Cohousing, Anyone?

Shonna Husbands-Hankin

Co-Housing, Anyone?

By Shonna Husbands-Hankin

Some good ideas never die.

Such is the circle I find myself in, revisiting the dream of intentional community. After thirty years of dreaming, designing, building, living in, dismantling, and relocating a Jewish intentional community, I now find myself swept again into the strong currents of idealistic visioning of a shared life. But more practical this time. Do-able on our turf. I can feel how close we are. I can taste it. Almost.

Twenty-four years ago my husband, Yitzhak and I met; our first date we spent talking of community. Kibbutz style, in Oregon. Over the years, with much passionate work and love, we formed anon-profit organization, purchased an old church camp, and moved to the country. Seven families and several singles joined us, and we lived the dream of shared organic garden, Jewish holidays, hosting thousands of people over five years l983-88 at numerous Jewish spiritual retreats there at Moshav Shivtei Shalom, on the shores of Dorena Lake, l5 miles east of Cottage Grove, Oregon (you know where it proximity to Lake Wobegon....)

Yes, an unlikely location for a budding Jewish community. Finances were tight and Oregon suffered a recession in the 80s. Struggling to keep our families afloat, one by one, we moved back to town (Eugene, Oregon) and most settled within a four block area of each other. The babies, whose placentas were planted in an orchard at the moshav, grew to be best friends forever as the rural community took on an urban face. Several families continue to interweave their lives forming an extended family bond.

For some, that sense of community is enough, yet I want more. Still calling out is the voice of the activist, the environmentalist, the socialist at heart. And the voice of the lonely one, trapped in the box of isolation, cooking dinners ad infinitum, like everyone else on the block. How can we break the cycles of economic engagement in our materialistic society that so oppresses the rest of the world? How can we use less and share more? How can we value people more and stuff less? How much do I need to own as one person on the planet? How can we redesign the ways we live to encourage deep human exchange, an ethical lifestyle, the growing and eating of organic produce, intergenerational extended families, intimacy and security in one's neighborhood, the sharing of stuff and the sharing of spirituality? And at the same time, own your own home, keep your finances private, accrue your own equity, maintain a sense of individuality within the context of community.

Co-housing seems to be an answer. Shaped in Scandinavia by a drive to humanize the urban landscape, this idea has caught on in the U.S. Over the past decade or so, more than 150 intentional communities have spring up across the land. Web sites exist listing places in many states, ranging from rural communes to urban shtetls. And in this rainbow of actualized communities exists a panorama of designs- from intentional neighborhoods(let;s just know our neighbors) to full-scale co-housing life (with dinners every night in the common house, daycare and eldercare facilities on site, shared recreational and crafts equipment, shared garden, library, etc.) And in most cases, the cars are on the outside edges of the communities, clustered, with the human faces prioritized in the center. There is a range of desire and a range of interests. Yet what is impressive is how many people are making a go of it- not just talking the dream, but living it.

Like us, the dream has changed. Permutated over time. Assimilated some wisdom from other's attempts. It may not be everything, it may not be perfect, but thousands of people are stepping forward to actualize a piece of a vision of another way to live.

In a journey to Israel and across the U.S. during the spring of l999, our family had the opportunity to visit a number of these co-housing communities. With an eye towards shaping Jewish renewal co-housing communities, where spiritual practices and holy days could be integrated into a vibrant shared life, we toured a number of different types of co-housing communities. Below are observations culled from these visits, offered with the hopes that together one can synthesize the best concepts and integrate them into local/regional hubs of Jewish renewal co-housing communities throughout the U.S., Canada and abroad. Perhaps the host communities would all have Jewish renewal-oriented residents, or perhaps a blend with spiritually minded individuals who honor other traditions. I recommend you travel and visit ones in your own region to gather ideas, and utilize the websites listed at the end of this article for a full listing of cohousing communties by country and state.

Fort Collins, Colorado (pop. l00,000) : River Rock Co-Housing

A newly built co-housing community of about 28 households, townhouse style, adjoining buildings with centerpiece playground, common house with nightly meals, library, barn, preschool, recreational facilities, guestrooms, l0 adjoining undeveloped preserved acres, on the outskirts of town with mountain views, active membership, committees, meetings; built by Colorado developer, who gave rebate of $200,000 to community for handling own sales; they used it to build a new barn and car repair shop area.

Bend, Oregon (pop. 35,000): Higher Ground Community

Set smack in suburbia, small affordable lots ($22,00-25,000), individually designed and built environmental homes (solar, straw bale, adobe, recycled materials, etc.) some owner-built, 2 groups of about 24 homes each with cars/parking clustered outside, few garages, center area of paths, common garden, meditation area, common house and kitchen. Community was started by a small group of 4-6 people with in-town land offered at low interest by compassionate soul. Lots sold through realtor, 2 lots donated to Habitat for Humanity; one lot sold to Elder Care facility; several lots bought by multi generational families so kids, parents, grandparents all live in the same community. Price range: $80,000-275,000 (plus lot)

Bainbridge Island, Washington : Bainbridge Co-Housing

Seattle commuter haven- upscale professional town, this architecturally designed co-housing community of adjoining townhomes and houses is sandwiched between other apartment buildings in a high density area. Small common walkways, all brick and concrete, nicely landscaped. Common house with kitchen, meeting living room; urban feel; tight spaces, Scandinavian design model; 6 block walk to town center and ferry.

