households each own an equity share in the company. There is never any profit to the company; homes are sold to the members at cost, and the company is dissolved after construction is complete.
- HOW DO I BECOME A MEMBER?
- HOW ARE MEMBERS SELECTED?
When prospective residents have gone through orientation, becoming a member is largely a self-selection process. All members must meet the financial requirements (ability to purchase a home in the community) and be willing and able to take on the responsibilities and obligations of membership. The three-month Associate Membership provides the opportunity for you try it out and to get to know the other members.
- DO I HAVE TO LIKE EVERYONE?
As in any community, residents will be naturally closer to some than others. However, our members all expect and deserve to be treated with respect, which fosters a healthy community. In addition to designing the physical structures, residents will design the social structures that enable respectful relationships.
- CAN I EXPECT FREE CHILD CARE, ELDER CARE, OR HELP IF I GET SICK?
As among any group of friends and neighbours, people help each other in informal ways. Cohousing is envisioned as a community in which people are friendly and supportive to each other – especially in times of need. However, this support is always voluntary, and usually arranged between individuals.
- HOW MUCH MEETING TIME IS INVOLVED?
In the initial group formation phase, members’ meetings will be approximately twice a month. During the development phase, these meetings may become longer, but less frequent. In addition to the general meetings, members will join circles (teams) to work on specific parts of the project, such as design, financing, and marketing. To participate fully in the decisions can involve a good deal of time. We acknowledge that some members have family and other obligations that will impact the extent to which they can be involved. There are many different ways to contribute, in order to cater to the needs and interests of members. After move-in, meetings of the whole community tend to be less frequent, and new circles are set up to manage the needs of the community.
- IS MEETING ATTENDANCE MANDATORY?
Relationships are strengthened through discussion at meetings, by working together in circles, and by socializing at community events. An effective and cohesive community is best forged by working and making decisions together. Attendance at meetings is not mandatory. However, you are expected to abide by the decisions made by the group in your absence.
- WHAT IS THE DECISION-MAKING PROCESS?
Decision making and responsibilities are shared by all members. Decisions are made using a participatory process. Our group uses Sociocracy (aka: Dynamic Governance) as its governance structure and decision-making method. It is a powerful tool for building and sustaining community. Members receive training and ongoing support in using sociocracy. Many new and well-established cohousing communities are using sociocracy successfully.
- WHAT IF I CHANGE MY MIND AND WANT TO LEAVE DURING THE DEVELOPMENT PHASE?
Associate Members have made no major commitment and can easily leave the group at or before the end of the three-month period. Equity members, however, have made a commitment to be a part of the community, and the group depends on this commitment for the success of the development. We encourage associate members to take some time to reflect on their decision before making the commitment to become an equity member because the required investments from equity members are non-refundable.
- HOW WILL THE CHOICE OF HOMES BE PRIORITIZED?
When the final design of Treehouse Village Ecohousing is complete and the homes are ready for construction, the home pricing structure will be determined based on home size and desirability. Then members will choose their home, with the order of seniority determined by the date the member became an equity member.
- WHAT WILL BE EXPECTED OF ME AFTER THE DEVELOPMENT IS COMPLETE?
After move-in, members will work together to organize maintenance and ongoing duties. There will be a monthly maintenance fee that each owner will be expected to pay, and there will continue to be regular meetings concerning the running of the community and further decision-making.
- CAN I SELL MY HOME AFTER COMPLETION?
Yes. Just like any other home, members who want to sell their home need to find a buyer for it. Because Treehouse Village Ecohousing will be legally incorporated as a condominium, our homes can be bought and sold on the open market.
- CAN I RENT MY HOME AFTER COMPLETION?
We have not yet established guidelines regarding rentals, but having the option to rent our homes is important to many of us.
- CAN I VISIT AN EXISTING COHOUSING?
Please do! Visiting an established cohousing is one of the best ways to determine if this kind of housing is a match for you. Thirteen completed cohousing communities currently exist in Canada. Check the Canadian Cohousing Network to contact individual communities and arrange for a tour. Some of the cohousings that are geographically closest to Nova Scotia are in the north-eastern USA (to find these communities, visit the Cohousing.org).
- WHERE DID COHOUSING GET STARTED?
The concept emerged in Denmark about 50 years ago. It was introduced to North America in 1988 by architects Charles Durrett and Kathryn McCamant with the publication of their book Cohousing: A Contemporary Approach to Housing Ourselves. Since then, well over 150 cohousing communities have been completed in North America. There are now 13 in Canada, and there are many more in various stages of development. The concept is quickly spreading throughout the world.
- WHAT COHOUSING RESOURCES EXIST?
Kathryn McCamant and Charles Durrett’s book Creating Cohousing: Building Sustainable Communities is an excellent resource and strongly recommended to all prospective members. The Cohousing Handbook by Chris & Kelly ScottHanson is another good resource. We have a few copies of these book available to loan. There are more and more online resources available, including the Canadian Cohousing Network, Cohousing.org, and The Cohousing Company – to name just a few.
- WHY BRIDGEWATER?
Bridgewater is a progressive town, and is much more than meets the eye. The Town of Bridgewater has developed a reputation for innovation in sustainability, gaining national exposure for its efforts. It has also been recognized as the best community in Atlantic Canada for young families. It is home to many excellent amenities and the surrounding countryside has abundant natural beauty and cultural delights.