Port Townsend, Washington (pop. 8,000):

A cluster of upscale creative large individual homes on the edge of town facing a view of woods and meadow, otherwise surrounded by ordinary suburban neighborhood. Beautiful, large common garden, no common house yet. Ten-twelve households, many single women (Some sharing housing), professionals, modest involvement together.

Orcas Island and Lopez Island, Washington: Opal Community Land Trust

Not co-housing, but rather very innovative low- income housing projects. Beautiful new two story l200 s.ft. cottages , wildflower gardens set in wooded setting with dirt trails. All cars on exterior in one project. Paid for by government money for low income housing in rural areas. Must be local residents at least 3 years to apply. Home ownership starting at very modest prices ($l50/mo-350/mo.) based on income. Land held in common as land trust. No equity build up. must sell to other low income households.

Portland, Oregon (pop. 400,000, l million urban area), Trillium Hollow Co-Housing

A newly built co-housing apartment complex for 28 households on the side of an old estate in the city. Group decided to cluster housing to allow for 7 acres undeveloped woods and trails. One to 4 bedroom units, shared offices, guest rooms. Price Range: $l50,00-300,000


Never mind the exact locations. There are co-housing communities almost every-where. Look on the web list and go visit a few. They look different and feel different from each other. Some have interactive groups of people living, eating and meeting daily together; others are simply people living in a friendly known neighborhood. Let your imagination take it a few steps further. Shabbos in the Common house. Common apartments for rotating visiting Renewal teachers. Maybe even timeshares or swapping with other renewal communities in other parts of the country. We have the network, folks. Renewal is a web already.

Let's see if we can weave a new fibre of vibrant living together, regional hubs, modeling ethical lifestyle, spiritual sharing, ecological sensitivity. I am no expert on this. Just another questing seeker. But I see the possibilities. We already pay rents and mortgages , and mow our own lawns and cook our own dinners and drive our kids all other the place to be with friends on the other side of town. Why not share the lawnmower and let the kids run out the door to play and have dinner already cooked by your neighbor every other night and share your growing your own veggies and teach each other how to reduce consumption by sharing stuff.

It's pretty simple. Like recycling. All it requires is a little shift. Like moving. Then collectively we are part of a larger whole that is helping the present and creating a model village for the future. On our terms.

What is Co-Housing?

Cohousing communities are small-scale neighborhoods that provide a new kind of balance between personal privacy and living amidst people who know and care about each other. Individual dwelling units enjoy convenient access to shared space including a "common house" with facilities such a s a dining room, a play room for children, workshops and a sitting area or library. Each home is self sufficient with a complete kitchen, but resident cooked dinners are often available in the common house for those who wish to participate. Cohousing developments are designed, planned and managed with a high degree of resident participation. They often include a mix of singles, couples, families with children and elders.

Cohousing was "born" in Denmark over 25 years ago out of a desire to create cooperative housing that accommodates changing families and lifestyles. This form of community development was brought to the United States in l988 by Kathryn McCamant and Charles Durrett, a wife-husband design team based in Berkeley, California. Often utilizing land use laws and zoning for planned unit developments and concepts already set in place regarding homeowners associate fees for common area maintenance, these communities often range in size from l5-35 households. Some were started in the "old school" model of a group of people meeting (and meeting and meeting) to create a vision to share together; many others started with less in common and quicker uptake; a new streamlined model of quick physical construction is offered by Boulder Construction Company (for profit), who fronts the costs of land and construction. Many communities are started by individuals taking out second mortgages on their homes to purchase the original land, then sell lots to newcomers. All of the communities we visited were built new in the last l0 years. In urban areas, some people are renovating preexisting buildings in creative ways, or organizing land developers to restructure their ideas. In some places, people are buying contiguous adjoining properties and taking down fences for common yards.


CoHousing Magazine, The CoHousing Network, P.O. Box 2584, Berkeley, CA 94702 (5l0) 486-2656; l460 Quince AVe. #102, Boulder, CO (303)4l3-9227 or (303)584-3237. or visit

Communities Magazine, A journal of Cooperative Living, FIC, Rt., Box l55-CM, Rutledge MO 63563 (660)883-5545;

Wonderland Hill Development Company, 745 Poplar Ave., Boulder, Colorado 80304, (303)443-7876 xl06 or visit website at They participated in the Colorado Sustainability Summit, a statewide affiliated event of the National Town meeting for a Sustainable America, and are currently developing streamlined models of cohousing development in Arizona, Washington and Colorado Northwest Region

If you are interested in exploring developing a Jewish renewal co-housing community in the (very rainy and lush) Pacific Northwest, contact me. Otherwise, think global, act local. Go for it in your own areas.

Co-housing Contacts:

Consistent with its mission to nurture the growth of communities, ALEPH is pleased to offer information for people seeking to become involved with Jewish renewal co-housing. The following individuals have offered to be contacts in their regions. We regret it if we have omitted anyone who should have been included, and encourage everyone involved in the formation of Jewish renewal co-housing or intentional communities to make themselves known to one another.

New York to Mid-Atlantic: Phyllis Berman,

New England: Rosalie Eisen, 413-586-3602 or

Pacific Northwest: Shonna Husbands-Hankin, 541-484-6053 or

Southwest: Ayla Grafstein, or Steve Klemow, 480-451-9339

Colorado: Cindy Gabriel,

Anyone wishing to be involved at a planning and organizing level, either as a contact person for a region that is not represented here, or by facilitating collaboration among groups, may also contact Cindy Gabriel.

Beyond co-Housing:

Ruach HaAretz, a group in California, is interested in building a Jewish renewal retreat center that would also house a year-round community. People interested in that concept may contact Jonathan Siedel at